In 2020, four couples who are longtime friends of the Allen School joined forces to create a new endowed professorship fund named for professor Ed Lazowska to honor his wide-ranging impact on the field of computing, Washington higher education, and the technology community. They seeded the fund with a combined gift of $1 million, and then began inviting other friends and alumni of the school to contribute — quietly, at first, and then more openly once they had revealed their intentions to Lazowska himself to mark his 70th birthday.
To date, more than 230 individuals, families or organizations have pledged a total of $4.7 million to the Endowed Professorships in Computer Science & Engineering in Honor of Edward D. Lazowska. Once those commitments are fully realized, the Lazowska Professorships will be one of the largest professorship funds at the University of Washington.
The enthusiastic response will come as no surprise to anyone who knows Lazowska, whose impact over his 45 years of service to the UW and the broader community has influenced everything from the direction of national technology policy, to a significant increase in the number of Washington high school students who can earn a degree in computer science. Along the way, he transformed the landscape for computing at UW — literally and figuratively — as one of the driving forces behind not one but two dedicated buildings and the elevation of the former Department of Computer Science & Engineering into the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, with support from the late Paul Allen and Microsoft.
At a recent event celebrating the community of supporters who made the professorships possible, UW President Ana Mari Cauce observed that his leadership, vision and commitment helped mold the Allen School into one of the top computer science programs in the nation and in the world. But that is only part of his extraordinary legacy.
“It would really be impossible to overstate Ed’s impact on the lives of his students, his colleagues, our university, and actually the entire field of computer science,” Cauce said. “Ed’s efforts have transformed how we think about the power of computer science to innovate for greater equity, for economic opportunity, and for discovery.”
The idea for the Lazowska Professorships can be traced back to December 2019. That’s when Peter Lee, corporate vice president of research and incubations at Microsoft, and Allen School alumnus Jeff Dean (Ph.D., ‘96), a Google Senior Fellow and senior vice president of Google Research and Google Health, decided the best way to honor their friend and colleague’s legacy would be to enhance the Allen School’s ability to attract and retain other world-class faculty. Their original plan was to engage the community in the tribute, assemble the professorship fund, and host an in-person celebration to mark Lazowska’s 70th birthday the following summer. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the pair changed tack. They teamed up with two of Lazowska’s other longtime friends and associates, Microsoft emeritus researcher Harry Shum and Microsoft president and vice chair Brad Smith, to fund the first of what they hoped would be multiple professorships; instead of a cake and candles, Lazowska received the surprise news over Zoom.
After this inaugural Lazowska Professorship was awarded to Luis Ceze, co-director of the Molecular Information Systems Laboratory (MISL) and co-founder and CEO of Allen School spinout OctoML, the broader campaign began in earnest. The subsequent outpouring of support will ultimately enable the Allen School to award no fewer than four professorships bearing Lazowska’s name. The outcome is a testament to the high regard and deep affection for Lazowska and his stature in the local tech community — summed up by Allen School professor Hank Levy, who worked alongside him first as department chair and then inaugural director of the school, as “professor, leader, scientist, teacher, colleague and friend.” As Lazowska made clear to the assembled crowd, the feeling is mutual.
“The Allen School has been blessed to grow up alongside and in partnership with the region’s tech industry and its people, and it’s been a completely magical ride that has brought all of us to the forefront of this incredibly competitive field,” Lazowska said. “I really want this evening to be not about me, but about you: about your generosity, your loyalty and the investment that you — led by Peter and Jeff and Brad and Harry — have made in the Allen School.
“And I want it to be about the Allen School itself,” he continued. “The distance we’ve traveled, the potential for the future — and about the University of Washington and the region. We really are leaders, and we’re a true community. That’s been the most heartwarming thing about the 45 years I’ve spent here. This is a community in which we lift one another up.”
To learn more and view a list of donors, visit the Lazowska Professorships webpage here. To contribute to the Lazowska Professorships, visit the giving page here. Read our previous story on the Lazowska Professorship here, and a related GeekWire article here.
We are profoundly grateful to our founding donors — Peter and Susan Lee, Jeff Dean and Heidi Hopper, Harry Shum and Ka Yan Chan, and Brad Smith and Kathy Surace-Smith — for bringing the community together to pay tribute to Ed while supporting the Allen School. Thank you to all of our donors for your generosity and friendship!