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Alumnus Cheng’s Gift Helps Retain & Recruit Exceptional Faculty

11/10/2016 4:53:39 PM Laura Schmitt, CS @ ILLINOIS

“The quality of the professors defines the quality of the programs at a university,” said Richard T. Cheng (MS ’69, PhD ’71), an influential educator who founded the computer science departments at the Rochester Institute of Technology and Old Dominion University and served as their head. “Good faculty are always recruited by others, so you have to have a way to retain them."

Richard T. Cheng
Richard T. Cheng
Recently, Cheng endowed a professorship in computer science to help CS @ ILLINOIS not only retain but also attract the most talented faculty. “A professorship is one tool to do that,” Cheng noted. “The university already has an abundance of excellent professors, but there can never be too many.”

In fact, Illinois is aggressively hiring CS faculty, so Cheng’s gift couldn’t have come at a better time.

Cheng’s philanthropy at Illinois began more than 15 years ago when he established the Richard T. Cheng Endowed Fellowship in CS. His motivation? He was grateful for the fellowship and research assistantship that enabled him to complete graduate school while supporting his wife and three young children.

“I appreciate that the university gave me such a good foundation for pursuing my career, and I wanted to give back for all Illinois has done for me,” said Cheng, who recognizes the financial challenges that today’s students face. “I was trying my best to help out... so young people can pursue their dreams.”

Cheng’s academic influence reached beyond CS departments in the United States. He helped establish the College of Computer Science and Engineering at King Saud University in Saudi Arabia, where he also advised the government about the nation’s computer network system. An entrepreneur, he also founded ECI Systems & Engineering in 1980. At its peak, the Virginia-based company was a leading integrated systems provider for the U.S. military and government, with annual sales of $50 million, more than 500 employees, and 32 offices around the world. Cheng retired from ECI in 2002 and the company has since gone through several mergers.

In 2011, Cheng was recognized by the College of Engineering at Illinois with the Alumni Award for Distinguished Service for his outstanding leadership in education and in business. In his free time, Cheng serves on the Board of Visitors at Old Dominion University and he enjoys traveling.

Note: originally published in Click! Magazine, 2015, volume I.