Thomas Huang is on the short list of Beckman Institute original faculty members who have had the most impact on science during the 22 years of its existence. The impact on his students over that time has been just as great.
Those are but two reasons some of his former students got together to create the Thomas and Margaret Huang Fund for Graduate Research. While Huang’s contribution to fields such as image formation and signal processing have been as influential as any scientist in the world, the response to the current Huang Fund Challenge gives testimony to his contributions as a professor, mentor, and person.
The Huang Fund was the brainchild of James Kuch, an engineer at Sony and former student of Huang at the University of Illinois and Beckman. He and other alumni and members of friends of the research group wanted to honor him and his wife, Margaret Huang, by supporting graduate student research in the Human-Computer Intelligent Interaction (HCII) research theme at Beckman with an endowed gift fund.
Huang is Co-chair of the HCII research theme and leader of the Image Formation and Processing group at Beckman, as well as the William L. Everitt Distinguished Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He has been recognized worldwide as a pioneer in research involving topics such as computer vision and signal processing, winning numerous honors and awards for his seminal contributions to these fields.
In order to spur donations to the Fund, the Huang’s children, Caroline, Gregory, Marjorie, and Thomas, decided to challenge those former students by agreeing to match up to $10,000 in donations to the Huang Fund. They not only reached that goal, but have raised more than $33,000 to aid graduate student researchers.
– Thomas Huang, Jr.
One of Huang’s former students, Chang Wen Chen, a Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the University at Buffalo (SUNY), sent out a letter asking for donations to match the $10K offered by the children. In the letter to friends and alumni of the Image Formation and Processing group, Chen wrote about the reason for the Huang Fund: “As you know, Professor Huang and his wife Margaret are very special people. They have positively impacted the lives and careers of so many families, not to mention the incredible scientific legacy of Professor Huang.”
Kuch was one of those affected by Huang both scientifically and personally. It was his idea to create the Huang Fund as a way of thanking and honoring him. Kuch said Huang and Beckman provided excellent facilities and an open environment “to explore and solve complex problems both on your own and in a group all the while under his guidance.
“And while I appreciated it at the time, it really wasn’t until I had the benefit of years of experience and interacting with other colleagues in industry that I truly came to realize what a special environment I was in,” Kuch added. “And it all started with Tom, his team and the Institute.”
Huang’s legacy and how the fund could help students guided the decision by the Huang children. Caroline Huang said that she, her sister, and brothers, wanted to make the fund as strong as possible, and so were happy to respond when Chen proposed the Challenge.
“He has been working tirelessly on behalf of the fund since the beginning, and suggested that a matching challenge might motivate others to give also,” Caroline said. “The response has been very good, and the generosity of the other donors motivates us in turn to stretch ourselves.”
Caroline Huang also said the Huang Fund is a moving tribute to her father, who inspired her interest in science.
“My father’s inspiring and insightful instruction was instrumental to my own understanding of science and math when I was growing up,” she said. “Later on, when I was a graduate student myself, I learned how welcome and necessary an adequate stipend is. I find it very fitting that a fund which will benefit graduate students carries my parents’ names.”
Her brother, Thomas, agreed.
“I hope my parents’ fund will help spark a commitment in students to devote their lives to ‘making a difference – by doing cutting-edge research, by caring for the people around them, by taking risks,” he said. “I also hope that the fund will help up-and-coming engineers and scientists think outside of the box and build on my father's work in computer vision and image processing.”
Thomas also gave insight into how his father touched the lives of his students over the years.
“Growing up, I watched how my parents took care of their students, especially those from overseas,” he said. “I think that's because my parents came from overseas as young graduate students.
“They would invite the students over for dinner, show them where to shop, talk to them about American customs and traditions – basically help these students build their lives in the U.S. And you can see the bonds that my parents built with the students when they attend conferences: their former students flock around them and go out of their way to help them. I think the fund has a lot to do with that commitment to students.”