PITTSBURGH— Randy Pausch, renowned computer science professor atCarnegie Mellon University, died Friday, July 25, of complications frompancreatic cancer. He was 47.
Celebrated in his fieldfor co-founding the pioneering Entertainment Technology Center and forcreating the innovative educational software tool known as "Alice,"Pausch earned his greatest worldwide fame for his inspirational "Last Lecture."
Thatlife-affirming lecture, a call to his students and colleagues to go onwithout him and do great things, was delivered at Carnegie Mellon onSept. 18, 2007, a few weeks after Pausch learned he had just months tolive. Titled "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams," the humorous andheartfelt talk was videotaped, and unexpectedly spread around the worldvia the Internet. Tens of millions of people have since viewed videofootage of it.
Pausch, who had regularly won awards inthe field of computer science, spent the final months of his life beinglauded in arenas far beyond his specialty. ABC News declared him one ofits three "Persons of the Year" for 2007. TIME magazine named him toits list of the 100 most influential people in the world. On thousandsof Web sites, people wrote essays about what they had learned from him.His book based on the lecture became a #1 bestseller internationally,translated into 30 languages.
A Gifted Teacher
Manywho knew Pausch before he became famous were not surprised that hetouched others so deeply. They had seen this ability in him during hisyears as a professor.
"Randy hadan enormous and lasting impact on Carnegie Mellon," said UniversityPresident Jared L. Cohon. "He was a brilliant researcher and giftedteacher. His love of teaching, his sense of fun and his brilliance cametogether in the Alice project, which teaches students computerprogramming while enabling them to do something fun— making animatedmovies and games. Carnegie Mellon— and the world— are better placesfor having had Randy Pausch in them."
"Randywas a force of nature," said Gabriel Robins, a computer scienceprofessor at the University of Virginia and Pausch's former colleague.Robins recalls Pausch drawing large crowds, long before he was famous,for his entertaining and thought-provoking lectures about timemanagement. "He had a very visceral, fundamental resonance to the coreof humanity. It's not an accident that people flocked to him; people ofall ages, cultures and religions. I thought of him as a genius of manythings— not just science and research, but marketing, branding,selling, convincing, leading and showing by example."
Pauschwas well-known within the academic community for developinginterdisciplinary courses and research projects that attracted newstudents to the field of computer science. He also spent his careerencouraging computer scientists to collaborate with artists, dramatistsand designers.
"Good teaching isalways a performance, but what Randy did was in a class all by itself,"said Andy van Dam, co-founder of the computer science department atBrown University, which Pausch attended as an undergraduate. Van Dam, alongtime mentor to Pausch, was impressed by "the care and affection helavished on his students. They responded to him as athletes do to agreat coach who cares not only about winning but about the team playersas individuals."
Pausch, the father of threeyoung children, saw it as his mission to help enable the dreams of hisstudents. In his last lecture, he spoke of how grateful he was to thosewho had helped him along the way: professors, colleagues, a footballcoach, and especially, his own parents. He explained how he had dreamedof writing a World Book Encyclopedia entry, experiencing zero gravityand creating Disney attractions— all dreams that were fulfilled. Hesaid he learned even more from dreams that didn't come true, such asbeing a pro football player. He also shared a host of lessons— aboutfinding the good in other people, about seeing "brick walls" not asobstacles but as challenges, and about living generously.
"If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself," Pausch said. "The dreams will come to you."
Atthe end of the talk, he revealed that he had given it mostly to serveas a roadmap for his three young children. The book based on the talkhas a similar purpose. As he explained it: "I'm attempting to putmyself in a bottle that will one day wash up on the beach for mychildren."
The book, titled "The LastLecture," was a #1 New York Times bestseller, and also toppedbestseller lists in USA Today, Publisher's Weekly, and otherpublications around the world. It was co-written by Jeffrey Zaslow ofthe Wall Street Journal (a 1980 Carnegie Mellon alumnus). The lectureand book led to intense media interest in Pausch. He appeared twice onThe Oprah Winfrey Show. Pausch and his wife Jai were also the subjectsof an hour-long ABC News Primetime special in April hosted by DianeSawyer and viewed by 8.2 million people.
