Canadian Association of Computer Science
Association informatique canadienne
Award for Lifetime Achievement
in Computer Science – 2015

Nick Cercone

Lassonde School of Engineering
York University


Professor Cercone (1946-2015) had an exemplary career after receiving his Ph.D. in Computer Science in 1975. He ended his career as a professor of Computer Science at Lassonde School of Engineering, York University. He became internationally well-known for his software design and computational approaches to data mining, language processing, and assistive technology for persons with disabilities. Professor Cercone's works and papers on 'Big Data' since 1990s have been central to the research in this key area in Information Technology to this date. He published over 400 refereed manuscripts in well-respected venues. His broadly-based research resulted in over $20 million in research funding from various sources. He was able to build extensive collaborations among numerous industrial partners (e.g., IBM & Dapasoft), governmental agencies (e.g., Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) & Ontario Centres of Excellence), and universities (e.g., York, Toronto & Waterloo), resulting in outstanding contributions to the field of Computer Science. He interacted with dozens of Canadian companies, most notably, Rogers, IBM, Dapasoft and The Globe and Mail. Professor Cercone was the lead Principal Investigator of the Ontario Research Fund-Research Excellence - the Centre for Innovation in Information Visualization and Data-Driven Design, which is a world-leading centre in vision research in Canada. Last year, he was awarded, with his colleagues, seven NSERC Collaborative Research and Development grants worth $3.7M. He built a big collaboration of university and industry researchers entitled the Big Data Research Analytics and Information Network Alliance that was initially funded with $4M from the Ontario Research Fund for Research Excellence.

Dr. Cercone also had a magnificent record of teaching, supervision and leadership contributions particularly to the computer science community through his achievements as a professor and leader at several universities (including York, Dalhousie, Regina, Waterloo & Simon Fraser) and through his involvement in numerous national and international scientific communities, program committees and boards (NSERC, Steacie & Canada Research Chair Committee). Besides his superb performance as a teacher at various Computer Science departments across the country, Professor Cercone trained over 100 successful Highly Qualified Personnel. Many of his students are currently holding important titles, such as university professor (21 of his students), Canada Research Chair Tier I, Presidential Young Investigator and Computer Science Chair.

Professor Cercone spent his entire career balancing research and mentorship while holding full-time administrative leadership appointments, including Chair of Computer Science (Simon Fraser University and University of Waterloo), Dean of Graduate Studies (University of Regina), Dean of Computer Science (Dalhousie University), Dean of Science and Engineering (York University), Vice President Research (University of Regina), and Interim Chair of Mechanical Engineering (York University). In these positions, he has made significant contributions to the computer science community and beyond. For instance, as Chair of Computer Science at Simon Fraser University and University of Waterloo, Dr. Cercone built the Schools into their present form, growing their faculty by significant numbers. As a Dean at several universities (Regina, Dalhousie, and York), he developed a number of outstanding Faculties with growing research profiles and innovative graduate and undergraduate programs. As Vice-President Research, Professor Cercone more than tripled the University of Regina's research funding in four years.

Professor Cercone also played an outstanding role serving on many major national and international committees and as general chair of 17 international conferences and program chair of 8 conferences. He held positions of influence on several NSERC committees, the Steacie committee, the Canada Foundation for Innovation Committee and the Canada Research Chair committee, to name a few. He was a theme coordinator and project leader of the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Systems - Networks of Centres of Excellence.  He served as President of the Canadian Society for Computational Studies of Intelligence (CSCSI/SCEIO, now CAIAC), the Canadian AI Society, and CACS/AIC, the Canadian national organization of Computer Science Departments/Schools/Faculties. He was founding co-editor of the Computational Intelligence journal.

Cercone was a much sought-after speaker at many international conferences (15 international conferences). For his contributions to Computer Science, he was recognized numerous times with the National Research Council of Canada award, Blackwell's award, the Canadian Society for the Computational Studies of Intelligence Distinguished Service award, and the Web Intelligence Consortium Outstanding Contribution award. He was elected a Fellow of the IEEE and a Fellow of CAIAC.

All in all, Professor Cercone had a most productive career and contributed uniquely to the progress of Computer Science in Canada and beyond.