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The Passing of a Respected Engineer

By Keith Pierce

Old Dominion University lost one of its most respected engineering faculty members with the passing of Frederic (Rick) McKenzie, professor and chair of the Department of Computational Modeling and Simulation Engineering (CMSE) in the Batten College of Engineering and Technology (BCET).

McKenzie, who provided 21 years of dedicated and invaluable service to ODU, died over the weekend. He was 55.

Old Dominion University President John R. Broderick said McKenzie was a remarkable colleague who worked tirelessly for both the benefit of the University and his engineering profession.

"While Dr. McKenzie's untimely passing leaves us grieving and missing him, the support and encouragement he was known to give students, staff and faculty will live on," Broderick said. "I believe his commitment and passion for his work will continue to be an inspiration."

"This is a devastating loss for our BCET family," said Ben Stuart, interim dean of the College. "He has left a lasting imprint on our College, the University, and the broader engineering community and will be greatly missed."

Well-respected in his field, McKenzie served as principal and co-principal investigator on projects involving software architectures for simulation, behavior representation in simulations and medical modeling and simulation. His work led to several publications relating research in modeling human-like intelligent agents, including crowds, formal descriptions of distributed simulation architectures, objective measures of successful prostate surgery and augmenting standardized patients. Many of these projects also involved virtual reality and scientific visualization.

"Rick was a passionate advocate for his students, staff and faculty," Stuart said. "He was a dedicated leader who strove for excellence in his programs and was a significant contributor to the evolving vision for the BCET."

Most recently, recognizing a critical need by health-care workers for personal protection equipment, McKenzie led a team of students and faculty in the development of an open-source mask designed with a removable filter for health-care providers at Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters (CHKD).

McKenzie's partnership with CHKD goes back much further. In 2018, working with Dr. Robert Kelly, chief of surgery at CHKD, McKenzie and a team developed a 3D scanning tool to track improvement of chest deformities in children and teens. The technology was so remarkable it attracted the attention of hospitals in Korea, China and France after Kelly and McKenzie presented it at a conference hosted by the Chest Wall International Group in Seoul, South Korea.

Prior to that, McKenzie's team had already developed a simulation to help train doctors to perform a procedure that was developed in 1987 by Dr. Donald Nuss at CHKD for treating pectus excavatum, a chest wall abnormality most common in children.

"Surgical simulation is a hot topic in medicine right now, which is why a few years ago we asked Dr. McKenzie for help developing a training tool for the Nuss procedure. Along the way, we had also been working on these nonsurgical treatments, which is when he agreed to develop a simulator for those procedures," said Kelly. "Dr. McKenzie was a tremendous asset to ODU and to our region. He had an incredible intellect, with the rare ability to work in many different fields. He was also an honorable and gracious man. He made a tremendous difference in many lives and will be keenly missed."

McKenzie received his Ph.D. in computer engineering from the University of Central Florida in 1994. Before joining ODU, he was a senior scientist at Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), serving as principal investigator for several distributed simulation projects. At SAIC, he was a team leader on a large distributed simulation system. Before joining SAIC, McKenzie worked as a student researcher on projects involving the NASA Kennedy Space Center and NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. His several years of research and development experience in the software and artificial intelligence fields included object-oriented design and knowledge-based systems. Both his M.S. and Ph.D. work were in artificial intelligence - focusing on knowledge representation and model-based diagnostic reasoning.

"Rick was one of the most talented and intelligent professionals on campus," said Austin Agho, provost and vice president for academic affairs. "He was a friend to many and a problem solver who was always focused on ways to use his skills for the good of others. He will be greatly missed."

McKenzie is survived by his wife, Issel, and two sons, Karl and Connor.

A private funeral mass will take place on Friday, July 24, 2020 at 11:00 a.m. and is open to all via Facebook livestream (@AscensionVB) beginning at 10:55 a.m. Flowers and cards may be sent to the Church of the Ascension, Virginia Beach, 4853 Princess Anne Road, Virginia Beach, VA 23462.

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