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Mike Thomason Concluding 50-Year Career in Computer Engineering at UT

Professor Emeritus Mike Thomason’s advice for having a long, successful career: “Find joy in your work.”

After five decades at UT, Thomason has taught his final semester in the Tickle College of Engineering’s Min H. Kao Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Michael ThomasonThomason says he’s enjoyed the constant learning needed to stay sharp in the rapidly changing field of computer science.

“Fifty years is a long time,” said Thomason, 80. “I have enjoyed every year here, and part of that has been keeping up-to-date and keeping my courses up to date.”

Thomason, who grew up in South Carolina, said he always knew he wanted to be some sort of engineer.

At Clemson University, he discovered digital logic and computer engineering. He earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and went to work as a computer engineer in Baltimore, Maryland.

But after a few years working in industry, he decided he wanted to teach computer science and engineering.

He earned his master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and his doctorate from Duke University.

Thomason joined UT’s faculty in 1973—only a year after the university created its Department of Computer Science within its College of Liberal Arts. It would be his “first and only” job in academia.

Over the years, Thomason has seen the reputation of UT’s programs in computing surge, and he’s been among the faculty awarded contracts and grants to advance research in the field.

The department’s PhD program launched in 1986-87, and Thomason advised the first doctorate recipient in 1989.

Thomason was part of the 2007 merger of computer science and electrical and computer engineering into the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. He watched the construction of the six-floor, 150,000-square-foot Min H. Kao building, and moved his office into the state-of-the-art facility when it opened in 2011. He was on hand in 2018 to see the department renamed as the Min H. Kao Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Mike Thomason teaching a class

“There have been monumental changes in the field too,” he said. Huge mainframe computers have been replaced by powerful laptops and workstations, and distributed computing has allowed multiple software components on multiple computers to run as a single system. Students no longer need a rudimentary introduction to computers; they arrive at UT tech-savvy, having grown up using laptops, cellular phones, gaming systems, and other personal electronic devices.

Thomason’s research has focused on aspects of digital imaging, especially the use of probability models, and numerical math applied to engineering problems.

Having taught legions of undergraduate and graduate students, Thomason said the thing he’ll miss most is “interacting with students in a teaching environment, communicating with students, and seeing them learn.”

His parting advice to students is to stay focused: “UT is a big and complicated place. Remember what you are here for—to study, to have achievements. Use your time wisely and don’t get distracted.”

Thomason, a lifelong bachelor, said he plans to move back to South Carolina to be near extended family.

Retirement will give him more time for the hobbies he enjoys, including reading mysteries and listening to music—everything from classical works by Beethoven and Mozart to classic rock, especially his favorite Creedence Clearwater Revival.