After a long and successful career, Dr. Michael J. Pazzani, professor of computer science, will retire from his role as vice chancellor for research and economic development this April but will continue his research in machine learning here at UCR. Since 2013, Pazzani has been responsible for procuring funding for research projects through external sources like private sector partnerships, as well as overseeing research and teaching.
Considering his successes in both the private and public sectors, as well as in academia, Pazzani’s affinity for computers started early, and by chance. “I was just lucky to choose the field that is now just totally exploding,” he said in an interview with the Highlander. “When I was an undergrad in ‘76, computers were an up-and-coming thing, they were not ubiquitous. Getting involved with hot new things sounded exciting.”
Born to a fireman and a legal secretary in Connecticut, Pazzani was the first in his family to attend college at the University of Connecticut. There he studied computer science and cognitive psychology, an interest that would influence him throughout his career by applying machine learning to psychological concepts, such as understanding Alzheimer’s disease or how people learn. “It’s essentially finding patterns in data,” he said, adding, “I’ve done things like analyze data of people who have Alzheimer’s and people who don’t and try to find differences between them so you can diagnose Alzheimer’s.”
Starting off on the east coast, Pazzani began working by Massachusetts Route 128 outside of Boston, which he referred to as the “Silicon Valley of the 80s.” After four years he decided to pursue a doctorate at UCLA, which led to a professorship of computer science at UC Irvine. Later he founded a technology company called AdaptiveInfo, which developed software enabling the personalization of content on mobile devices.
After this, Pazzani worked for the federal government at places like DARPA and the National Science Foundation where he was the director of the Information and Intelligent Systems Division. These connections to the federal government proved valuable, as they helped poise him for positions in academia, a role he undertook as vice president of research and economic development at Rutgers University in New Jersey. “Someone who knows … the federal government is a natural person to be the vice chancellor for research,” he said.
In his role here at UCR he has helped get projects both big and small funded, all the while witnessing and aiding in UCR’s growth as a research institution. “One of the things I’m proudest of … is how I’ve been able to enable some of the citrus research here,” he said “It’s a unique thing of this university how many faculty do research on citrus diseases.” He noted how the citrus industry built a research building for this purpose just off campus.
Aside from continuing research on machine learning, Pazzani plans on spending more time with his family after retirement and even has a trip to the Galapagos planned. When asked about notable moments for him at UCR, Pazzani, a first generation student himself, said, “I love the UCR mission, helping first generation students … A lot of our faculty really care about students.”