In Memoriam: Titsa Papantoni, professor of electrical engineering

titsa-papantoni238by Demetrios Kazakos, ex husband of Titsa (kazakosd@tsu.edu)

The unexpected and untimely passing on July 8, 2016 of our beloved and highly esteemed colleague, Dr. Titsa Panayota Papantoni-Kazakos, is a great loss to our professional global community of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, and to her family and friends. It is difficult to describe accurately her contributions to the profession. The reason is that her illustrious career has been an inspiration to all women who aspire to contribute to society and to the Engineering profession, and to everyone to aspire to achieve excellence in science.

Titsa was born in Piraeus, Greece in 1945. She grew up in a society in which Engineering was a highly prestigious profession, possibly the most prestigious one. At the same time, it was highly dominated by males. This was a global, not Greek, tendency and attitude. Titsa was a highly motivated, talented, hard working and focused student. With the strong support of her parents, Thanassis and Helen, she succeeded in being admitted to the highly competitive School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers of the National Technical University of Athens, Greece (NTUA). She was one of only two women in a freshman class of about 70. (The number of applicants exceeded 1000 for the 70 prestigious positions).

Upon graduation with a Diploma in Electrical and Mechanical Engineering from NTUA in 1968, she started Graduate Studies with a full Graduate Research Assistantship at Princeton University.   She received her Master’s Degree in 1970, under the mentorship of Professor John Thomas, a legend in the field of Communication Theory. In 1969, she was married to Demetrios Kazakos, a fellow graduate student at the time. She then continued her Ph.D. studies at the University of Southern California, together with her husband, and under the inspired mentorship of the distinguished Communications researcher, Dr. Lee D. Davisson. Titsa’s daughter, Effie Kazakos, was born in 1971, while Titsa was completing her research for her Ph.D. As a tribute to her professionalism, and to the admirable support of her advisor, Lee Davisson, Titsa continued her studies and she received her Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering in 1973.

She was immediately offered the position of Assistant Professor at the Electrical Engineering Department of Rice University in July 1973. The distinguished Dr. Henry Bourne was the Chairman who hired her. She was the first female Professor of Engineering at Rice University. She remained in this position until 1977, when she longed to obtain industrial experience, thus she accepted the prestigious position as Member of the Technical Staff of the prestigious Bell Laboratories, where she remained for one year.

During this one year at Bell Laboratories, she developed an algorithm for a distributed monitoring system for the reliable performance of high speed communication networks, using powerful statistical quality control monitoring algorithms. Her algorithm has been widely used by Bell Labs and AT&T in reliably operating data networks. But, after completing one year in industry, academia lured her back.

The freedom to conduct advanced research and the mentoring of students were factors that convinced her to accept the position of Associate Professor at the University of Connecticut, where, again, she was the first female professor of Engineering. She remained in this position as Associate Professor until 1983, then promoted to Professor in 1983. She remained in this position until 1986. While on leave of absence from the University of Connecticut, she was for one year, 1981-1982 a program officer at the U.S. Office of Naval Research.

In 1986 she moved to the position of Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Virginia, and, again, became the first ever female Professor of the Department. She was hired by the Department Chair, Dr. Edward Parrish, who was an inspired leader. He later became Dean of Engineering at Vanderbilt University and President of Worcester Polytechnic Institute. She remained in this position until 1993. In 1993 she was appointed to the highly prestigious Canada Industrial Chair for High Speed Networks at the Electrical Engineering Department of the University of Ottawa, hired by the highly distinguished Dean of Engineering, Dr. Nicolas Georganas, recently deceased. Again, she was the first ever woman to be appointed to a Canada Industrial Chair position in the whole country. This chair was endowed by $1,000,000 for a five year period. However, being very homesick for her adopted country, the United States, after only one year, in 1994, she was appointed to another Endowed Chair Professorship, at the University of Alabama. It was the named Professorship: E.A. ”Larry” Drummond Chair of Computer Engineering, within the Electrical Engineering Department. Again, she was the first ever woman to hold an endowed Professorship in the Department. She remained in this position until 2000, when she moved to become Professor and Department Chair at the Electrical Engineering Department of the University of Colorado at Denver.

Being absorbed by her research, she stepped down from the position of Chair, and remained as Professor until her untimely passing. It was her passion for her field and her fearlessness that drove her to her great achievements. It is evident that she was a pioneer in breaking the GLASS CEILING in ENGINEERING FACULTY POSITIONS FOR WOMEN, an incidental result of her passion for science and her drive for and achievement of excellence. She is an inspiration to us all.

She received several honors:

  • Recipient of National Greek Fellowship throughout college (top 5 students get this)
  • Recipient of full graduate research fellowship at Princeton University and the University of Southern California throughout her graduate studies.
  • Awarded Fulbright Fellowship
  • ELECTED FELLOW of the INSTITUTE OF ELECTRICAL AND ELECTRONICS ENGINEERS in 1991 for: ”Contributions to Communication Networks and to Detection and Communication Theory”

She mentored many Ph.D. graduates. Some of these are:

  • Michael Georgiopoulos, presently Dean of Engineering at the University of Central Florida.
  • Sotirios Vassilopoulos, presently Engineer employed in Greece
  • Anthony Burrell, presently Associate Professor of Computer Science at Oklahoma State University.
  • Haralambos Tsaknakis, presently Engineer employed in Greece
  • Leonidas Georgiadis, presently Professor at the University of Thessaloniki, Greece
  • Chatschik Bisdikian, Member of the Technical Staff of IBM, presently deceased.
  • Ramesh Bansal, presently Professor in India
  • George Collins, presently professor in Texas
  • Michael Paterakis, Dean of Engineering, Technical University of Crete, Greece
  • Ming Liu, presently Professor in China
  • Demetrios Pados, presently Professor at SUNY Buffalo
  • Karen Halford, whereabouts unknown.
  • Steven Halford, whereabouts unknown
  • Hakan Delic, presently Professor in Turkey
  • Robert Li, last known position was Staff Member at IBM
  • Glenn Marcus, whereabouts unknown.

She also mentored numerous M.S. graduates.

Her publication record was highly prolific. Based on her CV that dates up to June 2002, her publication record consists of:

1) Two books

2) 65 refereed journal papers

3) 4 Book Chapters

4)151 Refereed Full Conference Proceedings Papers

She received many grants and contracts by Federal Agencies and Private Industry.

A TRAILBLAZER FOR WOMEN’S EQUALITY IN ENGINEERING AND AN EXCELLENT ROLE MODEL FOR EVERYONE.

She was a very enthusiastic and helpful advisor, working hard to be a role model to women and to all of her students. Hard working, dedicated, a great mother and wife, life and math teacher, best friend and inspiration to her adoring daughter, and a very supporting friend.

TITSA, THE WORLD WILL NOT BE THE SAME WITHOUT YOU!!! REST IN PEACE!!!                                    

YOUR MEMORY WILL BE FOREVER WITH US.