First-Hand:IEEE Award Recipient Series:Frederick C. Mintzer
Frederick C. Mintzer
What Award did you receive from IEEE?
The 2022 IEEE Richard M. Emberson Award
Place of Birth
Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania, USA
Where did you grow up
Northeast Pennsylvania, mostly in Dallas PA
Family Background: Parents and their education level & Siblings and their education/profession
My father, Leamon Mintzer, had a high school education and worked at various jobs. In his later years, he worked as the Executive Housekeeper of a hospital. My mother, Elizabeth Mintzer, also had a high school education; she was a housewife and a waitress. My sole sibling is a brother, Lee Mintzer, who also had a high school education and worked mainly as a truck driver.
What did you want to do when you grew up?
I enjoyed building things such as model airplanes, math problems, and the technology of the day - I built and flew radio-controlled model airplanes. I hoped for a career where I could build things and be involved with math and technology. Electrical engineering was a great fit.
What was your upbringing like? Did you have a large family?
My sole brother is over ten years older than I am - so I was almost like my parent's second only child. My brother's two first children, Ellen and Kevin, lived next door and were nearly as close in age as my brother. We lived in a rural area, so my family was a big part of my life.
Did you have any hobbies (eg. Some people talk about learning trade skills from a family member.)
Yes, as noted earlier, I built and flew radio-controlled model airplanes. I also enjoyed outdoor sports, including hunting, fishing, and skiing.
Did you partake in after school activities? Did you play sports?
Yes. I was part of an AV (audio video) club that set up the tech for school meetings. I ran for the school's track team. And I was on my high school's debate team.
Did you have a part-time job (after school, summer)? What was your most surprising job assignment?
I spent one summer working in the county's mapping department - updating the county's property maps (from deed descriptions of property lines). I spent three summers working at a Procter and Gamble paper factory; there, I helped make some of the worlds first Pampers. Their manufacture was a surprisingly high-tech endeavor - and a bit of an education for me on the scope of impact of technology.
EDUCATION: Favorite subject in school (K-12, university). Why?
Math was always my favorite subject in K-12; it was one big course of puzzles. At University, the computing courses were my favorites. I enjoyed both the algorithmic and applied aspects - which included entering programs by toggle switch.
Did you have a least favorite subject in school (K-12, university. Why?
I always struggled with history because it required so much memorization of unrelated facts.
Why did you select the university (universities) you attended? What was your major and why did you select it?
One year, I attended an NSF-sponsored summer math course at Rutgers while in high school - and fell in love with the place. I chose electrical engineering as my major in the absence of much knowledge about the field - but it was a great fit to my interests and I never looked back.
Employment and career: First job - Current position - Favorite job
My first job was as a "special services engineer" for an operating telephone company - the Commonwealth Telephone Company of PA. I designed and installed digital communication equipment (modems and such) for Commonwealth's customers. In that job, I learned to talk about tech to those not in tech. When that job become routine, I left to go to graduate school. Shockingly, Princeton accepted me.
I spent the bulk of my career as a Research Staff Member at IBM's TJ Watson Research Center - which gave me just a wonderful environment full of bright and enthusiastic tech professionals. What a great job that was. At various times, I worked on signal processing, image processing, color reproduction, digital libraries, image watermarking, and supercomputing. But, my favorite times were the era when we pioneered on-line image collections of the collections of museums and libraries - with impressive quality. The topics (image quality, color management and image security) were new and ripe for innovation. We worked with painter Andrew Wyeth's staff, the National Gallery of Art (USA), the Vatican Library, the Hermitage Museum (in Russia) and the Egyptian Museum (in Cairo). People who didn't know us, or know of us, say and admired our work (as they viewed it on the museum and library web sites).
Has your career turned out as you expected?
No. I expected a decent paying job were I would working on some interesting problems. I have impacted the tech world (with some still used algorithms in the wavelet space). I have impacted the museum and library world by demonstrating that online collections could sufficiently display artistic content to enhance museum reach and reputations; millions of people have admired that work. And I have impacted the technical community, in IEEE, by making it easier for new technical communities to form and flourish. I never expected to change the world, but I have.
Has IEEE played a role in your career? How? What does IEEE mean to you?
Yes. The IEEE has mentored me, without so stating, for my whole career. It has provided technical mentors, leadership mentors, inspiring and challenging technical interchange, and leadership opportunities that inspired me to grow. I have interacted with people of great ability, great vision, and great character. What a wonderful technical home it has been - and what a wonderful technical family it has provided.
You have been awarded one of IEEE's highest-level awards. What does this award mean to you?
It reassures that my contributions have had a real impact on the technical community. It means I can justly walk alongside the greats of my era.
What other associations have helped you in your career?
Interestingly, I learned much about leadership by serving on the governing body of my church. The pastor was a great master of Robert's rules - and how to use them to lead the way.
Career Advice: What advice would you give to young professionals entering your field today?
Get involved in the leadership of your technical community - and learn from the experience. Look for impactful projects and interesting new things to work on - even if this requires effort beyond what your job requires. Strive to make the world a better place. Always be curious.
Reflection: What would you have done differently or tell your younger self now?
In my youth, I took on many projects that posed great risks to my career without appreciating the risk. I am glad my older self was not there to warn me about them.
Was there a project that you were so passionate about that you continued to pursue it even though there may have been doubts about its success?
Yes. After IBM lost interest in the commercial value of digital libraries, a few colleagues and I continued to support the cultural institutions we worked with. We all feel very good that we we able to do so.
What career achievement are you most proud of?
I am most proud of our pioneering the use of technology to produce wonderful online digital images of cultural content for museums and libraries. Our projects were award-winning, made the institutions proud of the collections they displayed, and were seen by millions.
Personal Life: What do you do for fun? Hobbies?
I hike, I fish, I moderate the AI Community on IEEE Collabratec.
What personal achievement are you most proud of?
I married the right woman, my wife Suzanne, over forty years ago - in a moment of uncommon sanity.
Do you have a favorite food? Or a family recipe that may have been passed down?
My wife makes a terrific Osso Bucco.
Do you have a favorite genre of music? or a favorite song? Or do you play an instrument?
I am a rock and roll devotee. I often think of Tom Petty's "learning to Fly" which I see as being about the discomfort of loosing control when you try new things.
Do you have a prize possession? If so, please explain.
I have a bookshelf filled with momentos that I acquired while traveling the world.
What are three things people may not know about you?
- My high school guidance counselor advised me against taking an academic course in high school - as I was just not academic material,
- When I accepted admission (as an undergraduate) at Rutgers, I did not have the funds needed to pay the first semester's tuition,
- To demonstrate my commitment to colleagues at the Hermitage Museum, I eagerly walked the high and steep roofs of St Isaac's Cathedral and the Hermitage Museum - although I absolutely hate high places.
Who was your mentor? (eg. family member or professor)
Bede Liu, my thesis advisor at Princeton. Great person, great leader, great scientist
What is one thing you cannot live without in your work space?
Contact with my colleagues
Anything else you would like to share about yourself?
In my retirement, I am delighted that the IEEE Foundation allows me to contribute to its work. The Foundation is becoming an even greater force for humanitarian change each year. Just being part of the Foundation allows me to feel I "change the world" in one more way.