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Dr. John E. Hopcroft
2017 Simon Ramo Founders Award
I wish to thank all who have helped me in my career especially my teachers in elementary school, high school, and college. Many had a profound impact on my life and that is why I became an academic. I wanted to have a similar impact on the next generation of talent. I wish to thank my Ph.D. students who worked with me and helped build my career.
Also I wish to acknowledge and thank those individuals who created journals where we publish, funding agencies where we seek support and the founders of NAE. We often forget the work others have done to create the world we enjoy. Many who do not get recognized with awards, but whose work is vital.
I love teaching and research. I still teach full time at Cornell but also have become involved in other activities. In our lives our goals change. Early in our careers we are busy establishing a professional reputation. Later we seek other goals such as making the world a better place for many others.
Let me talk briefly about two activities that have captivated me lately.
The first involves early childhood development. When a child is born the neurons are present in the brain but not the wiring, most of which is formed in the first three years. Some is still formed in the first 20 years of a child’s life. Imagine two children, one born in a stable upper-middle-class family and another born in an inner city to a single mother who is on drugs. Surely the wiring will not be equivalent. If we provided free high quality early childhood programs in inner cities, would we get our investment back 30 years later with fewer mental problems, less crime, and more productive citizens? Exploring the existing science on this issue and making it public could have a major impact on our society. The first step was to discuss this with Annual Reviews and they are now working on publishing a review that will contain some of the research needed to educate the public.
The second involves improving education in China. In the last 20 years the number of students in universities there grew from six million to twenty million and the government had to focus on increasing capacity. The number of faculty grew from 300,000 to a million. Now they are focusing on quality. The opportunity to help them is an opportunity to improve the world for tens of millions of students.
Finally I would like to say I appreciate this recognition but recognize that I have built on many peoples’ contributions that allowed me to do things I wanted to do. Their important work enabled me to receive this award. Thank you.