David Cyganski Receives WPI's 2013 Chairman's Exemplary Faculty Prize at Commencement

An outstanding educator and scholar who has served the Institute in innumerable capacities, Cyganski has devoted the past decade to research on firefighter safety
May 10, 2013

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David Cyganski '75, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), received the Chairman's Exemplary Faculty Prize today during the university’s 145th Commencement exercises. The tradition of awarding the prize, which honors WPI faculty members for overall excellence, was established in 2007 through the personal philanthropy of Donald K. Peterson '71.

Unlike WPI's Board of Trustees' Awards, which recognize excellence in particular areas of faculty performance (teaching, research and scholarship, and advising), the Chairman's Exemplary Faculty Prize, in the amount of $10,000, recognizes and rewards faculty members who excel in all relevant areas of faculty performance. "They are the true exemplars of the Institute’s highest aspirations and most important qualities," WPI President Dennis Berkey noted in announcing the new awards.

Cyganski, one of the earliest graduates the WPI Plan, the Institute's innovative, project-based undergraduate program, joined the faculty in 1979 after earning his undergraduate and graduate degrees in electrical engineering at WPI. From the beginning he demonstrated a keen intellect and a drive to conquer mind-bending engineering challenges. In his quest for solutions, he has often applied knowledge from one field to a problem in another. For example, he was the first researcher to use tensor theory in image processing, and he studied the literature on the combustion of paper to find the key to a sensor that can warn firefighters about an imminent flashover.

Technology to keep first responders safe has been the focus of much of Cyganski's research over the past decade. Motivated by the loss of six Worcester firefighters in a 1999 warehouse fire, Cyganski and the rest of the Precision Personnel Location (PPL) research team have tackled the enormous challenge of pinpointing people inside buildings, where GPS does not reach. The steady improvement of the team's technology has depended upon Cyganski's elegant algorithms, which he builds on a foundation of complex mathematics. He also drew on electromagnetic field theory to build a homing device that can "see" through any barrier, and he is currently contributing to a device to alert firefighters to the danger of toxic gases.

The drive to help the men and women who risk their lives to ensure our safety led Cyganski and colleague James Duckworth to begin an annual workshop that brings together all parties with an interest in firefighter health and safety—including first responders, themselves—to assess progress and share successes. In recognition of their commitment to firefighter safety, the PPL team received the 2013 Massachusetts Fire Marshal's Award from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. WPI recognized Cyganski's impressive research record by presenting him with the 1996 Trustees' Award for Outstanding Creative Research and Scholarship.

WPI's first Joseph Samuel Satin Distinguished Fellow, Cyganski also received the 1984 Trustees' Award for Outstanding Teaching. He is known as an inspiring lecturer and a dedicated advisor of undergraduate projects and graduate theses and dissertations who, with his mentorship and high expectations, inspires students to achieve more than they thought they could.

Cyganski's service to WPI has been extensive. He has chaired search committees for department heads, a dean, and a president, and he led the drafting of a 10-year strategic plan for the Institute. In 1983, as a member of the President's Computer Advisory Committee, he helped spearhead the widespread introduction of personal computers at WPI. He went on to oversee the adoption of new administrative computing systems and the installation a campuswide high-speed network as the university's first chief information officer and first vice president for information systems. He has also served as vice provost and is currently interim dean of engineering.