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Gropp Invested as Grainger Distinguished Chair in Engineering

Editor’s note: This article, written by Bruce Adams, originally appeared on the Grainger College of Engineering Computer Science website and is republished with permission.

The Oxford Dictionary of Current English defines investiture as “the action of formally investing a person with honors or rank.” In the case of William “Bill” Gropp, investiture is not just a formality. It’s a profound recognition of his outstanding contributions to research and teaching, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Grainger College of Engineering, his chosen disciplines, and the computer science community.

Dean of The Grainger College of Engineering Rashid Bashir presents NCSA Director Bill Gropp’s with his medal during his investiture as Grainger Distinguished Chair in Engineering.

William Gropp was invested as Grainger Distinguished Chair in Engineering on Tuesday, April 30, at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), where he serves as Director.

As Grainger College of Engineering Executive Associate Dean Philippe Geubelle put it in his opening remarks, Gropp was honored “for all he has accomplished and all the things he will accomplish.” Or as the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost John Coleman said in jest, one measure of the importance of an administrator and faculty member to campus is “how far we let them get away from their office,” noting that Gropp’s office is a floor above the site of the gathering at NCSA.

Gropp joined the University of Illinois in 2007 as the Paul and Cynthia Saylor Professor in what was then the Department of Computer Science. From 2008 to 2014, he was the deputy director for research for the Institute of Advanced Computing Applications and Technologies at NCSA.

In 2011, Gropp became the founding director of the Parallel Computing Institute, a unit within the College of Engineering. In 2013, he was the first person to be selected for the Thomas M. Siebel Chair in Computer Science, a professorship position established by the Siebel Systems founder and Illinois alumnus. In 2016, he was appointed acting director of NCSA, officially becoming director in 2017.

Bill Gropp’s research contributions have been nothing short of transformative in the field of computer science. He played a pivotal role in the creation of the Message Passing Interface (MPI) and the Portable, Extensible Toolkit for Scientific Computation (PETSc), with the team receiving an R&D 100 Award in 2009. His work on MPICH, a freely available, portable implementation of MPI, also earned the team another R&D 100 award.

Computer Science department head Nancy Amato described Gropp as “tremendously impactful” as a researcher, teacher, and leader at Illinois and said he “relentlessly advocated for campus systems and people” on behalf of research computing and engagement. “This campus has been transformed by his engagement here,” she concluded.

Bashir speaks during Gropp’s investiture as Grainger Distinguished Chair in Engineering.

In his acceptance speech, Gropp said, “Illinois has always been the leader in all aspects of computing.” Looking to the future, he noted, “The whole has always been greater than the sum of the parts, but only if we act soon.” This echoed earlier remarks from Illinois Grainger Engineering Dean Rashid Bashir, who said the development and challenges of AI put the college and university at an inflection point in research, instruction, and societal impact.

Gropp is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), and an elected member of the National Academy of Engineering. He was the 2022 President of the IEEE Computer Society, the largest society within IEEE. He is also a member of the Executive Committee of the Computing Community Consortium.

Grainger Distinguished Chairs in Engineering are made possible by the Grainger Engineering Breakthroughs Initiative (GEBI), resulting from a $100 million investment in The Grainger College of Engineering by The Grainger Foundation. The GEBI supports multi and interdisciplinary study and provides a springboard for groundbreaking projects by allowing the college to invest in strategic priorities, including faculty chairs and named professorships, undergraduate scholarships, facilities and infrastructure, and research support. Grainger Distinguished Chair appointments have helped the college to recruit and retain world-class faculty and contribute to its elite science and engineering program.

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