Professors Remembered: Taylor L. Booth

Dr. Taylor L. Booth (1933 – 1986) was a beloved teacher and mentor, a force nationally for computer education and the accreditation of computer science degree programs, a respected scholar and an influential partner in establishing centralized computing resources at UConn that today serve faculty researchers across the university’s campuses.  While Dr. Booth died unexpectedly 25 years ago, his impact can still be felt palpably within the computer science community and across the UConn campus.

A Manchester, CT native, Dr. Booth earned his B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees at UConn.  Former students and colleagues agree that Dr. Booth was a formidable, loyal and energetic man of integrity who worked tirelessly to define computer science as an independent, transformational discipline.  He was also instrumental in the development of computer science and engineering curricula, and creating an accreditation program specifically for computer science.

Early Technophile

Aline Booth, Dr. Booth’s widow, believes he first caught the electronics “bug” in high school, as a ham radio buff.  It was a pursuit shared by the high school sweethearts, who spent many afternoons together after school, engaging other operators around the world. The two enrolled at UConn, Taylor in electrical engineering and Aline as a political science major.  After earning their degrees in 1955, young Taylor received his M.S. a year later and the young married couple moved to Baltimore, MD where Dr. Booth began working with Westinghouse while also taking classes at the University of Maryland toward a Ph.D. In quick succession, the Booths welcomed three babies. The stress of a full-time job, graduate coursework and new parenthood brought the young family home to Connecticut, where extended family members could provide much-needed support as Dr. Booth pursued his doctorate in Electrical Engineering.

In 1962, Taylor Booth completed his Ph.D. and UConn offered him a faculty position.  As a student, he had worked on IBM-funded research that engaged him in hands-on computing at the evolving technological frontier.  Mrs. Booth believes that experience, paired with the many mathematics courses he took while pursuing his degrees, convinced Dr. Booth that computing would play a pivotal role in the future.

“He was very enthusiastic about computers,” Mrs. Booth recalls.  “He built several computers at home. I still have one of them. I remember him coming home and telling the kids, when they were old enough to understand, that everyone would have a computer on their desk before long. They thought he was exaggerating!”

Sowing Seeds of Computing Education

Dr. Booth began his academic career as a faculty member in the Electrical Engineering (EE) Department at UConn.  An authority in the area of automata theory – essentially the study of mathematical machines and systems – at a time when computing was still in its adolescence, Dr. Booth developed coursework in the subject.  He quickly learned that there were few textbooks suitable for instructing students in the emerging science, so over the course of 14 years he authored three books that can still be purchased today: Computing:  Fundamentals and Applications (1974 with Y-T Chien), Digital Networks and Computer Systems (1978) and Introduction to Computer Engineering: Hardware and Software Design (1984).  But while he valued classroom lessons, Mrs. Booth notes that her husband was convinced that students learn best by doing, so he spent many hours in the computer lab helping students apply computing theory in a hands-on fashion.

According to professor emeritus Howard Sholl, who was advised by Dr. Booth and later became a colleague, computer science was first offered as a graduate degree program within the EE Department in the 1960s and ‘70s. As the discipline attracted greater numbers of students and gained prominence, Dr. Booth was able to convince his colleagues to offer computer science as an area of concentration within the EE degree program. Dr. Sholl notes that his colleague’s ultimate goal was always to establish a separate computer science department.  As any good engineer would, Dr. Booth approached the challenge methodically.  Dr. Sholl recalls, “There were different models around the country. Computing was quite often a component of mathematics departments. Taylor was determined to keep it in the School of Engineering, but to establish it within its own department.”

In 1974, the School of Engineering formally recognized the growing role of computer science via a change in the departmental name, to Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS). Dr. Sholl notes, “There were a lot of growing pains in those years. The traditionalists were opposed to the idea of a separate computer science department. A small group of us met clandestinely at Taylor’s house to plot our strategy, which included having electrical engineering colleagues teach some of the computer science courses. Eventually, we were able to convince enough faculty that computer science should have its own identity.”  From these strategic, patient efforts, the Computer Science & Engineering Department was born in 1986.

