With his tall stature, impeccable business attire, clean-shaven face and wizardly bald head, Professor George Cook might intimidate the unfamiliar student.
However if you are one of the fortunate students to strike up a conversation with him, you notice his kind eyes, warm smile and sincere and genuinely caring attitude. When one knows Professor Cook well, the feelings he inspires are invariably of respect and admiration.
It was not until my second semester of graduate school that I had the pleasure of taking Professor Cook’s robotics manipulators class. Although mathematically and theoretically challenging, his courses were popular because they complemented math and theory with a software-based simulation environment known as ROBOSIM.
ROBOSIM encouraged critical thinking, fostered self-directed learning, and enabled curiosity while generating a deep understanding of the fundamental principles of kinematic theory—the mechanics of motion. Developed by Professor Cook and his graduate students, ROBOSIM allowed students to design their own robots, positioners and workspace environments, and incorporate inverse kinematics into a graphically animated robotic simulation environment. This type of learning environment resonated with me.
In 1993, I finished my master’s degree and joined Professor Cook’s research team as a doctoral candidate. During one of our very first meetings, I learned that there is nothing subtle about Professor Cook’s guidance. The meeting also involved another professor and a fellow graduate student research colleague. While I do not remember the exact nature of the discussion, I do recall we were doubting our ability to follow through with one of Professor Cook’s requests. His discontent was clear, and in hindsight, we deserved it. His passion and verbosity were not to disparage, but rather to motivate, us. What remains ingrained in my mind more than anything else was his secretary’s comment as we walked out of his office. She whispered that “he is a lot mellower than he used to be.”
Professor Cook’s research interests have meandered very little during his 40-plus-year career at Vanderbilt, yet he continues to publish new and novel content in welding automation and control. At the time I was a student, the Welding Automation Laboratory was one of a few interdisciplinary research groups in the School of Engineering. Consequently, his leadership encouraged an open and trusting environment where collaboration and teamwork were emphasized. We were able to focus on our strengths and benefit from the collaborations of mechanical and electrical engineering counterparts. Later, as a staff scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, I realized the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration, and was properly prepared to contribute, participate and lead in multidisciplinary research endeavors.
Professionally, I continue to develop and promote the same concepts that we worked on in graduate school. When I meet with professionals in the welding and joining industry, it is with great pride that I say I studied under George Cook. Unfailingly, it is met with a smile and a warmness of, “Oh, you worked with George?” Respect and admiration for Professor Cook extends well beyond Vanderbilt.
As a teacher, Professor Cook is committed to the growth of his students and encourages them to reach their potential. As an adviser, his observations can be quite brutal, but he operates from a position of honesty and mutual respect, and his students appreciate his upfront and straightforward nature. As a mentor, he is approachable and conscious of being a role model. He is an excellent listener and never appears overextended or distracted during a conversation. While I have many fond memories of Vanderbilt, my studies under Professor Cook will remain unforgettable.