The email telling Professor José Moura that he had been inducted into the U.S. National Academy of Engineering went into his spam folder.
Only after receiving multiple congratulatory emails from friends and colleagues, one of whom copied the announcement into his email, did Moura realize it wasn’t a joke. When he learned it wasn’t a hoax, Moura says, “I fell off my chair.”
“You can have some hints (that you’ll be selected) but you know it happens when you receive an email,” he says. Or in this case, an email about an email.
Moura, an electrical and computer engineering professor, and the director of the Information and Communications Technologies Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, was selected into the National Academy of Engineering for his contributions to the theory and practice of statistical signal processing. The honor is one of the highest in the engineering field.
He says one of the biggest challenges of working in the field is that, while many people may be familiar with the term “signal processing,” few people truly know what it is. “Signal processing is like Intel Inside®,” he says. “In most technologies, you find algorithms that people like me design but people don’t realize are there. The brains of what makes most technology work is signal processing.”
The lack of concrete, widespread comprehension about the inner workings of signal processing is understandable. “We work in things that get buried in technology,” Moura says. One example of his work is an algorithm that allows for reading bits of discs in high definition (HD) recordings with greater accuracy. “In the 1990s and 2000s, devices got smaller and smaller, and we were packing more bits onto smaller drives,” Moura says. “We developed an algorithm in the mid 90s that reads the bits better to reduce errors and recover more data with more clarity.” In the past ten years, 60% of all computers sold have contained this technology.
As if changing the face of technology doesn’t keep him busy enough, Moura is an active IEEE volunteer, which has also granted him the prestigious IEEE Signal Processing Society Technical Achievement Award, also for contributions to the industry. Currently, he serves on the Board of Directors, and as the IEEE Division IX Director and Delegate.
Previously, Moura served as the President of the IEEE Signal Processing Society, as well as Editor in Chief of the IEEE Transactions on Signal Processing, and acting Editor in Chief for the IEEE Signal Processing Letters. He’s also served on the Education Activities Board, the Technical Activities Board, the Press Board, the TAB Periodicals, and the TAB Publications Committee, among others. He is an IEEE Fellow.
“The best job I ever had at IEEE was Editor in Chief,” he says.
When asked why he gives so much of his time for volunteer work, Moura says that some people just can’t help it. “We need to help the profession,” he says. “We feel we can contribute.”
Although he has volunteered in a myriad of positions at IEEE, Moura says his passion is volunteering with publications. “IEEE has great journals, and it’s because of its high-caliber volunteers. They preserve the quality. Many of them, because of the anonymous peer review process, are mostly invisible. I feel an obligation to be a part of it.”
Even though most volunteer positions at IEEE last one year, many people continue on in other roles year after year, which Moura finds inspiring. “While people are in a role, they’re fully committed. It’s such a great example. You just hope you can fill the shoes of your predecessor, and do as good or a better job.”
Though Moura is comfortable stepping into established roles, his role building a dual degree program with Carnegie Mellon and a university in Portugal had no precedent.
Raised in Mozambique, then a Portuguese colony, Moura maintains close connections with the Instituto Superior Tecnico in Lisbon where he was a professor in the late 1970s to mid-1980s. When he was approached about building a partnership with Carnegie Mellon and universities in Portugal, he led the charge to develop the U.S.’s first dual-degree program, ultimately resulting in seven dual-doctoral degree programs and five dual-master’s degree programs across all programs at Carnegie Mellon. “We were the first university to develop a dual-degree program,” he says. “Other universities have since adopted our model.”
Moura credits the engagement of the faculty for the program’s astonishing successes: Since the first class entered in 2007, 250 masters degrees have been awarded and 85 doctoral degrees.
Although he’s certainly earned a moment or two to rest on his laurels, Moura shows no signs of slowing down. “You think you’ll be in a role for a year and then move on,” he says. “But once you finish, there’s the next thing. You never think, ‘why am I doing this?’ It’s ‘I should be doing this.’ Most people I know, it’s what drives them.”
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