Crassidis named Samuel P. Capen Professor

by Emily Sugarman

Published March 14, 2018

"Being back at my alma mater is my obvious inspiration. I know that UB is one of best in the world. Every day when I leave my office, I think to myself, 'I hope what I did today made UB a better place,' said John Crassidis, who was recently recognized with the celebrated Samuel P. Capen professorship. 

"The education of students is at the top of my list. Capen wore many hats but he was an educator first. I look forward to using this professorship to help further students' education, who can then make UB proud when they graduate."
John Crassidis, Samuel P. Capen Professor
Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Portrait photo of John Crassidis

John Crassidis, Samuel P. Capen Professor

"To say this is truly an honor would be an understatement,” Crassidis said. “Capen was a pioneer at UB and for the country. He advocated for equality in education at a time when it didn't exist.”

“I was also pleasantly surprised that he was one of the founders of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Being a classically trained pianist who dreamed of playing in the BPO in my youth made this recognition even better,” he said.

Crassidis is Director of the Center for Multisource Information Fusion and a faculty member in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.  A three-time UB alumnus — PhD ’93, MS ’91 & BS ’89 — Crassidis joined the UB faculty in 2001. His research areas include spacecraft altitude determination and control, formation flying guidance and navigation, robust nonlinear control, and vehicle altitude dynamics.

When asked what he looks forward to in his professorship, Crassidis said, “Many things, but the education of students is at the top of my list. Capen wore many hats but he was an educator first. I look forward to using this professorship to help further students' education, who can then make UB proud when they graduate."

Kemper Lewis, professor and chair of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, expressed his sincere congratulations. “This distinction celebrates John’s sustained research excellence and educational innovation in aerospace controls and spacecraft guidance. His extraordinary contributions to aerospace science research have impacted our understanding of space flight and navigation, influencing the development of innovative spacecraft hardware and software at NASA and various national defense agencies. His contributions to the educational experience of our students in aerospace engineering are unmatched.”

Crassidis attracted this award in the spirit of Samuel P. Capen — a ubiquitous name within the history of UB and found on buildings across UB’s campuses. According to the University at Buffalo Archives, Capen was the first full-time, salaried Chancellor of the University at Buffalo. Prior to coming to the University, he served as Director of the American Council on Education. Under his leadership, the University was transformed from a small group of autonomous schools into a modern university of 14 divisions and a central campus. Capen was acknowledged as a leader in higher education, particularly known for his strong defense of academic freedom and innovation in liberal arts instruction.

The University Archives also say that Capen was “known by his colleagues to possess a clear, cool head, a dry sense of humor and an ability to transform his concerns for individuals into programs for people.” Henry Ten Eyck Perry, a faculty member in the Department of English, once reflected that Capen lived his life by a creed similar to that of Ralph Waldo Emerson: "plain living and high thinking.”

Crassidis’ significant qualities of character, scholarship, and leadership have earned him this award, and UB is very proud to be a meaningful part of his career and life. 

As a message for students, Crassidis said: "Work hard but have fun too. I'm proof that even kids from very blue-collar roots with limited financial resources can get a Ph.D. if they work at it. Honestly, I can name many people who are smarter than me. When I was a student I just outworked them. But taking time to enjoy life is important too. As my good friend once said, 'nobody on their death bed ever said I wish I worked harder.' Finding a good balance is the key."