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Dec. 15: Charles E. "Chuck" Thorpe To Step Down as Dean


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Charles E. "Chuck" Thorpe To Step Down as Dean

Thorpe Will Leave at the End of the Spring 2010 Semester, Having Served More Than Six Years as Dean

Charles ThorpeDOHA, QATAR—Charles E. "Chuck" Thorpe is stepping down as dean of Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar at the end of the Spring 2010 semester. Initially appointed in February 2004 for a three-year term, Thorpe will leave Doha after more than six years as dean. He is the longest-seated current dean in Education City.

"To those who visit Doha now, it is hard to believe how far Carnegie Mellon has come in the past six years. Chuck has been instrumental in every one of these developments. In his role as dean, he always displayed a sense of optimism and patience that was both infectious and motivating," says Mark Kamlet, provost and executive vice president, Carnegie Mellon University.

As the first dean of Carnegie Mellon Qatar, Thorpe oversaw a tremendous amount of growth and change. The campus started in the fall of 2004 with 41 undergraduate students and a handful of faculty and staff. Six years later, Carnegie Mellon Qatar has 246 undergraduate students, 42 students enrolled in certificate programs, 67 alumni and more than 100 faculty and staff members. The University also has a magnificent new building in which to deliver its programs.

Thorpe's passion for teaching set a tone of excellence across the campus. His penchant for Carnegie Mellon — and 25 years experience at the University — helped bring the essence of the century-old American university to its new home in Qatar. Under Thorpe's leadership, the campus expanded its academic offerings by adding a third major, information systems, to its existing curriculum of business administration and computer science. The number of elective courses also grew each year, giving students a broad-based liberal education. While serving as dean, Thorpe also advised two Ph.D. students and assisted in teaching robotics courses.

Thorpe also played a large role in engaging faculty and admission staff in community and secondary school outreach programs. In 2005, Thorpe and his son, Leland, headed up the launch of the BOTBALL high school robotics program. BOTBALL has captured the hearts and minds of thousands of students — both boys and girls — across the Middle East as a result of Chuck's passion for artificial intelligence, robotics and teaching. It was not uncommon to spot Thorpe sitting with a group of young adults talking to them about robots and computer science.

Corporate outreach also has been a direction in which Thorpe guided Carnegie Mellon Qatar. He initiated numerous strategic partnerships with local and multinational organizations, and ensured that the campus was aligned with the Qatar National Vision. At the request of Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, chairperson of Qatar Foundation, Thorpe served as the sole Education City dean on the Qatar National Research Fund steering committee.

Having lived overseas previously, Thorpe and his wife, Leslie, knew the importance of creating a sense of community among a new and diverse staff. In 2005 Leslie created Al Hannah, a community group that organizes activities for faculty and staff. Al Hannah encompasses a "buddy system" for new arrivals as well as a "Guide to living in Qatar" wiki. Al Hannah aims to create a seamless transition to Qatar and also provide a sense of community. Al Hannah was chosen as the name because it is Arabic for happiness, as well as the name of the Thorpe's daughter.

Thorpe credits his success as dean, as well as the success of the campus to his flexibility. "As the dean of a small campus I work on many levels. I perform tasks of a professor, a department head, a dean, a provost and a president. It's been wonderful to sample all of these things," says Thorpe, who has always believed Carnegie Mellon Qatar is learning as much as it is teaching.

Prior to being appointed dean, Thorpe was a faculty member in the Robotics Institute at the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon Pittsburgh. A renowned roboticist, he also served as director of the Robotics Institute from 2000 to 2004, and is the founding head of its robotics master's program.

Thorpe holds a Ph.D. from the School of Computer Science and is one of the University's first alumni to pursue a career in robotics. His advisers were Raj Reddy, founding director of the Robotics Institute and Mozah Bint Nasser University Professor, and Hans Moravec, one of the world's first developers of autonomous mobile robots.

Since receiving his Ph.D., Thorpe's research has focused on the development of outdoor robotic vehicles. During his tenure at the Robotics Institute, Thorpe and his Navlab research group built a series of robotic cars, trucks and buses for military and civilian research.

Thorpe's proposal to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop techniques for driving in hazardous environments resulted in a grant funding the development of Navlab 1, a passenger van that drove autonomously. Further iterations of the robot cars included Army Humvees, American passenger vehicles and buses for the Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority. The buses and other vehicles took part in the U.S. Department of Transportation's 1997 National Automated Highway Systems Consortium Demonstration, which showcased the technical feasibility of automated vehicles.

The buses and cars drove themselves in closed tracks across the United States. This feat earned Thorpe and his team the School of Computer Science's Newell Award for Research Excellence, and a spot in the Robot Hall of Fame. He also is a Fellow of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence and a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Because of his work in robotics, Thorpe was named the 2003 Pittsburgh Vectors Man of the Year in Science and Technology. Additionally, Thorpe has more than 150 peer-reviewed publications.

After a one-year sabbatical, Thorpe intends to return to Carnegie Mellon Pittsburgh as a faculty member in the School of Computer Science. He will resume teaching, conducting research and advising students. Additionally, he plans to keep a relationship with Carnegie Mellon Qatar and anticipates returning to Doha regularly.


Pictured above is Charles E. "Chuck" Thorpe.