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Mark Smith

Professor of electrical and computer engineering and competitive fencer Mark J. T. Smith was born on May 17, 1956 in Jamaica, Queens, New York. After receiving his B.S. degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1978, Smith enrolled at the Georgia Institute of Technology and went on to graduate from there with his M.S. degree in 1979 and his Ph.D. degree in 1984. While at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Smith helped found the coalition Empowering Minority Engineering Scientists to Reach for Graduate Education (EMERGE).

In 1984, Smith joined the faculty at the Georgia Institute of Technology as a professor of electrical and computer engineering. His research focused on communications, digital filters, and the processing of images and signals. In addition to teaching and research, Smith’s trained and competed in the sport of fencing. He was the National Champion of the United States in 1981 and 1983 and a two-time member of the U.S. Olympic Team in 1980 and 1984. Smith was one of the final runners carrying the Olympic Torch to the Opening Ceremonies in the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. In 2003, Smith was promoted to head Purdue’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and was the first African American to hold the position. In 2009, Smith was named the Michael J. & Katherine R. Birck Endowed Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Dean of the Purdue University Graduate School.

At Georgia Institute of Technology, Smith received two teaching awards including the Georgia Tech Outstanding Teacher Award. He also authored over forty journal articles and is the co-author of four textbooks. Smith is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). He was also awarded its Processing Society Senior Award in 1992. Smith has also received the IEEE’s Distinguished Lecturer Award and has sat on their Signal Processing Society Board of Governors. In 2005, Smith received the International Society of Optical Engineers’ Wavelet Pioneer Award; and in 2007, he served as president of the National Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Heads Association.

Mark J. T. Smith was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 8, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.127

Sex

Male

Interview Date

4/8/2013

Last Name

Smith

Maker Category
Middle Name

J.T.

Schools

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Georgia Institute of Technology

First Name

Mark

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

SMI28

Favorite Season

Spring

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Fiji, Kauai, Hawaii

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Indiana

Birth Date

5/17/1956

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

West Lafayette

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Lobster, Sea Bass (Chilean)

Short Description

Electrical engineer and competitive fencer Mark Smith (1956 - ) 1981 and 1983 U.S. National Fencing Champion and 1980 and 1984 U.S. Olympic fencing team member, is the Michael J. & Katherine R. Birck Endowed Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Dean of the Purdue University Graduate School

Employment

General Electric Company

Atlantic Richfield R&D

Georgia Institute of Technology

Georgia Institute of Technology, Lorraine

Purdue University

Favorite Color

Blue, Brown

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Mark Smith's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Mark Smith lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Mark Smith describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Mark Smith talks about his mother's education in New York City, her love of travel, and her employment as a social worker

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Mark Smith describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Mark Smith talks about his father's experience in World War II

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Mark Smith talks about his father's high school education and his employment in the New York City Transit Authority

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Mark Smith talks about how his parents met, and their fifty years of marriage

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Mark Smith describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Mark Smith talks about growing up in a close-knit household, and staying busy as a child

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Mark Smith describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Mark Smith talks about the neighborhood where he spent his childhood in Queens, New York

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Mark Smith describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up in Queens, New York

Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Mark Smith talks about spending time at the YMCA as a child, in Queens, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Mark Smith describes his childhood interests and activities, while growing up in New York

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Mark Smith talks about transferring from PS-123 to PS-90 in Queens, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Mark Smith talks about his early interest in science, and the influence of his cousin, Roy

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Mark Smith talks about his academic performance and mischievousness in elementary school

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Mark Smith describes his experience at The Henley School in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Mark Smith talks about his childhood interest in television and action films

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Mark Smith describes his early resolve to pursue engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Mark Smith describes his experience in high school at The Henley School

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Mark Smith talks about his decision to transfer to John Bowne High School

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Mark Smith describes his interest in swimming and fencing at John Bowne High School

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Mark Smith describes how fencing as a modern-day sport differs from the traditional fighting duel

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Mark Smith talks about strategies in fencing and the fencing community in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Mark Smith describes his academic performance and extracurricular activities in high school, and his interest in pursuing a career in engineering

