The Excitement of Discovery

Rollins Alumni Make Important Contributions to the Sciences

By Kristen Manieri
Photos by Judy Watson Tracy

Photo by Judy Watson Tracy

Rod Adkins ’81

“I am constantly amazed by the way technology continues to make a difference in our lives.”

Major: Pre-engineering

It has been more than 30 years since Rod Adkins became an “IBMer,” rising from engineer to one of the highest-ranked executives in the multinational company today. As senior vice president of IBM’s systems and technology group, Adkins oversees 80,000 people, mostly engineers and computer scientists, in some 40 labs across more than 21 countries. Always a scientist… Even though many of his homemade childhood experiments didn’t go as planned, Adkins was encouraged by his parents to explore and take chances. “From a very early age I have always had strong curiosity around how things work. The good news is that I grew up in an environment where experimentation was encouraged.” Recent accomplishments… Watson, the brainy computer that recently outplayed two human champions on Jeopardy, was built on hardware developed by his team. “It was an interesting public display of the power of this technology, but the most important thing is the way it will be applied.” When used as a partner to physicians, Adkins believes the technology has the ability to dramatically improve health care. Missing his engineering days… “I do miss being in the lab. There were some projects in which there would be literally days before we would surface,” says Adkins, who was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering in 2005. Just like when he was a kid, he is still using his home for experiments, but now it is his wife, Michelle, who encourages his aptitude for innovation. “My home has become my laboratory and it’s where I get to experiment. It helps me stay on top of my game.” His passion for science and math education… Adkins serves on several boards and associations focused on encouraging students to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. “We have not done the best job in the U.S. of making sure we keep our kids interested in these subjects,” Adkins said. “Most of the jobs that will produce sustained economic growth for the U.S. will come from the science fields. We should be very mindful of our ability to have a highly skilled labor pool that can compete for these types of jobs.”

Jeff Tabatabai. Photo by Judy Watson Tracy.

Jeff Tabatabai ’01

“I don’t think I have all the answers, but I make up for that with effort and hard work.”

Major: Computer science

As an engineering manager at Wave Software, Jeff Tabatabai does what he loves best—drive innovation. He oversees the development of an electronic discovery technology that allows attorneys to digitally analyze and search thousands of documents in seconds. Making things easier and more efficient via computer science is his specialty, an attribute he discovered during his first Rollins internship when he helped create an inventory management software for a Winter Park fire station. “I discovered I was a natural at computer science,” Tabatabai said. “Had it not been for the small environment at Rollins, I probably would never have gotten into this field.” Most exciting achievement so far… While at NCR, Tabatabai was part of the team that unveiled Blockbuster’s Express DVD kiosks, an endeavor that grew from 10 kiosks to 10,000 in just three years and netted the company more than $3 million a week. “It was mind-blowing to me that so many people use these kiosks and that they can draw in this kind of money.” Most memorable class… His computer science classes with Associate Professor of Computer Science Richard James. “His teaching style was amazing.  You just needed to come to class and pay attention.” Amazed by innovation… “In our lifetime, we are going to see some pretty amazing stuff,” said Tabatabai, who is constantly astonished by the endless number of unique applications computer science makes. “There is so much potential in terms of making a business that influences the ways people interact and consume. It’s so interesting to see how science shapes business and influences consumer behaviors.” His other passions… “I am a big family man, a trait I inherited from my parents. I love spending time with my wife, Jennifer Roth Tabatabai ’04, and our 1-year-old son, Jacob.”

Bayard Morrison. Photo by Judy Watson Tracy.

Bayard H. Morrison III ’53

“Science is a key part of our success as a nation.”

Major: Pre-med

Bayard H. Morrison III has never thought of his 30-year career with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as part of a long-aspired professional plan. In fact, when he joined NIH’s National Cancer Institute in 1958 after graduating from Emory University School of Medicine, “Dr. Bud” was figuring out how he would comply with the mandatory physician draft that was instituted at the time. “I had intended to join the Navy, but then I learned about an opening at the National Cancer Institute.” His new job fulfilled his service requirement and he began working on cancer chemotherapy. “In those days, chemotherapy was in its infancy,” recalled Morrison, who worked with a unit involved in the development of new drugs for cancer treatment. A few years later, Morrison was selected to be the assistant director of the National Cancer Institute, a position he held for 20 years until he retired in 1988. Laying the foundation for discovery… During Morrison’s years at the National Cancer Institute, research teams at NIH and across the country made discoveries that brought about a greater understanding of the causes, prevention, and treatment of cancer. “It was during this time that tobacco smoke was discovered to be a primary cause of cancer, lung cancer in particular,” said Morrison, who served on the President’s Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer, and Stroke. His road to Rollins… Morrison was guided to Rollins by his mother, Katherine Livingston ’30, who attended the College decades before. “She was, from the very outset, very hopeful that I would go to Rollins.” The importance of science education… “We’re going to rise or fall on our interest in, pursuit of, and support of the sciences,” Morrison said. “We are now lagging in so many fields. Unless we get on our horse and start really picking up our pace in education, we’re going to fall even further behind. Maintaining our leadership in science, technology, engineering, and math cannot be an elective for our nation; it’s a must. That’s why I am so pleased that Rollins is upping its stroke as far as science is concerned.”

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