Michael Zak ’75 honors emeritus professor William Maxwell in Gates Hall
When the future of the Bill and Melinda Gates building was in jeopardy because of a moratorium on capital projects during the recent economic downturn, Cornell Trustee Michael Zak ’75, who served in the Marine Corps, saw the need to “man up” to help fund Cornell’s share of the building. The Gates Foundation had donated $25 million for the building on condition that Cornell would raise the rest, but was considering asking that the money be returned when it appeared Cornell might not move ahead.
Zak’s generous gift in support of the building entitled him to name the “Maxwell Room,” on the first floor of Gates Hall, in honor of ORIE professor William “Max” Maxwell, the Andrew Schultz Jr. Professor of Industrial Engineering (Emeritus). Zak and Maxwell recently toured the nearly completed Gates building with Computing and Information Science Dean Haym Hirsh. Gates Hall has been built to house Computing and Information Science at Cornell. The Information Science department and the Computer Science department recently moved into the building.
Honoring a supportive faculty member
Zak chose to honor Maxwell in this way because of their interactions when Zak was a student. As his advisor, Maxwell was supportive of Zak’s desire, as an engineering student, to study Mandarin and Asian history, government and politics along with operations research. As a result, Zak, who started out in ORIE, received his engineering degree through what is now called the Independent Major, formerly the College Program. According to Maxwell, “the College Program was introduced for students, such as Mike, whose vision challenged the conformity of the times.” In 2002 Zak became the founder and primary sponsor of Cornell’s program in US-China relations, the China & Asia-Pacific Studies (CAPS) program.
Zak said “as an undergraduate, Professor Maxwell was an inspiration to me. I was trying to do something out of the ordinary, but for him it seemed natural to challenge conventional wisdom. I am forever indebted to him for taking the time to work with me, to set me on a career course that has been fulfilling, and I am very pleased to be able to sponsor this acknowledgement of his contributions to Cornell.” “I am honored by this recognition from Mike, a tremendous supporter of Cornell,” said Maxwell.
Maxwell himself has had a long term involvement with Asia through his work with leading Indonesian ceramics manufacturing company P.T. Sango Ceramics, whose President is Sapto Hidajat '75 M.Eng. '76. As an emeritus professor, Maxwell remains highly involved with the Ithaca community, and was recently honored as Volunteer of the Month by the local chapter of the Red Cross.
Hirsh noted that Zak’s undergraduate interest in pursuing study in the College of Arts and Sciences as an engineering undergraduate resonates with the mission of integrating computing and information science—its ideas, technology, and modes of thought— into every academic field.
The Maxwell Room
The Maxwell Room seats up to fifty people and can be easily configured for a variety of purposes, such as small classes, seminars, interdisciplinary research group meetings, and related activities. In gatherings in the Maxwell Room, faculty, postdoctoral researchers, graduate students, and advanced undergraduates can present and discuss their research and outside visitors can describe their work. The room is equipped to support teaching and collaboration at a distance, making it a key resource for working with Cornell Tech in New York City.
A Marine Becomes a Venture Capitalist
For more than twenty years, Zak has been a general partner at Charles River Associates in Waltham Mass., where he has made investments across a range of industries including voice and data communications equipment, networking software, applications software and services, optical communications equipment, network monitoring and analysis software, semiconductors, and wireless communications equipment. He holds an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School and has worked for Motorola, McKinsey, and start-up network monitoring and analysis software company Concord Communications, where he was a co-founder and vice president.
The Athreya Conference Room
Gates Hall has another room with an ORIE connection. The Athreya Conference Room was given by Rohan H, Murty ’05 in honor of Rani and Krishna Athreya. Professor Krishna Athreya was a Visiting Professor in ORIE from 2000 to 2004, during which time Dr. Krishna (Rani) Athreya was Director of Women’s Programs in the College of Engineering. Rohan Murty, who as a computer science student took courses in ORIE, went on to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard, where is currently on leave from the faculty and serves as executive assistant to Narayana Murthy, CEO of IT services company Infosys Ltd in Bangalore, India.