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Mark Smith describes his experience at John Bowne High School

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Mark Smith describes his first visit to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Mark Smith describes the high quality of his education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Mark Smith talks about being involved with fencing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Mark Smith describes his undergraduate thesis on the building of a stroboscope

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Mark Smith describes his decision to pursue graduate studies in digital signal processing, at the Georgia Institute of Technology

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Mark Smith describes his experience in competing for a place on the 1980 U.S. Olympic fencing team

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Mark Smith talks about the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Mark Smith talks about his doctoral research on 'filter banks', in the field of digital signal processing for applications in speech compression

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Mark Smith talks about the advancements in sound technology, in transitioning from analog to digital systems

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Mark Smith describes his Ph.D. dissertation on signal decomposition

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Mark Smith talks about winning the U.S. Fencing National Championships in the early 1980s

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Mark Smith describes his experience in the 1984 Olympics, and talks about the expenses involved in maintaining fencing equipment

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Mark Smith talks about his decision to retire from Olympic-level fencing

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Mark Smith talks about his experience as an assistant professor at Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech)

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Mark Smith describes the development and applications of the 'Analysis by Synthesis Overlapping Ad' algorithm

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Mark Smith describes his work in the area of image enhancement

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Mark Smith describes the applications of his work on image morphing

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Mark Smith talks about the EMERGE program at Georgia Institute of Technology

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Mark Smith describes his involvement with the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and the National Science Foundation (NSF)

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Mark Smith talks about his most significant research in the area of digital signal processing

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Mark Smith describes his experience of carrying the Olympic torch at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Mark Smith describes his experience at Georgia Tech's campus in France, and his service as the executive assistant to the university's president

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Mark Smith describes his decision to accept the position as head of the electrical and computer engineering department at Purdue University

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Mark Smith describes his early experience as the head of the electrical and computer engineering department at Purdue University

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Mark Smith describes his experience as the dean of the graduate school at Purdue University

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Mark Smith talks about his continuing involvement with research

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Mark Smith talks about his satisfaction with his current role in University administration

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Mark Smith talks about minority students pursuing the STEM fields at Purdue University

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Mark Smith describes the African American and minority community at Purdue University

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Mark Smith describes a social science experiment on cultural bias during employee hiring and selection

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Mark Smith reflects upon his life

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Mark Smith reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Mark Smith talks about his family

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Mark Smith talks about his parents attending his graduation, and watching fencing with him

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Mark Smith talks about how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Mark Smith describes his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$3

