University of Illinois computer science Professor Emerita Geneva Belford died on March 4, 2014, following a long period of illness. Professor Belford positively influenced students at the University of Illinois for almost 50 years, first as a professor of Mathematics, next as a professor of Computer Science, and then as the CS Department’s Graduate Program Coordinator, even after her official retirement in 2000.
After completing a bachelor’s degree in mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania, Belford came to the University of Illinois as a mathematics PhD student, graduating in 1960. She then joined the Chemistry Department as a research associate until 1964, when she became an assistant professor of Mathematics. In 1972, she joined the Center for Advanced Computation as a research assistant professor, and in 1976 she was promoted to research associate professor. Professor Belford joined the Department of Computer Science in 1977. She was promoted to full professor in 1982.
At the time that she joined Computer Science, Professor Belford already had a strong reputation for research and teaching, including having directed five PhD theses—four in mathematics and one in computer science. In CS, she quickly became one of the most popular faculty advisors. In addition to supervising the research of traditional CS graduate students, she enthusiastically advised the work of students with little or no computer science background. Over the course of her career, she supervised 34 CS PhD dissertations and 153 CS MS theses. She often had as many as 15 students working with her, covering a wide range of interests in the general areas of databases and distributed systems.
Many of Belford’s students have gone on to have highly successful careers, which have ranged from faculty positions across the world, to holding important CS positions in large companies, starting large enterprises, and even becoming practicing physicians. Her students and her faculty colleagues often fondly described her as encouraging, accessible, and able to dispense valuable, constructive advice.
Belford’s positive impact on students extended beyond the CS department to the entire campus. In the early 1980s, she served as university’s associate dean of the Graduate College. Later, she devoted much time to improving the university as a member of the faculty senate. She also shared her expertise as a member of campus committees that addressed challenges such as the implementation of online registration, educational technologies, and administrative data processing.
An outstanding educational leader, teacher, and mentor, Belford received several campus honors, including the 1986 College of Engineering Halliburton Educational Leadership Award, the 1991 Dad’s Association Outstanding Faculty Award, the 2005 Graduate College Outstanding Mentor Award, and the 2007 Mom’s Association Medallion of Honor.
In 2012, Belford received a CS @ ILLINOIS Distinguished Service Award. For the ceremony, Sohaib Abbasi (BS CS ’78, MS CS ’80), a former graduate student who is currently president and CEO of Informatica Corporation, provided the following remarks:
“It is my privilege to recognize Professor Geneva Belford for all her remarkable contributions and role in shaping the career of so many students. No doubt, as my thesis advisor, I benefited tremendously from her formative influence in my own career.
“My master's thesis in 1980 was titled “Design of Relational Database Operators as an Extension of an Experimental Programming Language.” It turned out to be the single most important decision of my career. It has been the foundation of my entire career as I have stayed in that field ever since.
“We all owe a debt of gratitude for all that Professor Belford has given to the University of Illinois and countless students like me.”
For the same occasion, Thomas M. Siebel (BA History ’75, MBA ’83, MS CS ’85), the chairman and CEO of C3 Energy, provided a video honoring Belford, who was his graduate advisor.
Friends, students, and colleagues are invited to post remembrances about Professor Belford’s life and career.
Donations in Professor Belford’s honor may be made to the Geneva Belford Memorial Fund in Computer Science at the University of Illinois. Checks may be made payable to the University of Illinois Foundation with reference to the fund, and mailed to:
Department of Computer Science
Geneva Belford Memorial Fund
201 N. Goodwin Ave., MC-258
Urbana, IL 61801-2302
Online donations may be made at our Giving page by designating the Geneva Belford Memorial Fund.