Randolph Frederick Pausch (October 23, 1960 – July 25, 2008) was an American educator, a professor of computer science, human–computer interaction, and design at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Pausch learned he had pancreatic cancer in September 2006. In August 2007, he was given a terminal diagnosis: “three to six months of good health left”. He gave an upbeat lecture titled, “The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” on September 18, 2007 at Carnegie Mellon, which became a popular YouTube video and led to other media appearances. He co-authored a book of the same name, The Last Lecture, which became a New York Times best-seller.
Pausch died of complications from pancreatic cancer on July 25, 2008, aged 47.
Randolph Frederick Pausch was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and grew up in Columbia, Maryland. After graduating from Oakland Mills High School in Columbia, Pausch received his bachelor’s degree in computer science from Brown University in May 1982 and his PhD in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University in August 1988. While completing his doctoral studies, Pausch was briefly employed at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center and Adobe Systems.
Computer science career
Pausch was an assistant and associate professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science from 1988 until 1997. While there, in 1995, he completed sabbaticals at Walt Disney Imagineering and Electronic Arts (EA). In 1997, Pausch became Associate Professor of Computer Science, Human-Computer Interaction, and Design at Carnegie Mellon University. In 1998, he was a co-founder, along with Don Marinelli, of CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC), and he began the Building Virtual Worlds course at CMU, which he taught for 10 years. He consulted with Google on user interface design and also consulted with PARC, Imagineering, and Media Metrix. Pausch is also the founder of the Alice software project. He received the National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award and was a Lilly Foundation Teaching Fellow. Pausch was the author or co-author of five books and over 70 articles.
Pausch received two awards from ACM in 2007 for his achievements in computing education: the Karl V. Karlstrom Outstanding Educator Award and the ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education Award for Outstanding Contributions to Computer Science Education. He was also inducted as a Fellow of the ACM in 2007.
Cancer and death
Pausch was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and underwent a Whipple procedure (pancreaticoduodenectomy) on September 19, 2006, in an attempt to halt the disease. He was told in August 2007 to expect three to six months of good health remaining. He moved his family to Chesapeake, Virginia, to be close to his wife’s family. On March 13, 2008, Pausch advocated for more federal funding for pancreatic cancer before the United States Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies. In the week prior to his testimony, he had been hospitalized for needle aspiration of pleural effusion in his right lung.
On May 2, 2008, a positron emission tomography (PET) scan showed that he had tiny (5 millimetres (0.20 in) or less) metastases in his lungs and in some of the lymph nodes in his chest. He also had metastases in his peritoneal and retroperitoneal cavities. On June 26, 2008, Pausch announced that he was considering halting chemotherapy due to its potential adverse side effects. He was, however, considering some immuno-therapy-based approaches. On July 24, on behalf of Pausch, a friend anonymously posted a message on Pausch’s webpage stating that a biopsy had revealed that the cancer had progressed farther than recent PET scans showed, and that Pausch had “taken a step down” and was “much sicker than he had been”. The friend also stated that Pausch had enrolled in a hospice program for end of life palliative care.[
Pausch died from pancreatic cancer at his family’s home in Chesapeake, Virginia, on July 25, 2008, at the age of 47. He is survived by his wife, Jai, and their three children, Dylan, Logan, and Chloe.
“Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”
Pausch delivered his “Last Lecture”, titled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”, at CMU on September 18, 2007. He gave an abridged version of his speech on The Oprah Winfrey Show in October 2007. The talk was modeled after an ongoing series of lectures where top academics are asked to think deeply about what matters to them, and then give a hypothetical “final talk”, with a topic such as “what wisdom would you try to impart to the world if you knew it was your last chance?” Before speaking, Pausch received a long standing ovation from a large crowd of over 400 colleagues and students. When he motioned them to sit down, saying, “Make me earn it”, someone in the audience shouted back, “You did!”
During the lecture, Pausch offered inspirational life lessons, and performed push-ups on stage. He also commented on the irony that the “Last Lecture” series had recently been renamed as “Journeys”, saying, “I thought, damn, I finally nailed the venue and they renamed it.” After Pausch finished his lecture, Steve Seabolt, on behalf of Electronic Arts—which is now collaborating with CMU in the development of Alice 3.0—pledged to honor Pausch by creating a memorial scholarship for women in computer science, in recognition of Pausch’s support and mentoring of women in CS and engineering.
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