First-Hand:IEEE Award Recipient Series:John D. Cressler
John D. Cressler
What Award did you receive from IEEE?
2021 IEEE James H. Mulligan, Jr. Education Medal
Place of Birth
Where did you grow up
Family Background: Parents and their education level & Siblings and their education/profession
I am the first person in my family to earn a PhD.
What did you want to do when you grew up?
Earn a PhD in physics and do pure, theoretical research (in either astrophysics or geophysics).
What was your upbringing like? Did you have a large family?
I had a normal-sized family, two brothers, mother and father.
Did you have any hobbies (eg. Some people talk about learning trade skills from a family member.)
The outdoors, especially hiking/camping; building model WWII aircraft.
Did you partake in after school activities? Did you play sports?
Soccer was my high school passion.
Did you have a part-time job (after school, summer)? What was your most surprising job assignment?
I had my own business doing yard work. My strangest job was the 11-7 McDonalds shift my junior year of high school (horrible stuff, like cleaning bathrooms—left after 1 month!)
Did you take vacations and/or go on day trips?Favorite holiday/family gathering?
Camping was always my favorite. I'll take the mountains over the beach any day.
EDUCATION: Favorite subject in school (K-12, university). Why?
K-12 + university—almost everything. I loved learning and school in general. The most influential class I had was Calculus in high school. It set my career trajectory. Fortunately I have been good at every subject I have taken, and do have a special love for science, math, history, and literature.
Did you have a least favorite subject in school (K-12, university. Why?
Not really. PE in high school? Otherwise, I pretty much liked them all!
Why did you select the university (universities) you attended? What was your major and why did you select it?
Georgia Tech was an obvious fit. Good school, I lived in Atlanta, and I wanted to study physics.
Employment and career: First job - Current position - Favorite job
First: IBM co-op position (UG), which helped me discover ECE and electronics. Post UG: IBM Research, Yorktown Heights, NY (my dream job). I got in on the leading edge of new research in the SiGe world, which has fueled my entire career. Auburn University (first professor gig). Georgia Tech (a dream come true—I will be here until they wheel me out).
Has your career turned out as you expected?
Originally, I saw myself in only research. I ended up in education, doing both teaching and mentoring as well as research, which I love tremendously. Being a professor is my vocation.
Has IEEE played a role in your career? How? What does IEEE mean to you?
I have been very active in IEEE all my career. 4 societies: EDS, NPSS, SSCS, and MTTS.
You have been awarded one of IEEE's highest-level awards. What does this award mean to you?
Being recognized for my educational accomplishments (teaching and mentoring) is exceptionally special to me. I would not trade that for anything.
What other associations have helped you in your career?
My family for sure.
Career Advice: What advice would you give to young professionals entering your field today?
Strive to be both broad and deep. Focus on honing your soft skills (writing, speaking, team building, teaching, mentoring). Be able to sell your ideas. Already recognize those who helped you get where you are, and thank them, often and much. Lift your students up, high. Be humble, live a life of gratitude. Keep your ego buried. Follow your passion. Always be on the lookout for unexpected opportunities. Strive for work-life balance.
Reflection: What would you have done differently or tell your younger self now?
I have lived my dream career. No regrets. At all. My vision of pure research morphed into research plus teaching and mentoring—which is where my career belonged. I LOVE being a professor. Best job on the planet.
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?
Pioneering new applications of my research specialization (SiGe electronics) for new directions (e.g,., space exploration) has been fun to watch.
What career achievement are you most proud of?
This award, for sure. And also receiving Georgia Tech's top faculty honor. Any teaching award is a highlight, because it signifies what I care most about—young people, my students.
Personal Life: What do you do for fun? Hobbies?
Way too many! I collect fine wines. I am an avid hiker. I fly fish. I forage mushrooms. I carve walking sticks. I garden. AND I am a novelist (historical fiction—I love stories set in medieval Muslim Spain).
What personal achievement are you most proud of?
My family, for sure. I have been married for 38+ years to my soulmate, Maria; we have three married kids; and now we have eight grandkids—which is an awesome gift.
Do you have a favorite food? Or a family recipe that may have been passed down?
Italian cuisine, hands down. The focus is on simplicity, purity of ingredients, and food as art. It is tough to get a bad meal in Italy. And they are ideal for wine pairing.
Do you have a favorite genre of music? or a favorite song? Or do you play an instrument?
I love most forms: Progressive rock (Yes); classic rock (Led Zeppelin); classical (Bach, Beethoven, baroque in general); and even some hip-hop, courtesy of my students (Kendrick Lamar). Alas, I do not play an instrument (my one regret in life—thus far!)
Do you have a prize possession? If so, please explain.
My "red book": Hearts on Fire, Praying with Jesuits. In it I keep my insights and reflections that have come from 45+ silent retreats (spring and fall) I have made over my career. It's essential to my life—and sanity. Also my journals are very important to me.
What are three things people may not know about you?
I am a type 1 diabetic (well controlled). I am a novelist. I lay my hands upon trees in the woods when I hike to say "hi." I am very active in interfaith ministry, and I give silent retreats on the intersection of science and spirituality. I love BIG, unanswerable questions.
Who was your mentor? (eg. family member or professor)
I have had many. In high school, Dr. Don Dorminy, who taught me the beauty of Calculus; Professor Dave Irwin, my champion and mentor at Auburn; Provost Steve McLaughlin (Georgia Tech), and many others.
What is one thing you cannot live without in your work space?
Pictures of my family. Lots of them. Books I have written: nine and counting. Both are reminders of where my life has been and is going.
Anything else you would like to share about yourself?
Love, in its many forms, and my spirituality, are central to all I have accomplished.