Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon Celebrates the Life of Professor Randy Pausch

Carnegie Mellon Pays Tribute to a Campus Icon

Randy PauschAlmost a year to the day following his last lecture, Carnegie Mellon celebrated the life of Professor Randy Pausch, who lost a hard-fought battle with pancreatic cancer on July 25. The university welcomed friends from across the campus community and the computing world to reflect on the impact, both personal and professional, of the beloved professor and computer scientist.

In spite of the somber occasion, the memorial service was an inspirational tribute to a campus icon. "His dream became his goals and he pursued those with a persistence that few can match," said Randy Bryant, dean of the School of Computer Science.

Pausch's persistence opened the door for thousands of students to pursue their own dreams. His leadership and innovation pushed Carnegie Mellon to integrate the arts with technology and establish a method of teaching that is as unique as it is revolutionary.

"Carnegie Mellon lost something very, very important when Randy died," said President Jared L. Cohon.

Getting It Done

Stories of Pausch's reverence for Carnegie Mellon abound, yet none reflect it better than his advocating of the university to Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. "We aren't in the prestige or pretense business, we're in the 'get it done' business," Pausch said during the 2008 graduate weekend.

To "get it done," he co-founded the pioneering Entertainment Technology Center, a collaboration between the College of Fine Arts and the School of Computer Science dedicated to the field of "edutainment;" he helped solidify the role of virtual reality in the discipline with his project course, Building Virtual Worlds ("an end-of-the-semester extravaganza…a must-see for the students," according to Don Marinelli, a drama professor and co-founder of the ETC); and he developed Alice, the educational software that teaches students, ranging from high schoolers to adults, computer programming in a 3D environment.

But Pausch may be most famous for his inspirational last lecture, "Achieving Your Childhood Dreams," delivered at the university last September. The moving and humorous anecdotes that captivated the audience also made Pausch an international sensation—a YouTube video of the lecture has been watched over a million times. The speech also yielded a book, "The Last Lecture," co-written by Jeff Zaslow of the Wall Street Journal, which has been translated into 36 languages.

During the lecture, Pausch spoke of his childhood dreams and how they led to a successful career. Most notably, he discussed the setbacks he encountered, which only pushed him to work harder: "Brick walls are there to show how badly we want something," he said.

Pausch's unique outlook on life earned him significant notoriety. Following the last lecture, he appeared on Oprah and The Today Show, was named one of ABC News's "Persons of the Year" in 2007, and made TIME magazine's list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Bringing People Together

Breaking the outsiders' perception of the stodgy computer scientist, Pausch is well-known for his energetic and personable demeanor, a point that was acknowledged extensively during the memorial. That likeability enabled Pausch to reach beyond traditional academic barriers and connect with students in a way that implants life-long admiration.

By pushing talented students to do their very best, Pausch ensured that the university's student talent pool will continue to deepen, attracting industry leaders eager to jump in. Companies such as Microsoft, Google, and Sun have pledged lasting commitments to working with Carnegie Mellon students, thus providing them with invaluable real-world experience and an unparalleled educational resource. Such relationships place Carnegie Mellon at the forefront of prospective universities as students seek the opportunities that will best serve their educational and career goals.

Pausch's legacy, though, extends far beyond the university. By teaching people to think logically by learning to program in a fun environment, students everywhere will be able to enter a world previously consigned to scientists and mathematicians.

"It's because of Randy Pausch and the Entertainment Technology Center that I'm able to advance in the world of game design at all," said Lisa Brown, a graduate student at the ETC. Brown was one of four recipients of the first Randy Pausch Scholarship established by the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences

A Fitting Tribute

As a permanent symbol of his vision, the university is building the Randy Pausch Memorial Footbridge, which will connect the Gates Center for Computer Science, now under construction, to the Purnell Center for the Arts. The footbridge will allow students for generations to come the opportunity to metaphorically walk in footsteps of a Carnegie Mellon legend and friend.

"And, yes," added President Cohon, "there will be a brick wall at the end of it. We wouldn't have it any other way."