The long journey toward gaining recognition and autonomy for computer science at UConn also benefitted from Dr. Booth’s national influence.  UConn’s B.S. computer science curriculum debuted in 1971-72, and 13 B.S. degrees were awarded in 1972.  Dr. Booth was committed to ensuring the degree program was nationally recognized, so he championed the computer science program and helped prepare the department to become one of the first to receive national accreditation, in 1972 via ABET (then the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology).

National Recognition for Computing

At the national level, Dr. Booth was heavily involved in engineering education as a member and Fellow of the IEEE.  Two of his professional colleagues in the organization were Drs. Gerald Engel and James T. (Tom) Cain.  Dr. Engel, now on the faculty of the UConn Stamford campus, Dr. Cain, now a professor emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh, and Dr. Booth worked closely for a number of years as members of the working group that eventually birthed the CSAB (Computing Sciences Accreditation Board).

During the 1970s, interest in computing was exploding, and many universities were establishing computer engineering programs. At the time, there were no ABET program criteria for computer engineering. Drs. Booth and Cain drafted a set of criteria and worked to get the various approvals to have ABET adopt them as the first computer engineering program criteria. Programs around the country immediately applied for accreditation of their programs.

By the early 1980s, there were a significant number of programs in computer science, but there was no accrediting body for these programs. The IEEE Computer Society (IEEE-CS) and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) formed a joint committee to review the need for a separate accreditation agency for computer science programs. Drs. Engel, Cain and Booth were members of the joint committee, and over the course of two years, at conferences and other professional meetings, they presented the concepts and basics of accreditation to – and received feedback from – colleagues around the country and amassed compelling evidence demonstrating both the need and desire for a separate computer science accreditation process. Their efforts paid off with the establishment of the Computing Sciences Accreditation Board (CSAB) as an independent, recognized accreditation agency in 1984, with Dr. Booth serving as its first president.  In the mid-1990s, ABET and CSAB merged, and the Computer Science Accreditation Commission of CSAB became the Computing Accreditation Commission of the new ABET. CSAB is now the lead society within ABET for the accreditation of programs in computer science, information systems, software engineering and information technology, and is a cooperating society for the accreditation of programs in computer engineering, biological engineering, and information engineering technology.  The IEEE/Computer Society and the ACM remain the member societies of CSAB.

At UConn: Fostering Resources & Careers

UConn owes a great debt to Dr. Booth.  In addition to helping to build the Computer Science & Engineering department, in 1981 he founded the Computer Applications & Research Center to support the growing need for centralized computing research and development services.  Today, that center bears his indelible mark as well as his name, as the Booth Engineering Center for Advanced Technology (BECAT).  As he envisioned, computing today is a fundamental partner to countless research efforts across the UConn campuses.

Dr. Booth also played a central role in helping UConn populate its computer science program with dedicated faculty from around the world. Dr. Keith Barker, a professor of Computer Science & Engineering and director of UConn’s Institute of Teaching & Learning, first met him while conducting sabbatical research at UConn in 1982, far from his home institution of Sheffield University in England.  “Taylor decided he wanted me to stay on at UConn to establish an instructional lab program for undergraduates, in computer science. At that time, computer science was largely unrecognized as a laboratory science,” he explains. Dr. Barker and his family settled in Connecticut a year later, where he joined the EECS Department.

Both Dr. Barker and Dr. Sholl were in the unenviable position of having to quickly build their academic portfolios, thanks to an accelerated tenure review cycle. In Dr. Barker’s case, after spending 18 years as an academic in England, he had few U.S. contacts on whom to rely.  Aware of this dilemma, Dr. Barker recalls that Dr. Booth took him to an IEEE Computer Society International Conference (COMPCON), where he introduced Dr. Barker to key members of the society.  The group immediately embraced him, and “I came away from the conference tasked with a job from the Educational Activities Committee.  It was typical of Taylor to make the introductions necessary for a new member to become integrated into the community.  If he hadn’t mentored me in this way, introducing me to professional contacts and sharing his advice in those early days, I don’t think I would be here at UConn today,” notes Dr. Barker.

