Founder Professor of Engineering

The Founder Professorships of Engineering are made possible by the Grainger Engineering Breakthroughs Initiative, the result of a $100 million investment in the College of Engineering. The name commemorates Stillman Williams Robinson, the first faculty member to teach engineering at the University of Illinois and the first dean when the College of Engineering was organized in 1878.


In the Department of Computer Science, Founder Professorships are currently held by Professors Timothy Chan, Sheldon Jacobson, and Tandy Warnow.

Timothy M. Chan is a world leader in computational geometry and, more broadly, in the design and analysis of algorithms and data structures. Chan's research is changing the way we think about dyanmic geometric data structures. He is one of the most productive and influential researchers in his field, with nearly 120 conference papers and 80 journal publications. His long-term research plans include pivoting powerful theoretical tools in the Big Data arena, where he argues that critical tasks in high-volume streaming/sketching can be formulated as geometry problems.

In 2016, Chan joined CS @ ILLINOIS after having served as a full professor in computer science and University Research Chair at the University of Waterloo's Cheriton School of Computer Science.  Chan is one of the most popular and respected professors among students. He excels at clearly explaining difficult concepts, making it easier for students to understand and apply information.

Chan is the associate editor of ACM Transactions on Algorithms, the SIAM Journal on Computing, and the International Journal of Computational Geometry and Applications. He is also a member of the editorial boards of Algorithmica as well as Discrete and Computational Geometry: Theory and Applications. Because of his research accomplishments, Chan has been invited to speak at many conferences, including SODA 2011, ISAA 2012, WADS 2013, CCCG 2014, and SoGC/STOC 2016.

Chan graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from Rice University and completed his PhD in computer science at the University of British Columbia at the age of 19. He is a former recipient of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada's Doctoral Prize.


Sheldon H. Jacobson joined the Department of Computer Science faculty at Illinois in 2006.  Prior to that, he was in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at Illinois from 1999.  He currently serves as the director of the Simulation and Optimization Laboratory and is the founding director of the Bed Time Research Institute at Illinois.  He also holds appointments in the Departments of Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Mathematics, and the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Urbana.

As a data scientist, Jacobson’s research focuses on using operations research models and advanced analytics to address public policy issues and societal problems of national interest.  His pioneering research on multi-level aviation security passenger screening at airports was the precursor to risk-based security, providing the foundational concepts that led to TSA Precheck©.  He researched the design of pediatric vaccine formularies, which introduced the use of operations research in the pediatric immunization domain.  Also, his research on bridging obesity, transportation, and fuel consumption established the impact of transportation on obesity, providing the foundation for non-medical obesity interventions based on modes of transportation.    

He has published over 260 peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, conference proceedings, and professional/editorial publications, and delivered more than 470 presentations. Also, he has directed 21 Ph.D. dissertations and has been awarded research support from the National Science Foundation and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

Jacobson is a national leader in communicating technical research to a broad audience, with his research widely published and discussed in the press and on radio and television networks worldwide.  Government and professional organizations, including the Office of President George W. Bush, have sought his expertise. He has also served on committees for the National Academy of Medicine and the National Research Council.  In 2016, he led a workshop on new directions for Broader Impacts in engineering at the National Science Foundation.

Numerous organizations have recognized Jacobson’s accomplishments, including Aviation Security International and the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers.  He was named a Guggenheim Fellow for his work on aviation security, and is an elected Fellow of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS) and the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers (IISE).

Jacobson has a bachelor’s and a master’s of science degree in mathematics from McGill University and a Ph.D. in operations research from Cornell University. He has previously served on the faculties of Case Western Reserve University and Virginia Tech, and served as a program director for the National Science Foundation from 2012 to 2014.  


Tandy WarnowUpon joining the University of Illinois in 2014 as a professor in the Departments of Bioengineering and Computer Science, Tandy Warnow was named as one of the inaugural Founder Professors of Engineering. She is an expert in the application of mathematics and computer science to developing algorithms for complex problems in the fields of phylogenomics, which is the intersection of evolution and genomics, and metagenomics, which is the study of genetic material in the environment. She has also applied her work to historical linguistics, developing and using statistical models to capture the evolution of historical linguistic data and to develop and implement statistically-based and combinatorial methods to reconstruct language phylogenies.

Professor Warnow received her PhD in mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1991, and she subsequently joined Simon Tavaré and Michael Waterman as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Southern California from 1991 to 1992. She was on the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania from 1993 to 1999. Immediately prior to joining Illinois, she was the David Bruton Jr. Centennial Professor in Computer Science at the University of Texas at Austin. A Fellow of the ACM, Professor Warnow has received a number of prestigious awards and recognitions, including an NSF Young Investigator Award in 1994, a David and Lucile Packard Foundation Fellowship in 1996, a Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Fellowship in 2003, and a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in 2011. Warnow served as the chair of the NIH study section on Biological Data Management and Analysis (BDMA) from 2010 to 2012.


Dan Roth Former Founder Professors

On the Illinois faculty until 2017, Dan Roth stood at the forefront of research in natural language understanding, machine learning and reasoning. He has done pioneering work that has helped bridge Learning and Reasoning in AI, including developing a theory integrating Learning and Reasoning, formally showing the benefit in jointly studying these important phenomena, and a highly influential constrained optimization framework that augments the learning of statistical models with declarative constraints. Building on these theories, Roth and his team have developed tools that can analyze human language, categorize it, parse it semantically, and “wikify” it—disambiguate it and map snippets of text to the relevant Wikipedia pages. These tools are used by numerous researchers and some commercial companies to access text in more sophisticated ways than a keyword search, which is used by search engines such as Google.

He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM), the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI), and the Association of Computational Linguistics (ACL), for his contributions to Machine Learning and to Natural Language Processing. He is the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research, and he has published broadly in machine learning, natural language processing, knowledge representation and reasoning, and learning theory, and has developed advanced machine learning based tools for natural language applications that are being used widely by the research community.