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Ohio State ECE department honors its retiring marathon man

Sure, engineers are known for their love of details. However, at The Ohio State University, one man’s reputation precedes him.

After more than three decades in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), its staff, faculty and administrators honored the work of retiring Associate Professor George Valco.

Colleagues and friends say Valco's professional legacy is an admirable one, filled with a curiosity for details many engineers easily overlook. When others see a mountain of work, he sees a challenge. More than that, it's his drive to always do the right thing that defines him as a person. 

ECE Professor Ayman Fayed said without having Valco as a professor many years ago, he may not be where he is today.

(Watch a short video interview with Fayed)

As an international student, Fayed showed up at Ohio State knowing he was accepted to the program, but also knowing he had no money to pay for the graduate degrees he sought. Valco took the graduate student under his wing and hired him as a Teaching Assistant, which covered tuition costs, only after sensing Fayed had the drive to do well (even if he lacked the experience). 

“I only had something like $20,” Fayed said. “Every Monday of every week George would take me to the clean room in Dreese Lab and spend maybe 10 to 12 hours teaching me the lab process as a student. Then, I would turn around on Tuesday and Thursday, and teach it to the other students.”

Fayed stayed on as TA over the next four or five years, until he finished his Ph.D.

“Without that course, without the opportunity George gave me to be his TA, I would have struggled a lot to pay my way through school,” Fayed said. “He was extremely crucial for my life and career in general.”

Any story about Valco, of course, must reference his love for long-distance running. Not only because it shines a light on the level of his drive, but also because he dedicates the same effort toward marathons as he does to his role at Ohio State.

“I think George is the only person left in the department who knows the difference between an objective and an outcome,” Associate Professor Betty Lise Anderson said, then joked, “So, basically, we’re all going to die.”

“I do have mixed feelings about this,” ECE Chair Hesham El Gamal said. “When he told me about his retirement, it was perhaps the first professionally bad news of my term as chair. I can’t say enough about his contributions to the department.”

ECE Associate Professor Steve Bibyk said Valco is one of those people everyone is glad exists; a person who enjoys diving deeper into problems, who possesses the patience and work ethic to pursue the details and see each dilemma resolved. He said Ohio State’s Solid State program owes its existence and success to Valco, who helped give it life with ECE Professor Steve Ringel.

“I appreciate all your effort, and I appreciate you being able to do all the jobs that most people are not fond of doing,” Bibyk said. 

Valco said the friendliness of the Ohio State ECE department helped make his career vibrant.

“I will miss the people, particularly. It’s been a great environment, a very friendly department,” he said. “I’m going to miss you all.”

Who knows, Valco said, there could be another official role for him at the department in the future, but joked, “only part time or temporary.”

Article by Ryan Horns, ECE/IMR Communications Specialist (Horns.1@osu.edu)