EE Alumnus Dr. Rory Cooper named “Veteran of the Year”


EE alum and army veteran Dr. Rory Cooper received the "Veteran of the Year Award" from the Veterans Leadership Program on October 29, 2009 at Carnegie Hall in New York. Dr. Cooper is one of the world's foremost authorities on wheelchair design and is the director of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories.

Dr. Cooper used a wheelchair after suffering a spinal cord injury during his military service. In 2009, he appeared on a special edition Cheerios box as a part of a national campaign honoring 12 gold metal winners from the 28th National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

Dr. Cooper commented that the Cheerios box "is a nice recognition of people with disabilities from a mainstream company. I am happy to be able to help promote a positive image for our wounded, injured and ill veterans."

While he was getting his bachelor's and master's degrees at Cal Poly in 1985, Dr. Cooper made an impact on his professors and fellow students. Mark Hutchenreuther, one of Dr. Cooper's Cal Poly professors, remembers that he had three different wheelchairs for different purposes.

"I believe one of the special chairs was for his favorite sport of wheelchair basketball," Hutchenreuther said.

After competing in the Paralympics Games in Seoul, Dr. Cooper returned home with a bronze. He then earned his Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering with a concentration in bioengineering from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1989.

Dr. Cooper is the founding director and VA Senior Research Career Scientist of the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System Rehabilitation Research and Development Center of Excellence, co-director of the NSF Quality of Life Technology Engineering Research Center, FISA & Paralyzed Veterans of America Char and distinguished professor of the department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology. He is also professor of bioengineering and mechanical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh and a professor in the departments of physical medicine and rehabilitation and orthopedic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Dr. Cooper will return to Cal Poly on May 14 to serve as the keynote speaker at the EE Annual Spring Banquet. For information, call (805) 756-2781 or email llwoods@calpoly.edu.