Professor Emeritus Dick Dorf Awarded UC Davis Medal

Richard C. “Dick” Dorf, professor emeritus in the Graduate School of Management and in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of California, Davis, has been awarded the UC Davis Medal in recognition of his contributions to UC Davis and to the fields of engineering, entrepreneurship and technology management. 

“UC Davis has a thriving culture of innovation and entrepreneurship and I can’t think of anyone who embodies this spirit more than Dick Dorf,” Chancellor Gary S. May said. “Over the course of his 40-plus years of influence at UC Davis, he has helped us get to the next level.”

The medal presentation took place June 8 during a gala celebration at the Chancellor’s Residence. The UC Davis Medal is the highest honor bestowed by the campus, celebrating individuals for extraordinary achievements and contributions to the UC Davis community. Medalists foster a bold and innovative spirit in teaching, research and public service. 

Dick Dorf wearing medal.

“Dick has been a leader in the UC Davis community for more than four decades and his dedication to UC Davis has had a lasting impact across the campus,” said Jennifer S. Curtis, dean of the College of Engineering. “His impact both in education and in the advancement of UC Davis and its reputation worldwide has been enormous.” 

Dorf joined UC Davis in 1971 as a faculty member in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. In 1972, he was appointed dean of Extended Learning and ran the program, which provided courses by correspondence, until 1982. 

Dorf’s research expertise was in control systems, robotics and energy systems, but he was also deeply interested in entrepreneurship and management of technology companies. He was one of the driving forces behind the establishment of the Graduate School of Management, becoming one of the first faculty members of the new professional school — then called the Graduate School of Administration — in 1981.  

“If the Graduate School of Management exists today it’s because of people like Dick Dorf who made it happen,” said H. Rao Unnava, the GSM dean.

Dorf has published 30 books on topics ranging from control systems to technology management and entrepreneurship. His most recent is Technology Ventures: From Ideas to Enterprise, a textbook exploring global technology entrepreneurship now in its fifth edition and in use in colleges worldwide. 

“I have Dick Dorf’s control systems textbook on my bookshelf, properly highlighted,” said May, himself an engineer. “He definitely made an impact on me, even before I knew who he was, when I was an undergraduate. So it’s really been an honor to meet him and work with him at UC Davis.” 

Dick Dorf poses for photo with deans and his wife.
Dick Dorf, center, flanked by, from left: H. Rao Unnava, dean, Graduate School of Management; Jennifer S. Curtis, dean, College of Engineering; his wife, Joy; and Ken Burtis, faculty advisor to the chancellor and provost. (Fred Greaves/UC Davis)

Mentoring startups

Dorf has served as a consultant for numerous business ventures and has mentored UC Davis students and alumni who have gone on to become successful entrepreneurs. He co-founded nine companies: six technology firms and three involved in publishing. 

As a professor emeritus, he has served on the Dean’s Executive Committee in the College of engineering and the Dean’s Advisory Council in the Graduate School of Management. He also served as a trustee on the UC Davis Foundation Board. He was mayor of Sonoma from 1994 to 1996 and a council member from 1994 to 1998, and served as a commissioner for the city of Davis from 2000 to 2009. 

In retirement, Dorf and his wife, Joy, are still helping shape the campus. They are members of the Chancellor’s Laureates, a group of the university’s most generous donors. In the Graduate School of Management, their support established the Richard and Joy Dorf Fellowship and the Richard C. Dorf Award for Academic Excellence, named the Richard C. and Joy M. Dorf Classroom in Gallagher Hall and established the Richard and Joy Dorf Graduate Award. 

Dick Dorf with Joy Dorf.
Donations from Dick Dorf and his wife, Joy, have created a fellowship and multiple awards, as well as an endowment to subsidize tickets for students to attend events at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. (Fred Greaves/UC Davis)

In the College of Engineering, they created the Richard and Joy Dorf Award for Academic Excellence for undergraduate students and the Richard and Joy Dorf Graduate Student Award in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. 

In 2013, the Dorfs created an endowment that subsidizes tickets for UC Davis students to attend events at the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. 

“Every UC Davis student gets their first ticket free when they come to the Mondavi Center,” said Don Roth, the center’s executive director. “Through the endowment that Dick and Joy gave, students are able to come back many more times and get into the habit of coming to the arts.” 

Most recently, the Dorfs donated $250,000 to create the Dorf Design and Communications Classroom in Kemper Hall. The renovated space is specifically designed for the undergraduate course, “Introduction to Design Engineering,” which emphasizes skills in design, teamwork and technical communication. They have also contributed generously to the planned Engineering Student Design Center, where engineering students will learn from a project-based approach from meeting with clients through design, prototyping, fabrication and testing.

Previous recipients of the UC Davis Medal include winemakers and philanthropists Robert and Margrit Mondavi, artist Wayne Thiebaud, Chancellor Emeritus Larry N. Vanderhoef, astronaut and alumnus Steve Robinson (and now a professor in the College of Engineering), and two former presidents, Bill Clinton and Michele Bachelet of Chile.

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Andy Fell, News and Media Relations, 530-752-4533,

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