Dr. Robert J. Shillman (known as “Doctor Bob”) of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., is so beloved at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology that there is a bronze statue of him on a bench petting a stray cat. He befriended and subsequently adopted “Yitz” during a summer at the Technion nearly 50 years ago, while working in the Technion’s Physics department. Now, he also has an honorary degree from the university.
An exceptional philanthropist, academic and entrepreneur, Dr. Shillman was awarded a Technion Honorary Doctorate on June 11 at a special awards ceremony on the Haifa campus. “When Technion President Prof. Peretz Lavie called to inform me that the Board of Governors decided to grant me an honorary degree from the Technion, of course I was stunned. Stunned. It’s a wonderful thing when people recognize and show their appreciation.”
Dr. Shillman is a Technion Guardian—a designation reserved for those whose support reaches the highest levels. Among his contributions are the Robert J. Shillman Career Advancement Chair, the Robert J. Shillman Fund for Image Processing Research, and the Robert J. Shillman Distinguished Research Chair in Physics, which is currently held by Distinguished Professor Mordechai (Moti) Segev.
An expert in the field of machine vision technology in factory automation, Dr. Shillman received his bachelor’s degree from Northeastern University and his master’s and doctorate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1981, he left a teaching post at Tufts University and invested his life savings to launch Cognex Corporation. Today the company’s worth is estimated at $10 billion.
In 1990, Dr. Shillman was named Inc. Magazine’s Entrepreneur of the Year, in part because of Cognex’s innovative “work hard, play hard” ethos. Importing that culture to the Technion, he supports the annual Doctor Bob’s TechnoBrain Competition, which challenges students to solve such creative engineering feats as building a device to safely carry a glass of wine across a swimming pool. The idea, he said, was to “get students away from their textbooks and give them an opportunity for creative expression while coping with problems in a fun atmosphere.”
In addition to his support for the Technion, he has made major gifts to Northeastern University and Japan’s Waseda University, and supports dozens of humanitarian, educational and pro-Israel causes. He established a program at Cognex that gives employees the opportunity to become a philanthropist by setting up a charitable giving account in the employee’s name. Since 2006, Dr. Shillman has donated his annual salary and bonus to charity.
In nominating Dr. Shillman for an honorary degree, the Technion citation reads: In tribute to your professional accomplishments and innovation as the head of a world-leading company; in admiration for the vision and creativity that marks your support; and in recognition of your decades-long commitment to the betterment of the Technion, Israel and the world at large.
Photo Caption: Dr. Robert Shillman (center) receiving his Technion Honorary Doctorate from Technion President Prof. Peretz Lavie (right) and Professor Dan Givoli at the June 11 Honorary Doctorate Conferment Ceremony on the Haifa campus.
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