Bridging Computer Science and the Arts
Pauschjoined the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science faculty in 1997with appointments in the Computer Science Department, theHuman-Computer Interaction Institute and the School of Design. He soonlaunched an interdisciplinary course, called Building Virtual Worlds,in which student teams designed interactive animations. The resultswere so spectacular that roommates, friends and even parents of thestudents would attend class on days when projects were presented. Ashowcase of the projects attracted a standing-room-only crowd to thecampus' largest auditorium. These end-of-semester shows haveestablished themselves as a premier event on campus during finals week.
Pausch and Don Marinelli, professor of drama andarts management, extended this approach by creating the EntertainmentTechnology Center (ETC), a joint program of the School of ComputerScience and the College of Fine Arts. This master's degree programtrains artists, engineers and computer scientists to work together asthey spearhead developments in digital storytelling and other new formsof entertainment technology.
"Inan era of ever-increasing specialization, Randy promotedinterdisciplinary teams based upon mutual respect, building bridgesbetween fine arts and computer science," said Dan Siewiorek, head ofthe Human-Computer Interaction Institute. "Randy's legacy is histechnology that made computer science accessible to thenon-specialists."
Inspiring New Generations of Computer Scientists
Perhapshis most ambitious effort was Alice, a computer programming environmentthat enables novices to create 3-D computer animations using adrag-and-drop interface. "The best way to teach somebody something,"Pausch explained, "is to have them think they're learning somethingelse." With Alice, students concentrate on making movies and games, butthey also are learning to program. Carnegie Mellon makes downloadsof the Alice software available for free at www.alice.org. Eight textbooks on Alice have been written. Alice is used by 10 percentof U.S. colleges and in many high schools. Also available is a versionfor middle school children called "Storytelling Alice," which wasdesigned by Caitlin Kelleher, Pausch's Ph.D. student, to appeal inparticular to young girls with hopes of increasing female interest incomputer science careers. A new version of Alice, featuring animatedcharacters donated by Electronic Arts from its best-selling game "TheSims," is slated for release in 2009. In his last lecture, Pauschsaid: "Like Moses, I get to see the Promised Land, but I don't get tostep foot in it. That's OK. I will live on in Alice."
A Footbridge to the Future
Pauschearned his undergraduate degree in computer science at Brown Universityin 1982 and his Ph.D. in computer science at Carnegie Mellon in 1988.Before joining the Carnegie Mellon faculty in 1997, he served on thecomputer science faculty at the University of Virginia from 1988 to1997 and spent a 1995 sabbatical working at Walt Disney Imagineering'sVirtual Reality Studio.
A fellow of theAssociation for Computing Machinery (ACM), he is the recipient of theACM's Karl V. Karlstrom Outstanding Educator Award and the Award forOutstanding Contribution to Computer Science Education from the ACM'sSpecial Interest Group on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE). Heauthored or co-authored five books and more than 60 reviewed journaland conference articles.
Last September, CarnegieMellon announced a plan to honor Pausch's memory. A computer scientistwith the heart of a performer, he was a tireless advocate and enablerof collaboration between artistic and technical faculty members. Thatrole will be signified by the Randy Pausch Memorial Footbridge, whichwill connect the Gates Center for Computer Science, now underconstruction, with an adjacent arts building. "Based on your talk,we're thinking of putting a brick wall on either end," joked PresidentCohon, announcing the honor. He went on to say: "Randy, there will begenerations of students and faculty who will not know you, but theywill cross that bridge and see your name and they'll ask those of uswho did know you. And we will tell them."
Pauschis survived by his wife, Jai, and their three children, Dylan, Loganand Chloe. Also surviving are his mother, Virginia Pausch of Columbia,Md., and a sister, Tamara Mason of Lynchburg, Va. The family plans aprivate burial in Virginia, where they relocated last fall. A campusmemorial service is being planned. Details will be announced at a laterdate.
The family requests that donations on hisbehalf be directed to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, 2141Rosecrans Ave., Suite 7000, El Segundo, CA 90245, or to CarnegieMellon's Randy Pausch Memorial Fund (www.cmu.edu/giving/pausch), which primarily supports the university's continued work on the Alice project.