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Professor’s 56-year academic career the result of lucky choices

Professor Emeritus obert GarbaczRobert Garbacz, professor emeritus of electrical and computer engineering, credits his 56-year academic career to a series of lucky choices.

As a young child, Garbacz turned his bedroom closet into a laboratory where he would conduct experiments. That early love of electronics led him to choose electrical engineering for a
major when he arrived at the University of Buffalo.

“My father was probably a big influence on me,” explained Garbacz. “He was born in 1903 and would build his own radios; this was during the introduction of radio.”

As the first member of his extended family to attend college, being a professor never occurred to him, Garbacz said. It was one of his professors, an Ohio State alumnus, who first suggested
he go to graduate school and consider attending Ohio State.

“I looked at Ohio State and other schools, including Michigan, but I decided on Ohio State - luckiest decision I ever made in my life,” Garbacz said.

After coming to Ohio State, Garbacz received a graduate research assistant position at the ElectroScience Laboratory. There, his advisor suggested he get a PhD and later his ESL colleagues urged him to consider becoming a professor.

“And that’s the story of how a poor little Polish boy from Buffalo became an electrical engineering professor at The Ohio State University,” joked Garbacz.

“The best part of being a professor is definitely the students,” Garbacz said.

Beginning in 1968 he split his time equally between teaching and research. Then in 1983, at the request of then ECE Chairman Hsien C. Ko, Garbacz became Graduate Studies Chair. He set his research aside to assume the added administrative duties, but continued to teach.

“That’s the purpose of a university, I think, to pass on what you know,” said Garbacz. “I’ve had a happy life at OSU.”

Garbacz has been awarded the Ohio State College of Engineering’s Mac-Quigg Award for outstanding teaching twice, in 1987 and 2002. Yet his love of teaching is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that even after retiring in 1995, following 40 years at Ohio State, Garbacz has continued to teach undergraduate classes. Today, at age 77, he still spends 30 hours per week on campus and was recently awarded the 2011 H.C. Ko Meritorious Service Award for his dedicated service to the ECE department.

“It’s what keeps me young,” said Garbacz. “I love teaching. When I get up in the morning I want to go to work. Not a lot of people can say that.”

Although teaching is his first love, Garbacz also had a successful research career.

“A normal person is lucky if he comes up with one good idea in his life. I feel that I did that,” Garbacz explained. “The work I did in the mid- to late-1960s, in Characteristic Mode Theory, is the highpoint of my research. People didn’t appreciate it at the time, but 40 years later researchers, such as Prof. Roberto Rojas, are working with it and carrying it further than I ever dreamed.”

story by Candice Clevenger, photo by Christopher Toothman


This story originally appear in the autumn 2011 issue of Bits & Sparks, the alumni newsletter for the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.