Dr. Sholl’s experience was similar. “I met Taylor when I joined UConn in 1966 after having worked in industry.  At the time, it was not uncommon for teachers to come in as tenure-track instructors without a Ph.D. But to continue, we had to earn a Ph.D. during a prescribed time period and then apply to become a tenure-track assistant professor. I was alarmed to learn that the first four years I was here, while toiling away on my doctorate, reduced my tenure review cycle. I was given just one year to build my credentials.  Taylor was very supportive during that time, helping me quickly establish myself. One of the funded proposals I received that year was with Taylor.”

Dr. Engel, whom Dr. Booth knew well from their years together on various IEEE committees, joined UConn at his urging. “I was teaching at a small college in Virginia, and he asked me if I would consider coming to Connecticut.  The Stamford campus had just received an endowment for UConn’s first endowed faculty position – the Leonhardt Professor of Computer Science and Engineering.  It was his urging that brought me here in 1984.”  Dr. Engel later ascended to the role of President of both the IEEE Computer Society and the CSAB.

Dr. Reda Ammar, Head of the Computer Science & Engineering Department envisioned by his thesis advisor and mentor, still holds Dr. Booth in the highest esteem, not only for his support, but also for his dedication in bringing computer science into the mainstream as a respected profession, and for his personal warmth and concern for others. Dr. Booth hired Dr. Ammar as a visiting assistant professor during the last semester of his doctoral program (Ph.D. 1983) and later asked him to remain at UConn as a faculty member after completing his degree. The need to fulfill his obligations to the Egyptian government, which financed his education in the U.S., delayed Dr. Ammar’s return to Connecticut.  When circumstances permitted him to accept the offer, Dr. Booth worked to bring not only Dr. Ammar but also his wife, UConn grad Tahany Fergany (Ph.D.) back to the U.S.  Besides filing the paperwork for Dr. Ammar’s necessary H1 visa, Dr. Booth and his colleague Dr. Fred Maryanski even enlisted the help of U.S. Senators Chris Dodd and Lowell Weicker when the visa was delayed in processing.

Dr. Booth’s friends recall many anecdotes about him. Dr. Cain remembers one conference the two attended in China, accompanied by their wives, at a time when few Americans had visited the country. In addition to participating in the conference, the two professors presented a separate workshop to leaders of Chinese universities while most conference attendees were visiting the Great Wall and other sites. To ensure their guests missed none of the major tourism marvels, the Chinese hosts arranged a private tour for the two professors and their spouses, with their own non-English speaking driver, an inconvenient oversight that complicated the tour. The only way to communicate regarding time commitments, such as when the tourists needed to return to their hotel, was to point at the analog clock in the car. Dr. Cain remarked, “Thank goodness digital clocks were not the norm!”

In his capacity as Head of Computer Science & Engineering, Dr. Ammar remarks, “I learned so much from Taylor.  I have an obligation to carry his flag. As Department Head, I have worked to build and strengthen the department, because it’s what he did.  He was a model for me.  I try to be the same kind of person he was, and to engage people in the same way he did.”

Following his untimely death in 1986, the IEEE Computer Society established the Taylor L. Booth Education Award, which is presented annually to an individual with an exceptional record in computer science and engineering education.  Fittingly, Dr. Cain was the award’s first recipient in 1987.

Closer to his academic home at UConn, in 1988, Aline Booth and numerous friends and admirers established the Taylor L. Booth Scholarship Fund.  It is awarded to outstanding graduate students in the Department of Computer Science & Engineering. Last year’s awardees were Greg Johnson and Thérèse M. Smith.  To make a gift in Dr. Booth’s memory, please contact Donald Swinton at dswinton@foundation.uconn.edu.

DEPARTMENTS

Biomedical Engineering

Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering

Civil & Environmental Engineering

Computer Science & Engineering

Electrical & Computer Engineering

Materials Science & Engineering

Mechanical Engineering

Centers & Institutes