University Of Pretoria Computer Science Department

Roelf van den Heever receives prestigious award

Posted by on 12 Oct 2010, 12:36 (last modified on 29 Oct 2010, 08:49)

Prof Roelf van den Heever, professor extraordinary, founder and previous Head of the Department of Computer Science received the 2010 SAICSIT 'Pioneers in Computer Science and Information Technology' Award for his contributions to these disciplines.

Prof van den Heever completed his MSc in Maths Stats at UP in the 60s, and then went on to complete anr MS at Stanford, as well as an MS and PhD in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research at UCLA, Berkeley in the US.

Highlights from his career:
1. He founded the Department of Computer Science at the University of Pretoria. In 1969 Computer Science was a division of Mathematics and Statistics, later it became its own department of which Roelf was the Head of Department until 1997. He still has close ties with the department as professor extraordinary.
2. Roelf built the department into a national and internal leader. At a time when others though of desktop computing as a pipe-dream, he managed to obtain a desktop laboratory for UP students. Under his leadership, the department introduced object oriented programming long before it became an international fashion. He introduced the notion of "plans" into the first year well before the same idea, now known as "patterns", subsequently emerged as an international trend. He insisted on a strong software engineering component in the curriculum, which remains a feature of the department's curriculum.
3. He started a "virtual" School of Information Technology, before the idea of a "School" had been formally introduced into university structures. Under his guidance, seven departments in the university were brought together in a collaborative effort to share courses, expertise and research. This structure later morphed into the formal School of IT which now incorporates three IT departments as an administrative structure.
4. In the early 1980s he founded EPI-USE together with Jan Roos. Until the early 1990's it functioned as a consultancy arm of the department. Income was used to fund departmental equipment, staff travel and other needs. Well before the new South Africa, some of the EPI-USE income was being channelled to outreach projects in Mamelodi where computer studies was taught to disadvantaged children. In the mid-1990s EPI-USE moved off campus. It currently employs over 800 people and has a presence in more than ten countries. It has many major corporations as its clients, and is a potent factor in international SAP consultancy.

Roelf's approach to life has always been to have fun while making a contribution and this was evident to anybody working with him. He is passionate about devolving power and initiative as far down the organisational hierarchy as possible and about building strong trusting and respectful employee relationships.

The South African Institute for Computer Scientists and Information Technologists (SAICSIT) recently founded the 'Pioneers in Computer Science and Information Technology' Award. It is intended that each year SAICSIT would seek to honour persons that made major contributions over a lifetime to the disciplines of Computer Science and Information Technology in South Africa.

In its second year and following a rigorous process of nomination and consideration of the contribution of nominees, it was announced that Prof Roelf van den Heever will receive the 2010 Award for his contribution to the academic disciplines of Computer Science and Information Technology.

The Award was presented at the Gala Dinner of the Annual SAICSIT Conference on the evening of 12 October 2010 at Forever Resort Warmbaths, Bela-Bela.

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