This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Brunskill leaves legacy of innovation

Director of Science and Engineering Node Services retires after more than 30 years at UB

Published: July 28, 2005

Reporter Contributor

Above all else, Corky Brunskill believes that computer technology should not be about the technician.


Corky Brunskill, who retired on July 13 after more than 30 years at UB, believes that computer technology should not be about the technician.

That simple belief means that UB lost someone special when Brunskill retired from the university on July 13, according to colleagues from across the university. Brunskill, director of Science and Engineering Node Services (SENS), had worked in information technology at UB since he graduated from the university in 1973.

"I think that is a slightly unusual kind of characteristic because many people are drawn to the technology but not so much drawn to using the technology to solve problems for people," says Sandy Peters, assistant director for computing services in the Office of the Chief Information Officer.

Peters notes that Brunskill had a clear vision for his department and worked to hire people who shared that vision and understood what was expected of them.

"They make great things happen because of that," she says. "They've got limited resources, but a lot of creativity. He's just been a master at running that organization."

Brunskill downplays his contributions to the university, saying that students don't choose UB because it has a great IT staff. But he does acknowledge that his philosophy is unique and his love of UB is stronger than most.

First of all, Brunskill thinks diversity is necessary—a variety of operating systems and programs that are designed to perform identical or similar functions. Different programs have different strengths and weaknesses, he says, and what's best for one scientist may not be best for another.

"Why are there 80 types of cars if the point is just to go from point A to point B?" he asks. "You can't lock people into one approach."

Running one system would be easier and could be cheaper (he finds a lot of ways to get grants and otherwise cut costs), but it wouldn't be as good.

"It's a heck of a lot more work," to run a series of operating systems, he admits. "But we're not here to satisfy ourselves. We're here for our community—our students and our faculty."

Brunskill believes it was his job to serve the university, and that some people who work here take that opportunity for granted.

"A lot of people working in universities have never had an outside job. They have no idea," he says. Brunskill, who studied at UB as a non-traditional student and left briefly to work at a community college, calls working for UB "a great job—almost like getting paid to do your hobby." He says the range of accomplished people at the university—from scientists to poets—and the chance to interact with them make this setting so much richer than a typical corporate IT job.

Robert Straubinger, associate professor in the Department of Pharmaceutics, School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, says Brunskill went far beyond the call of duty when he helped pharmacy professors put together a grant proposal for new equipment and then assemble their new laboratory. As director of SENS, Brunskill's responsibilities did not include the pharmacy school. Despite that, he helped Straubinger determine what equipment he needed and negotiated to get the best prices, resulting in 10 or 11 workstations instead of eight and a better server with a bit more capacity, Straubinger adds.

"He has a sincere interest in seeing good research and good science go forward," Straubinger says of Brunskill. "He takes pride in being able to contribute to research projects in a way that might not make it into the list of authors."

Carl Lund, professor and chair of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, echoes Straubinger's praise. Engineering is among the units Brunskill was charged with serving, but even so, he did far more than would be expected, Lund points out.

Lund recalls that when he started his UB career nearly 20 years ago, Brunskill helped him apply for matching grants for computer equipment. And he's been there helping him ever since.

"He cares really deeply about the university and about educating the students," Lund says. "And he's been highly supportive of new faculty in terms of getting them up and running."

Jerry Koudelka, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences, who Brunskill helped to establish the Laboratory for Molecular Visualization and Analysis, went so far as to call him "the white knight for a lot of folks in the science and engineering side of the university." Koudelka partnered with Straubinger to open the laboratory, one of a few of its kind in the country.

"When we recruit faculty from the outside, they are routinely impressed by what his (Brunskill's) operation is able to offer them," Koudelka says, crediting Brunskill's efforts with helping UB hire and retain top scientists.

All of this might lead a person to wonder: Why, then, would Brunskill leave UB at the relatively young age of 62? The home he and his wife are building in South Carolina may have something to do with it. But beyond that, he feels that in some ways, it's just time.

"I love the university. But I also realize that there comes a time when us old guys have to step aside and make room for the younger people," Brunskill says. "With young people come new ideas, fresh innovations and change. They're more willing to fight the battles and put out the fires. When you get older, it gets harder."

He doesn't expect to disconnect entirely, and plans to do some writing and consulting post-retirement. Brunskill also says that the technology he worked to implement will come in handy for staying in touch with colleagues—he plans to send a lot of email.

"I think we're all going to miss him a lot more than we realize right now," Peters says. "One of the questions I have is, 'how do you actually incubate innovators and entrepreneurs like Corky?' Because I think we need more people like him."