Alumni of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering who studied with Professor Aram Budak still talk about him with reverence and humor – 31 years after he retired from Colorado State University and eight months after he passed away at age 90.
Honoring his wishes for a private burial, the celebrated electrical engineering professor was laid to rest this March at a peaceful service in Wyoming with a breathtaking view of the Teton Mountains.
“On behalf of our faculty, staff, students and alumni, we are deeply saddened by the loss of Dr. Budak,” said Tony Maciejewski, head of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at CSU. “He had a special gift for teaching, and the extent of his impact is staggering. He was the kind of educator we all aspire to be.”
Known as one of the most influential professors in the history of the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering, Budak’s life’s work is summed up by the innumerable successes of those he mentored.
“I have served in roles ranging from engineer and scientist to president and CEO, and in each position I could hear Dr. Budak’s words in the back of my head,” said Desi Rhoden, (B.S., ’83; M.S., ’84), an international leader in the semiconductor industry, who met his wife, Lisa (B.S., ‘84), president of Universal Flash Storage Association, while serving as a teaching assistant for Budak. “He was always supportive of anyone willing to work hard. Besides being a great teacher and mentor in those critical years, he was our friend.”
Focus always on the students
Electrical engineering has a reputation for being a tough subject. But Budak had a style all his own that incited students’ curiosity in the discipline. His passion for teaching fostered a culture that inspired students and challenged their thinking.
“I was fascinated by the intensity of a man who was so passionate about his subject that he was able to keep my full attention to a topic that by all intents and purposes should have been boring and dull,” said Ed Harper (B.S., ’69; M.S.,’72), a retired C-level engineering executive. “I am still amazed and totally impressed at his ability to not only do that magic, but to transfer his knowledge and understanding of it to us as students. He was a teacher without parallel in my entire lifetime of learning.”
Budak’s approach was authentic, meticulous and engaging, whether in the classroom or in front of the camera for the State University Resources for Graduate Education (SURGE) program – a continuing education initiative for industry professionals that flourished in the 1980s.
As he taught, Budak filled the board with notations that took on their own art form. “I recall one of the students had a new-fangled gadget called a Polaroid camera,” said Gil Reeser, B.S., ’59. “After class, he ran to his car and came back to take a picture of the chalk board … yes, it was that good.” Reeser said he also remembers a time when Budak’s lecture ended with a standing ovation.
Budak, author of two seminal textbooks, was well-known for the smiley faces he drew during his lectures to denote that an op amp circuit was properly designed. “Even today, I still cannot write a schematic containing op amps without resisting the temptation to draw smiley faces on them,” said Carl Ellison, B.S., ’86.
Budak also infused humor into his teachings and gave a window into his personal life by sharing stories of his Armenian heritage, as well as his love for the outdoors and family. He offered extra credit points to students who could answer questions about classical opera, his favorite musical genre.
In a tribute to Budak, the late alumnus Jim Donnelly, B.S., ’61, wrote, “Your influence went beyond the technical and probably without knowing it, I believe you gave us an ‘equivalent circuit for life’ through your insights and the way you conducted yourself with honor and integrity.”
Celebrating a life
Nearly 200 electrical and computer engineering alumni and friends returned to campus in 2005 to celebrate his teaching legacy and pay tribute to a life well-lived.
“Please forgive me for writing this general letter expressing my very deep gratitude for all this recognition,” Budak wrote shortly after the event. “I feel exhilarated and at the height of my career, even though I retired 18 years ago.”
Budak was born February 10, 1929, in Istanbul, Turkey, to Armenian parents. After receiving an electrical engineering degree with high honors from Robert College in Istanbul in 1951, he earned his master’s from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1954. Budak’s teaching career began at the University of Washington, where he was inducted into the U.S. Army. During his tour of duty in Germany, he met his beloved wife, Helga, who preceded him in death in 2015.
Prior to joining Colorado State in 1957, Budak taught one year at the University of New Hampshire. He earned his doctoral degree from the University of Colorado, before retiring from CSU in 1988.
The Budaks moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for retirement, where they enjoyed a quiet life and their favorite outdoor recreational activities. They are survived by their six children, three of whom earned electrical engineering degrees, 10 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
During his memorial service this spring, Budak’s daughter, Sylvia, said she placed a special memento inside his coffin: a hand drawn op amp circuit with a smiley face on it.
Establishing a Professorship to honor a teaching legacy
Professor Budak transformed the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and shaped three generations of successful engineers. His impact would not have been possible without the support of his wife who helped him behind the scenes, from typing and proofreading his textbooks to entertaining students at their home.
To recognize the contributions of both Aram and Helga, the ECE department will establish the Aram and Helga Budak ECE Endowed College Professorship. Honoring Budak’s legacy in perpetuity, the endowed professorship will foster excellence in teaching in the ECE department. Once fully funded, exceptional faculty will be selected based on their passion for teaching and potential to make a profound impact on future generations of electrical and computer engineers, just as Budak did for ECE alumni.
The endowed college professorship represents an honorable distinction and requires a total contribution of $375,000 to establish this well-deserved legacy. To initiate progress toward this significant fundraising goal, contributions have been donated by Department Head Tony Maciejewski and the College of Engineering through the Dean’s Innovation Fund.
Moving forward, all gifts made to the ECE Opportunity Fund through the end of the calendar year will be earmarked for the sole purpose of the endowed college professorship.
How to make a gift
We invite all who benefitted from Dr. Budak’s talents, mentorship and friendship, along with others who wish to invest in this new initiative, to make a significant and meaningful contribution.
Please make your gift today:
Phone: 866-CSU-GIVE (278-4483)
Mail: Colorado State University Foundation, PO Box 1870, Fort Collins, Co, 80522
Please make checks payable to: CSU Foundation and write “ECE Opportunity Fund” in the memo line.
Questions about making a gift? Contact Mary Jarchow, Managing Director of Development for the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering.