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H. Pat Artis

H. Pat Artis

Engineering Science and Mechanics
Class of 1972, BS

Thirty-eight years after graduating from Virginia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in engineering science and mechanics, Pat Artis’ love of his alma mater has not wavered. It has grown. Named the College of Engineering’s Distinguished Alumnus in 2008, Mr. Artis has repeatedly donated both time and money to the university. When accepting the 2008 honor, he said matter-of-factly, “We were given a chance and we worked hard. We still have many close friends in the College of Engineering and our gift embodies our belief in the value of the education that it provides. Everything else in life is embroidery.”

Indeed. Pat and his wife, Nancy, have helped set the path for many students at Virginia Tech. The Artises recently donated money to open the Liviu Librescu Student Engagement Center on the second floor of Norris Hall. It is named after the engineering faculty member who sacrificed his life by holding shut a door to allow students to escape during the shootings of April 16, 2007. A framed portrait of Professor Librescu hangs in the center, which includes three rooms built for students to work, read, figure out problems, and help each other review academic material.

The Artises have provided funding for promising students to take courses at the National Test Pilot School in Mojave, California. For the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, despite Mr. Artis never being a member while a student, he and Nancy created the Barqawi ’09/Artis ’72 Emerging Leader Scholarship. The latter award is named for Adnan Barqawi, who was named the university’s Undergraduate Student Leader of the Year for 2009, for whom Mr. Artis has served as a mentor.

The couple has committed $10 million in monetary gifts to the Virginia Tech engineering science and mechanics (ESM) and aerospace and ocean engineering (AOE) departments, while also supporting nearby Radford University. Mr. Artis serves on the College of Engineering’s Campaign Steering Committee, and previously chaired the College Advisory Board. He and Nancy are members of the Legacy Society and Ut Prosim, and he has guest-lectured in the classroom. The couple also funded the Engineering Excellence in the 21st Century series, and brought well-known space industry figures such as Spaceship One pilot Brian Binnie to campus. Additionally, they have helped fund the space elevator student design team, which is dedicated to designing a transport structure that will reach from the earth’s surface into space.

“I can’t think of an alumnus who is more dedicated to our college and the department, more concerned about interdisciplinary engineering education and research, or more involved in enhancing the student experience through his philanthropy and personal efforts,” says Ishwar Puri, head of the ESM department. “Pat and Nancy have been there when we have needed them in very many ways. Their gift to furnish the Liviu Librescu Student Engagement Center is an example of their desire to honor both the sacrifice of a distinguished faculty member as well as to help provide the best facilities and infrastructure for our students.”

Mr. Artis’ long relationship with Virginia Tech stems from his boyhood fascination with rockets, spurred by the 1957 launch of the Russian satellite Sputnik. The Ohio native was building and flying amateur rockets by age 11, with his eyes set on a career in aerospace engineering. (His father was more than glad to help with the rocket experiments.) While representing Ohio at a NASA Langley high school science symposium, he met several Virginia Tech engineering graduates. That encounter convinced him that Virginia Tech would be the first step toward his future. “It was clear that Virginia Tech had prepared them to be leaders in the space race,” Mr. Artis says.

Upon his arrival in Blacksburg in 1967, Mr. Artis soon gained notice for an award-winning American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics student paper on Coanda effect control surfaces for guiding rockets. His interests, though, moved from aerospace toward engineering mechanics. He started a summer/winter co-op program with Ashland Oil’s computer sciences and services department. “It was a great opportunity,” he says. “I could live at home, earn money for school, learn about computers, and I would not have to endure another winter in Blacksburg.”

By the second quarter of his sophomore year, the die was cast. Mr. Artis changed his major to engineering mechanics. For his senior project, he developed digital data collection interfaces for the department’s analog materials testing equipment. Graduating in 1972, he had a love of experimental mechanics and three years of experience with computer hardware and software architecture. This would spur a wildly successful career.

Bell Laboratories was the first company to come calling, offering the young graduate a job developing computer measurement techniques while he pursued his master’s and doctoral degrees in computer science. His Bell Lab projects included scheduling algorithms, multi-processor performance, hardware and software monitors, capacity planning, UNIX and storage performance. In 1978, he published a landmark paper on the application of statistical pattern recognition algorithms to the characterization of workloads for large-scale computer systems.

When Bell fell to the sword of deregulation, Mr. Artis returned to Virginia in 1981 to join Morino Associates, a start-up software company, where he led teams developing computer performance evaluation products. When that company went public in 1986, he set out on his own, forming Performance Associates Inc., which focuses on the characterization and performance of storage subsystems. In the two decades since, Colorado-based Performance has developed new industry standard tools for the characterization and testing for storage performance, reliability, and replication. Its clients include a plethora of Fortune 500 companies the world over.

That success has led the couple to travel widely to Europe, Asia, and Africa. His favorite destination spot, thus far, is Australia. “That’s the only country I’ve been to where if I were there and someone told me there would be no more flights going home, I wouldn’t be disappointed,” Mr. Artis says. Pat and Nancy use the trips to pursue their mutual interests in photography. Both are published wildlife and nature photographers and their work was highlighted during 2008 with an exhibit at the Virginia Tech Skelton Alumni Center.

All the while, Mr. Artis still hasn’t forgotten about the love that brought him to Virginia Tech. In 1993, he earned a flight test engineering certificate at the National Test Pilot School. He has logged more than 3,000 pilot-in-command hours in a variety of aircraft types and still enjoys amateur rocketry.

During the past four decades, Mr. Artis has published more than 100 papers on computer performance and has served as an officer of a variety of computer performance professional organizations. He received the A.A. Michelson Award from the Computer Measurement Group for his fundamental contributions to computer metrics in 1984.

Class of: 1972
Year Inducted into Academy: 2010