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Obituary: Barbara Rucinska, Computer Engineering Lecturer, Dies of Cancer

March 26, 2008

Dr. Barbara Rucinska, 59, a senior lecturer of computer engineering, testing and testability, and security engineering at UNH, died Thursday, March 20, at her Strafford home after a long battle with cancer. She was the wife of Andrzej Rucinski, a professor in the electrical and computer engineering department.

A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday in the chapel of the R.M. Edgerly & Son Funeral Home, 86 South Main St., Rochester.

Burial will be in Poland at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the UNH Foundation, Elliott Alumni Center, with a note attached that reads “In memory of Barbara Rucinska to be given to the UNH ECE department.”

Born June 3, 1948, in Gdansk, Poland, Rucinska lived in the United States for the past 25 years after moving from Gdynia with her husband.

A graduate of the Gdansk University of Technology, she earned her doctorate in computer engineering in the United States.

A profile of Rucinska, written a few years ago by John Pokoski of the electrical and computer engineering department, follows:

Students and faculty around the ECE department recognize Barbara Rucinska as a petite blonde lady with a slight European accent who teaches a variety of courses, supervises student projects, and conducts research. Since she is quiet and unassuming, most know little more about her. As you will see, a wide variety of experiences, abilities, and interests can be wrapped in a small package.

Rucinska is originally from Gdansk, a historic Polish city located at the mouth of the Vistula River, on the Baltic Sea. Its importance resulted in centuries of strife between Prussia and Poland, culminating in Germany's invasion (and WWII) in 1939.

You may recognize Gdansk as the location of the shipyard where the Solidarity labor movement opposed the communist government, eventually leading to the downfall of communism in Europe. In fact the house where Rucinska was raised, and her parents still live, is a half-mile from the home of Lech Walesa, former Solidarity leader, president of Poland, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

As a child, Rucinska studied music (piano and voice), and graduated as the top student in the history of one of the most prestigious high schools in Poland. She was interested in many topics, ranging from mathematics (her parents are both mathematicians) to economics, international trade and marketing, to foreign languages (she is fluent in English and Polish, and can converse in Russian, Ukrainian, Slovak, and German), to literature (she has had several poems published). However, she finally decided upon a career in electrical engineering since she regarded it as the most challenging discipline.

Thus, Rucinska began studies at the Technical University of Gdansk, eventually culminating in a Master of Science in electrical engineering. Later at the university, she served as a research scientist and as a senior lecturer. She conducted research, both theoretical and for Polish industry, in a variety of areas, including computer simulation, diagnostic systems, fault tolerance, real-time computing, programming languages, system theory, and computer-aided design. She taught graduate and undergraduate courses in computer architecture, data structures, computer programming, and numerical methods.

She also served as research advisor for undergraduate and graduate students, and served as supervisor of their theses. During this period, she met Professor Robert Newcomb of the University of Maryland while he was on the faculty of electronics at the University of Gdansk. (Newcomb is an internationally acclaimed scholar and IEEE Fellow with many honors and accomplishments, including authorship of 350 papers and five books.) They began a research collaboration in the semi-state theory of micro-electronic circuits in 1978, and he invited her to pursue a Ph.D. in applied math at U of M.

However, during this same period, she was very active in the (then) illegal Solidarity movement, distributing clandestine literature, participating in university and street demonstrations, and during the martial law period, hiding politically incorrect books to preserve them from shredding by the communist government. Thus, when she attempted to accept Newcomb's invitation, the government did not make the transition easy for her. She underwent a traumatic two years of tapped phones, curfews, opened correspondence, etc. However, she finally made it to Maryland, and credits Newcomb for changing her life.

From 1982 to 1984, Rucinska taught calculus and elementary mathematics courses, took courses, and continued her research collaboration with Newcomb, resulting in many scholarly publications. At the same time, she began making inquiries at American universities for a position for her husband Andrzej Rucinski who was currently teaching electrical engineering back in Gdansk. (Incidentally, with Polish names, a masculine ending of "ski" is paralleled with the feminine ending of "ska". So it is not a typo- Andrzej Rucinski and Barbara Rucinska) Eventually, Rucinski was hired for a temporary faculty position with the ECE Department at UNH. He soon secured a permanent position here, and Rucinska was able to be reunited with her husband in Durham. Unfortunately, this meant forsaking her graduate work at Maryland. She switched to our Ph.D. program, and under the guidance of Newcomb and several UNH faculty, completed her degree.

For the past 10 years, she has held various positions in the ECE department, including instructor, adjunct assistant professor, and research scientist. She has taught various courses in circuits, logic design, computer organization, and VLSI. She has conducted research and published papers in several areas, including collaborative engineering, failure modeling, and distributed systems. In addition Rucinska was the organizer and chair of the 1995 Atlantic Test Workshop and the 1996 Advanced Technology Workshop.

Rucinska lives with her husband in a secluded country area in Strafford in a beautiful log cabin, which they constructed and furnished. They enjoy feeding the many birds, squirrels and other small animals. However, last year when Rucinski was out of town, Rucinska and her visiting parents were a bit nonplussed by a bear investigating the bird feeders on the front porch. Rucinska continues to enjoy music and dancing. (I've seen her and Andrzej perform some pretty spiffy polkas and mazurkas.) She reads history, science, religion, and biographies. Her politics are conservative. She was highly unimpressed by the socialistic government of her youth, and the current atmosphere of "political correctness" in the USA brings back memories of restricted speech in the old country.

Rucinska is a good cook (my mouth waters at the thought of her mushroom soup) and gardener. She enjoys traveling, regularly visiting her relatives in Europe. In addition to her parents in Gdansk, she has two sisters, both engineers. One lives in Gdansk. The other lives in Paris with her French husband, whom she met while stranded in France when martial law was imposed in Poland. Finally, Rucinska is a hiker and tennis player.

As suggested earlier, many things can be wrapped in a small package.

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