DAStory

1$7

DATitle
Mark Smith talks about strategies in fencing and the fencing community in New York City
Mark Smith describes his undergraduate thesis on the building of a stroboscope
Transcript
Okay, so we were just talking about the difference between real fencing and theatrical fencing--$$Right.$$And so, but real fencing is a strategic, you know, is strategy more important than say, speed?$$Everything is important 'cause it all comes together, right. What you're trying to do is you recognize that if you do some action, you have to anticipate what your opponent is going to do to counter that action. And you also learn from past experience. You know, the last time you tried faint disengage, and you were parried. So now you're going to go to the other side or attack a different target. So it's all this, you know, strategy building, faking people out. There's a lot of similarity with boxing. You know, there're faints that you make to draw a reaction. The same thing with fencing. You also study people, off strip, to find out what their natural reactions might be and then try to exploit that.$$Okay, now, when you started fencing, did you know of any African American fencers?$$No, not at all. As a matter of fact, I didn't even know that black people fenced. What I found out is that a lot of them fence. I mean there were a lot of black fencers in the New York City community. And many of them were very, very good fencers, national champions.$$All right. I think there's even a, historically, you know, the greatest swordsman in France at one time was Chevalier St. George [Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-George] and, you know, Dumas' son was supposed to be really good, you know, yeah--his father, rather, yeah.$$So I had no idea, I mean starting out, right, I had no idea what the community looked like at all. As a matter of fact, I didn't even know that there was a community of fencers in New York City. But, you know, many of the good clubs, fencing clubs, were in New York City, and they produced the national champs. So it was a great place to learn fencing.$$Okay.$$Moreover, just in the high school system, all the high schools had fencing programs, had fencing teams. So there was lots of competition and lots of inter--what would you call it? Well, we had division championships and then borough championships and citywide championships so it was very well organized.$$There are a lot of fencing programs around the county on the high school level. I know even when I was in high school, all the schools in Dayton, Ohio had a fencing program.$$Yeah.$$But it's something that kind of flies under the radar. You don't hear a lot about who the champions of fencing are, overshadowed by, you know, basketball and football and track, and that sort of thing.$$And now soccer.$$Yeah, so how did you do as a fencer in high school?$$So in swimming, right, I was a big fish in a, the smallest, very, very small pond here. Fencing, there was only one pond. And so I did well in high school. When I went to college, I'm reminded by a buddy of mine, he tells me how terrible I was when I came in. But, you know, the level of high school fencing, all right, was not that high. But I did do well. I mean we had competitions. I remember the best, I took second in a citywide event. So I was, you know, very happy with that. More important is I just had a lot of fun fencing.$Did you have a undergraduate project that you worked on for graduation, like a capstone project or something?$$So I, at MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts], you had to do an undergraduate thesis. And so that's what I had to do my thesis year. But one of the things that I did do, there's a period called IAP, Independent Activities Period, which is the month of January. And so they have hundreds of different activities that you can do, sky diving, you can do different types of projects. So I'd like doing an electronic, I tried to do some kind of an electronics project. And so the first project I did was to make a stroboscope. And I remember going to Doc Edgerton. He's this legendary professor, the one who invented and pioneered the stroboscope, strobe light, and he has some of these classic pictures that he's taken with a strobe light, that are in museums and on display and so forth, like a bullet going through an apple, where it's just frozen in motion, just crystal clear, captured through, with the stroboscope. So--$$Right, yeah, that's--$$And you probably have seen those kind--(simultaneous)--$$Yeah, I have, I have, and Edgerton, right, yeah. I remember the name now.$$So I remember going up to his lab and I met him, and I was just awestruck. Wow, this is Professor Edgerton, and he's talking to me. And he's nice. And so he was explaining about the strobes. So I said, gee, I would love to figure out how this worked and to build it. And so he gave me a schematic. Now, I didn't know what to do with the schematic. And I didn't have any of the equipment, but he helped me. And he gave me some of the parts and got me started, and I was able to work with another guy in the dormitory who was, I think, a senior. He may have been a first-year graduate student. And together we made this stroboscope. It was really quite a satisfying project. My soldering improved a whole lot since my Heathkit days.$$Okay, so how do you make a stroboscope? I mean what is the, what goes into making a stroboscope?$$Well, you need a transformer. You need to have the strobe light. Those are perhaps the two most important things. So this one used transistors. It wasn't a vacuum-tube based thing. But basically, there's an oscillator circuit that kicks the stroboscope on. And you have to generate sufficient voltage in order to, to kick the light. And so you wanna have that oscillating at a very fast frequency. The strobe light is one that can charge and discharge very quickly. So you can get that bright flash.$$Okay, so you need a bright enough, fast enough flash to catch that action with a camera, with a--$$So I, yeah, so the one that I did, I mean I wasn't trying to do photography with this. This one just blink and, so one of the demonstrations, for example, that he had, he had pulsating water that would just be dropping. And then you could shine the stroboscope on it at a certain frequency, and you would see the beads of water that appeared to stop, to just freeze. And then you could adjust the frequency and get them to go backwards, or you'd get them to go forward. You could create these kinds of effects with the strobe light.$$Okay.$$So what I had essentially was a frequency variable strobe light, that could be adjusted.$$So you'd pick up the action at a certain point and that's what you would see, even though the water is consistently dripping, you'd see the, you know--$$The little beads.$$Yeah, right, beads--$$Yeah, yeah.$$--at one point in time. Okay. All right, so this was your undergraduate thesis?$$Another one was a music synthesizer. That was another one that was fun to make.$$Okay.