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Rojas-Teran heads to MIT Lincoln Lab

After over 30 years serving The Ohio State Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), longtime professor Roberto Rojas-Teran ventures into a new role after retirement.

“I’ve been thinking about this moment for the last couple of days,” Rojas said to staff, family and friends at the ECE retirement luncheon Tuesday, May 19. “It’s finally becoming a reality – this retirement and leaving Ohio State.”

Rojas begins his next chapter living in Boston and working with the MIT Lincoln Laboratory.

“I came here when I was 22 years old,” he said about his time at Ohio State. “I just got my BS degree from New Mexico State University. I had the choice to come here to Ohio State or go to Stanford at that time, but I wanted to go into electromagnetics and people told me here was the place to go for electromagnetics. So, that’s how I came here.”

Rojas also joked about his integration into Ohio life at the time.

“I didn’t know much about Columbus. I didn’t know much about Ohio, actually. When people found out I was coming to Ohio State, they would always tease me. Of course, I didn’t know they were trying to tease me, but now I know. They would say, “We really like Michigan.” I would say, “That’s good,” (shrugging his arms). It didn’t mean anything to me at that time. Once I came here, of course, I learned we’re supposed to hate Michigan, or at least not like them,” he said smiling.

Rojas said his career plan was simply to earn his Ph.D., get a job and then move on from Ohio.

“Thirty seven years later and I’m still here,” he said. “Ohio State has been very good to me.”

Being close to family was important, he said. Two of his younger brothers got their engineering degrees from Ohio State. Plus, his sister went to Ohio State and now one of his daughters is a junior here as well.

Rojas said he held many roles over the decades.

“I was a student. I was a research scientist. I was a faculty member. I was an administrator. I had the opportunity to meet many people from different fields, not just within the department or the college, but actually outside the college as well,” he said. “I’ve been very happy here. It’s been very good to my family.”

ECE Chair Joel Johnson said Rojas always had a broad range of research skills.

“He works in very challenging and technical areas … it requires deep technical thinking,” he said. “He is definitely a deep thinker who addresses problems from a strong fundamental basis. Fundamental physics is always involved to create innovative solutions. Working as a colleague of his in the electromagnetics area, I’ve served on the committees of many of his students and I’ve been very impressed with the accomplishments of those students. It’s because of Roberto’s leadership.”

Rojas' wife joked that her husband’s dedication to his work is on a whole other level. She said he would sometimes lie awake at night trying to figure out math homework assignments brought home by their children.

“He will lay there and think about it, until he figures it out. Then, he has gotten up in the middle of the night and gone downstairs. We have a white board in our house that we use for homework. He goes down and solves it,” she laughed. “So, he is a man that sticks to it. And this is a man who reads physics books for fun. They are on the nightstand, literally. And I love him dearly.”

Yolanda Zepeda, Assistant Provost of the Office of Diversity & Inclusion, said few take the time to truly advocate for Latino students and faculty. She thanked Rojas for all the work he has done over the years in this area.

ECE faculty member Ron Reano said he looks back at his time working with Rojas with much respect.

“He was quite the role model. I think the one thing I will take away is that he was always very challenging with the students, with respect to the physics that was happening. He wouldn’t let the students go unless he was satisfied with what he heard. I think that is something that I will keep with me,” Reano said.

It also struck him that Rojas was a constant learner.

“Over his career he kept on learning. He wasn’t afraid to tell me he was a constant learner and I will keep that with me,” he said.

Former ECE chair Robert Lee said Rojas always invested time in his students.

“Roberto was always a mentor,” Lee said. “When he became Graduate Studies Chair, one of the reasons I chose him was because I knew he was very good to the students and really cared about them.”

Professor Siddharth Rajan said Rojas is simply a lot of fun to talk to. They hung out many times in the faculty lounge.

“We talk about politics, or history, or anything,” Rajan said. “He is so interested in so many things. A couple of years ago he was attending a class in the physics department. He sat through the whole thing – it was a condensed matter physics class – just because he was interested. I think we can all learn from that.”

Rojas thanked everyone for his time with the ECE.

“I’m going to miss you, but I will be back. You won’t get rid of me that easy. I still have four Ph.D. students to supervise,” he said.