Lehigh University
Lehigh University


James Foley ’64 named to National Academy of Engineering

James Foley '64

James Foley ’64 was recently elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), one of the highest distinctions given to engineers in the United States.

Foley, interim dean of the College of Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology, professor of interactive computing and Stephen Fleming Chair in Telecommunications, was cited for his “contributions to the establishment of the fields of computer graphics and human-computer interactions.”

Foley is one of two Lehigh alums to recently receive this coveted honor, joining Gary Calabrese ’79.

Foley is the lead author of Fundamentals of Interactive Computer Graphics, what some people call “the Bible of computer graphics.” Since its publication in 1982, Foley estimates that it has sold more than 350,000 copies in seven or eight languages.

In 1991, Foley arrived at Georgia Tech to found its Graphics, Visualization & Usability (GVU) Center. At a time when computers were more technologically advanced than user friendly, the center employed psychologists and designers as well as technicians to help design more appealing and easy-to-use computers. Five years after its formation, U.S. News and World Report ranked GVU as the No. 1 program for graduate computer science work in graphics and user interaction.

“James Foley has been a forefather of both fields. He’s been pretty forward thinking,” says Xiaolei Huang, assistant professor of computer science and engineering. She teaches both the human-computer interaction and computer graphics courses at Lehigh and recommends Foley’s textbook to students in her computer graphics course.

“He is a very established person in graphics and human-computer interaction,” she says. “His textbook is one of the earliest in interactive computer graphics.”

The Karakash effect

When asked if anything or anyone at Lehigh helped him in his career, Foley gave a two-word answer: John Karakash.

The now-deceased dean of the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering encouraged Foley, an electrical engineering major, to attend several humanities courses. “It opened my eyes to the world beyond technology,” says Foley, who now encourages his computer science students to study other disciplines.

Foley also credits Karakash with pushing him to take the cooperative education program (co-op). During his eight month engineering internship, Foley learned methods industry engineers use to solve problems.

At Lehigh, Foley discovered the joys of computing through a circuitry course taught by a professor of electrical engineering who taught his students to design circuits on a computer program. At the time computers were large, rare and expensive.

“If it wasn’t for that forward-looking professor and a General Electric computer,” Foley says, “I might not have learned about the wonders of computing. Who knows what I would have been doing. It probably wouldn’t be this, which would be a shame, because I love what I do.”

Foley pursued his interest at the University of Michigan, receiving a Ph.D. in computer information and control engineering in 1969.

After establishing Georgia Tech’s GVU Center, Foley wanted to experience “industry think as opposed to academic think.” In 1996, he became director of Mitsubishi Electric Research Lab and then chairman and CEO of Mitsubishi Electric ITA in 1998.

He returned to Georgia Tech in late 1999 as Executive Director and then CEO of Yamacraw, an economic development initiative in the design of broadband systems, devices and chips. From 2001 to 2005, Dr. Foley chaired the Computing Research Association—an association of more than 200 computer science and computer engineering professional societies, industrial research centers and academic departments, including Lehigh University’s computer science and engineering (CSE) department.

Foley serves on Lehigh’s departmental advisory board and “has taken a deep interest in the relatively new CSE department,” says Henry Korth, the chair of CSE. “He has been a very conscientious member of the advisory board and cares deeply about Lehigh.”

Part of Foley’s fondness may be passed down from his mother, Stella (Zieger) Foley ’37, who earned her master’s degree at Lehigh, and encouraged his brother, Richard ’65, graduated with a B.S. in chemical engineering.

Foley has garnered praise throughout the computing world. He is a fellow in the leading professional associations for both the computer graphics and the human-computer interactions, the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Graphics and Interactive Techniques (ACM SIGGRAPH) and ACM’s Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction (SIGCHI). He is also a fellow at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and an inaugural member of the ACM SIGCHI Academy. In 2008, Georgia Tech bestowed on Foley its highest faculty honor, the Class of 1934 Distinguished Professor Award.

Foley, however, considers his greatest honor receiving an award from Georgia Tech graduate students for being “the most likely to make students want to be a professor.” His pride in that award may also be a legacy from Karakash, who Foley says, strove to impart a passion for learning to his students.

--Becky Straw

Posted on Friday, October 24, 2008

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