Yang donates $1 million to support innovative, bold ideas

4/17/2013 Brad Petersen and Gabrielle Irvin, ECE ILLINOIS

ECE ILLINOIS is pleased to announce the establishment of the Andrew T. Yang Research Award, made possible by a $1 million donation from alumnus Andrew T. Yang.

Written by Brad Petersen and Gabrielle Irvin, ECE ILLINOIS

The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering is pleased to announce the establishment of the Andrew T. Yang Research Award, made possible by a $1 million donation from alumnus Andrew T. Yang (MSEE ’86, PhD ’89). Yang is committed to encouraging ECE ILLINOIS students to engage in high-risk research projects which may lead to early entrepreneurial experience and success.

In establishing this award, Yang said he wants to inspire students to do more than just fulfill their degree requirements. “It is possible as a student to work on an idea and envision how it may lead to eventual commercialization. I want students to think about how they can impact others, become entrepreneurs, and gain recognition.”

The Andrew T. Yang Research Award will provide funding for an ECE graduate student fellowship to support the exploration of exceptional ideas in engineering science and technology with a potential of transforming those ideas into commercial applications. Every year, a new team of one ECE grad student and one ECE faculty member will be selected for up to two years of funding in support of their project.

Yang is one of the most influential people in the electronic design automation (EDA) industry. In 2001, he co-founded Apache Design Solutions, a company that provided low-power analysis and optimization solutions for high-performance, energy-efficient semiconductor integrated circuits (ICs).  Apache’s products are now used as power sign off solutions by 90 percent of the top 25 semiconductor companies. Yang served as Apache’s CEO until 2011, when the company was acquired by ANSYS. At the time of acquisition, Apache operated 16 branch offices worldwide and employed more than 280 full-time employees.

Yang, who is now vice president and general manager at ANSYS and lives in the Bay Area, also founded Anagram, a company that provided high-capacity circuit simulation for submicron ICs. In 1996, Anagram was acquired by Avanti, where Yang served as vice president and was responsible for IC extraction, simulation, and analysis products until 1998. From 1998 to 2002, Yang was a lead investor and a board member for CADMOS (acquired by Cadence), Innologic (acquired by Synopsys), Ultima (acquired by Cadence), and Mojave (acquired by Magma).

Prior to his work in industry, Yang was a tenured professor at the University of Washington from 1989 to 1996. Yang is the recipient of multiple awards including the ECE Robert T. Chien Memorial Research Award in 1989, the National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award in 1991, and the ECE Distinguished Alumni Award in 2010.

Yang, who was advised at Illinois by former ECE department head Sung-Mo Kang, credits his time in ECE and his adviser for launching his career. “I had a great experience not just because I fulfilled my degree requirements, but because I was given the freedom by my adviser to pursue my passion. The work I did was licensed to industry and that experience helped me in my teaching career and later as an entrepreneur,” said Yang. “The freedom to pursue an area of interest and realizing its potential impact was important to me. Getting recognition beyond my adviser and the degree was also important.”

Yang was born in Taiwan but went to high school in Ventura, California, before earning his undergraduate degree at the University of California, Berkeley. He worked as an IC memory design engineer in the Bay Area for two years before deciding to return to school. “Illinois was clearly a top choice for graduate school, especially because I wanted to be in a different environment,” explained Yang. “Coming to Illinois helped me to focus on my research and was the best career decision I made.”

Yang hopes his gift will inspire others to give back to Illinois. “I hope this idea encourages other successful alumni to think about ideas that are important to them,” said Yang. “Perhaps other awards can go beyond this seed funding and set up additional opportunities for Illinois to further invest in research and entrepreneurship."

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This story was published April 17, 2013.