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Don Cowan and Ric Holt receive Lifetime Achievement Award in Computer Science

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Distinguished Professor Emeritus Don Cowan and Professor Emeritus Richard C. “Ric” Holt have received the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award in Computer Science from CS-Can/Info-Can, the national organization of Canadian computer science departments, schools and faculties.

Conferred annually, these prestigious awards recognize outstanding and sustained achievement in research, teaching and service.

“It’s wonderful to see Don and Ric’s accomplishments recognized by CS-Can/Info-Can,” said Mark Giesbrecht, Director of the David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science. “Congratulations to these two distinguished pioneers of computer science who have contributed immeasurably to both the field and to the David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science through their years of leadership, scholarship, teaching and service.”

The 2017 awards will be presented at the annual CS-Can/Info-Can Awards Dinner, which will be held at York University in Toronto on May 7, 2018.

About the award winners

photo of Distinguished Emeritus Professor Don CowanDistinguished Professor Emeritus Don Cowan is a Canadian pioneer in computer science. Shortly after completing his PhD in 1965, Don became head of the Computer Science Division of the Mathematics Department at the University of Waterloo. In 1967, he became Chair of the Department of Applied Analysis and Computer Science, a new academic unit that launched with only four faculty members of professorial rank in computer science. Within five years, Don expanded the department to 26 research faculty and five lecturers. Although it has been close to half a century since he served as department chair, Don set the tone that has established the David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science as Canada’s largest and best-known computer science program.

Don’s early international connections led to several programs bringing faculty members from other countries to complete PhDs at Waterloo and, conversely, sending Waterloo faculty members for visits to these countries. Such programs were developed with four countries, the largest being with Brazil, through which several dozen of their faculty members came to Waterloo and Toronto. For this and related efforts, in 2006 Don was awarded the Grand Cross of Scientific Merit, Brazil’s highest civilian scientific honour.

Don continues to be a prolific researcher who has mentored 120 graduate students and published close to 300 refereed publications and 17 books. His research has spanned a broad spectrum of computer science — from local and wide-area networks from the 1960s with the development of CANUNET, a pan-Canadian computer network, to the 1990s as a leader of the team producing the first local-area network for personal computers. His work also included the first efficient techniques for various combinatorial problems, state machines for communication protocols, and one of the first comprehensive editors for text tagged with the standard markup language SGML, which we now recognize as including hypertext and web page design.

Don’s research and teaching led to many software systems being developed at Waterloo for educational use. Software systems developed by the Computer Systems Group from 1965 to 1995 have been used in more than 3,000 institutions in 60 counties. Don has been Director of the Computer Systems Group since 1992 and was a director of WATFAC, a private charitable foundation that developed software for the education market. Funds from these efforts have been used for scholarships, summer fellowships for students and teachers, and to help fund a chair in health informatics. In 2017, Don along with colleague and research associate Kyle Young received the Award of Merit from the Volunteer Action Centre of Kitchener Waterloo and Area, for developing volunteer-matching software that is used locally, provincially and nationally.

For these and other accomplishments, Don was awarded a Doctor of Science, honoris causa, from the University of Guelph in 2011, an ACM Distinguished Scientist award in 2010, and recognition as a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Waterloo.

photo of Professor Emeritus Ric HoltProfessor Emeritus Ric Holt has been a pioneer of computer science since his arrival at the University of Toronto as an assistant professor in 1970 and continuing at the University of Waterloo since 1997. He has made a number of seminal contributions in a variety of computer systems research areas, from work on operating systems and programming languages, compilers and computer science education, to software architecture modelling and software analytics.

Ric has supervised many PhD students who have themselves become leading academics. He has authored and coauthored dozens of highly cited journal and conference publications, many of which are classics in their field. For example, his 1972 paper on properties of deadlock is commonly referenced in operating systems textbooks, and his 1998 paper on Tarski relational algebra to model software architecture won a most influential paper award. In addition to his academic publishing record, Ric co-authored 16 books on programming, operating systems and computer science education.

Throughout his career, Ric has kept in contact with industry, forming close relationships with IBM Canada, Nortel Networks, Sun Microsystems and CA Technologies. Through a long stream of industry collaborations, his students have been exposed to the problems of real-world software development, and in turn the ideas from his research group have influenced the practices and products of these companies.

Ric served as chair of the Nortel Networks Institute at the University of Waterloo and he held an NSERC Industrial Research Chair sponsored by Nortel Networks. For many years, he ran Holt Software Associates, his own software company, to support use of the Turing programming language in high schools and universities.

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