Outstanding Achievement in a Chosen Profession

The Outstanding Achievement in a Chosen Profession award is presented annually to a member of the alumni community whose professional accomplishments and achievements are exceptionally noteworthy and distinctive in his or her profession.

2020 Recipient

Daniel E. Atkins III ’65

Growing up in Wheaton, Md., Daniel Atkins '65 knew early on that he wanted to become an electrical engineer and a professor. Bucknell was a perfect fit to begin his journey, and he arrived just as digital computers were entering the engineering curriculum, though slide rules and pocket protectors were still common. Professors John Hale and Ed Staiano were early in bringing computing to Bucknell in the form of an IBM 1620, and this freshman course was instrumental in changing Atkins' life. He quickly realized that mastering the computer would open enormous opportunities for the future.

During his sophomore year, Atkins designed and constructed an online digital clock that enabled the IBM machine to keep track of usage. He also created an electronic circulation system for the Bertrand Library, one of the first of its kind. He was editor of the Bucknell Engineer, played guitar in the TekeWoods fraternity band and served as an ROTC cadet colonel and brigade commander. 

After graduating from Bucknell, Atkins went on to earn his master's and doctorate degrees in computer science at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. As part of his studies he served on the design team for two of the first super computers, and his doctoral research produced computer arithmetic methods widely used in computers today. After completion of his Ph.D., he served in active duty as an Army captain and moved to reserve status as the Vietnam War came to an end. Atkins, his wife, Monica Meyer '66, and young son Thomas returned to Bucknell as he shifted to academia, teaching computer science courses while Monica taught Spanish. Their teaching careers then took them to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where their daughter Susan was born.

The first decade of Atkins' Michigan career focused on building application-specific computers including joint work with the Mayo Clinic on an early CAT scan system. His research focus later changed to the technical and social aspects of distributed research and learning in which his group pioneered the concept of a research "collaboratory" — a laboratory without walls living on the internet. After serving as the dean of engineering, Atkins became the founding dean of the School of Information, the first in the nation and a model adopted in at least 40 other universities. He also served as an assistant director of the National Science Foundation and an associate vice president for research at the University of Michigan, leading the next generation of research computing.

Atkins has chaired or served on many advisory boards for government, academia, philanthropy and industry. He is currently chairing a major study for the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine about the future of automated and AI-assisted research workflow.

Atkins is a Distinguished Engineering Alumnus of the University of Illinois, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a recipient of the Paul Evan Peters Award for information resource innovation. His career has been blessed by nurturing parents, a supportive loving wife, two children, five grandchildren and life-long friends. 

Past Recipients

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