Aided by a $2.5 million gift from Google, Stanford University has created an endowed chair in memory of Rajeev Motwani, a computer science professor known for his research, his attention to his students and his deep connections to Silicon Valley.
The new chair was announced Friday during a memorial service for Motwani in Stanford's Memorial Church.
Motwani was 47 when he tragically drowned in a backyard swimming pool accident in June. He was a guiding light to many graduate students in computer science, including Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.
"The breadth and depth of Rajeev's contributions in academia and industry are unparalleled in computer science. Yet they pale in comparison to the impact he had through the many researchers and entrepreneurs whom he taught and mentored," said Brin, Google's president for technology and co-founder. "While I am sad to lose a good friend, I know his spirit will live on through generations of technologies and technologists to come."
Google's generosity in establishing the Motwani Professorship in Computer Science has additional meaning because it is the first of 10 new endowed chairs the university has approved to expand the department. "As one of the leading figures in our department, that growth is something Rajeev would have been delighted to witness firsthand," said Jennifer Widom, chair of the Department of Computer Science. The School of Engineering is providing matching funds of $1.5 million to help fund the chair.
In the spirit of honoring Motwani, the professorship will go to a distinguished senior faculty member whose work is like his: deeply rooted in computer science fundamentals and the underlying theory, but also applicable to important practical problems within and beyond the traditional boundaries of the discipline.
Computer science enrollments and majors at Stanford have been growing dramatically in recent years. The number of enrollments grew 12 percent in just the last academic year.
Adding the 10 new professorships will create a larger department that can more effectively handle the increasing student interest, while also tackling the most important problems of computer science and continuing to nurture the entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley. Despite being a top-ranked program, Stanford's Computer Science Department has significantly fewer faculty members than other top departments, such as those at MIT, the University of California-Berkeley or Carnegie Mellon, Widom said.
She foresees a department with more breadth and more collaborations with other departments, as computer science becomes more deeply involved in such fields as biology, linguistics, education and many types of engineering.
"That takes people," she said.
Educated in India and the United States, Motwani had been at Stanford since 1989. In addition to his groundbreaking research into data mining (think Google searches), he was known as a savvy angel investor who always made time to talk to students and the founders of startup companies.
-- Stanford News Service