01/14/2005 08:00:00

Fellowship for Graduate Students Established

PASADENA, Calif. - "It's habit-forming," says Howard Oringer of his long rapport with faculty and students at the California Institute of Technology. Which is why the 1963 Caltech graduate has established the Oringer Fellowship Fund in Information Science and Technology, a $600,000 endowment to generate support for Caltech graduate students.

The reason, Oringer says, is the people he meets in his visits to the Caltech campus. "My visits to campus to meet with graduate students and faculty have deepened my commitment to Caltech, and to the research model the Institute has uniquely developed," he says. "I marvel at the quality of the students, their ability to communicate their ideas, and the diversity of backgrounds and interests."

Recipients of the fellowships will be selected in the area of a recently launched initiative by Caltech called Information Science and Technology (IST), with a preference for students in mathematics of information. It is the first integrated research and teaching activity in the country that investigates information from all angles: from the fundamental theoretical underpinnings of information, to the science and engineering of novel information substrates, biological circuits, and complex social systems. This is the IST's first graduate fellowship.

Oringer earned his master's degree in electrical engineering at Caltech before embarking on his career in telecommunications. He has over 30 years of operating and management experience in the industry, with an emphasis on the planning and implementation of major communications networks. It was a mutual interest in communications and networking that led him to the research of Michelle Effros, an associate professor of electrical engineering at Caltech, the director of the Institute's data compression laboratory, and an IST member.

"After meeting with Michelle," says Oringer, "I realized the personal impact she could make in an area I had spent my career involved in. So I decided to make permanent the funding that I had supported her lab with each year since 1996."

Effros's research looks for ways to increase the speed of data transmission across the Internet by compressing it. She and her colleagues use computer algorithms that look for redundancies within disparate data and eliminate them, thus reducing the number of information bits being sent. Once the data reaches the receiving end, it is "reassembled" by other algorithms. The traditional way of doing this, says Effros, is through the use of coding developed for one user transmitting to one receiver. Her work, though, involves developing source coding for multiple user networks. So she and her graduate students are developing theory and algorithms for compressing data from one source or multiple sources, whether it's being sent to one receiver or multiple receivers.

"Howard's support over the years," says Effros, "has been enormously valuable to both me and my students. It really makes an incredible difference." Oringer visits twice a year to share his knowledge and experience and to hear about current research going on in the lab. "Over time, Howard has become an integral part of the group. We all really look forward to his visits. He brings to the table a wealth of knowledge and experience and shares that openly with the students. It's a wonderful opportunity for them and for me."

Oringer also holds a bachelor's degree in engineering from the Stevens Institute of Technology, and an M.B.A. from Santa Clara University. His career included executive positions with AT&T and Rockwell International and chief executive officer for TeleSciences. He is currently chairman of the board of directors of the Verilink Corporation, treasurer of the board of the San Francisco Art Institute and of the Omnia Foundation.

Regarding his ongoing relationship with Caltech, Oringer says: "I would recommend that other alumni take the time to connect with an area of their choice, and develop a rapport with the faculty and students. It may indeed become habit-forming!"

Written by Marcus Woo