National Computational Science Alliance
Alliance Center for Collaboration, Education, Science and Software (ACCESS)
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October 23, 2000

To:            The Association of Graduates, USMA
                   West Point, New York 10996
Subject:   Nomination of David R. Hughes as Distinguished Graduate, USMA
It is a privilege to have been asked to write a letter supporting the nomination of David R. Hughes, USMA Class of 1950, as a Distinguished Graduate, USMA.  During the period from April 1987 through June of the current (2000) year. I was a Staff Associate in the Division of Advanced Networking Infrastructure and Research of the National Science Foundation. While in this position, I initiated a number of activities to improve the capabilities, ease of use and access to the Internet for research and education. In 1994, most academic institutions connected to the Internet were using dedicated lines provided by phone companies.  While this solution was satisfactory in many locations, it left institutions, researchers and students in areas with poor local telephone infrastructure with only very limited access. Wireless connectivity appeared to offer a possible solution for this problem but its use was largely ad hoc, anecdotal and undocumented.  While we were receiving inquiries about the use of wireless technology for persistent Internet connectivity, we were unable to comment on its viability because there was simply no substantial information available on the subject.
It was in the above context that, in January 1995 (learning of David Hughes wireless activities with the K-12 community in Colorado and his work with the Big Sky network in Montana), I contacted him to discussed his interest in submitting a proposal to NSF to conduct field tests to establish and document the suitability (or unsuitability) of wireless technology for Internet connectivity in remote areas. He immediately agreed and submitted a proposal in the spring of that year. Reviewers found this proposal to be both timely compelling and recommended its support. I endorsed this recommendation and, when the grant was awarded, I became the program manager for this initial award, the purpose of which was to conduct and document tests of wireless Internet connectivity in several harsh environments in the U.S. From that time until my departure from NSF, on July 1 of this year (2000), I was the Program Manager for a variety of projects in which David Hughes has continued to demonstrate the rapidly changing capabilities of wireless connectivity and educate the U.S. research and education communities about its potential use to enhance and enrich their work.
I could write a lengthy narrative about how David Hughes overcame severe obstacles time and again in the various wireless deployments done under his award(s) but, the project reports are available for all the world to see on his web site ( and it's clearer to simply state that Dave routinely undertakes challenging projects and accomplishes them as if they were routine. It's apparent from reading his project reports that if Dave says something presents a problem, what he's really saying is that he'll find a better way to accomplish the task in question.... and he always does.  As stated above, one particular purpose of the "Wireless Field Tests" project was to test the robustness of wireless connectivity under diverse and harsh conditions within the U.S. About a year into the award, however, an opportunity came up to extend the test into Mongolia (linking up eight academic and research sites there by wireless and and connecting the group to the Internet by satellite). Given the scientific interest in the Gobi Desert and the extreme severity of the climactic conditions in Mongolia, this was an opportunity too good to pass up. Working with a local (Mongolian) engineer, the project designed and deployed a wireless network, trained local personnel to operate and maintain the network, and facilitated the start of a wireless Internet service, which today services not only the Academic community but a broad constituency of Mongolians citizens. (Fascinating pictures of Mongolians riding their ponies up to a public access facility where they could use the Internet quickly became legendary and spread around the globe.)
As a result of the wireless field tests described above, NSF was able to consider and award, during the subsequent period, dozens of proposals involving wireless Internet connectivity for K-12 schools, community colleges, museumsand libraries. These awards, in turn, paved the way for a larger number of awards by other federal, state and local agencies using the now "proven" wireless technologies. More recently, as a result of his work under a subsequent NSF grant, biologists have begun to design research around the deployment of field sensors connected wirelessly to servers, in turn connected wirelessly to their home (institutional) computers. This represents a significant change in paradigm (from the time-consuming physical deployment of scientists and their graduate students to gather all data used) for conducting biological research.
From the mountains of Colorado, which he so loves, to the Piedmont of Virginia, to the northern streams of Montana, to the lakes of Wisconsin, to the tundra of Alaska and the rain forest of Puerto Rico, David Hughes has deployed and demonstrated state of the art wireless technology for the U.S. research and education communities and has begun to effect a change in the way they conduct their daily business. As a result of his knowledge and work, he is loved in the classrooms of (K-12) schools, listened to in the lecture halls of universities, as well as in the hearing rooms of Congress and the federal agencies and respected in the boardrooms of multi-billion dollar international corporations for his selfless efforts in the development and deployment of wireless technology. He is frequently sought as a speaker and advisor on wireless infrastructure deployment in less developed countries around the world. With respect to wireless technology and its importance to the future, David Hughes vision has been prophetic and breadth of his practical knowledge is unsurpassed.
However, it isn't just his knowledge and grasp of the technology and its applications and implications (phenomenal and valuable as those may be) which make David Hughes worthy of recognition. Occasionally, when Dave speaks of his broad vision I've heard him say "There are five and a half billion people on this planet and if we could connect all that gray matter via wireless IP (Internet Protocol) and let those people freely communicate and share their ideas we'd really have something." For those of us in the Internet community, that vision is compelling.  In Dave Hughes' case, however, the implementation is even more compelling than the vision. Dave's unique effectiveness is that he radiates the traditional American philosophy of valuing the people with whom he deals above the technology with which he works. A significant number of people I know are engaged in the "technology demonstration" business. They go to a remote community (across the digital divide) somewhere and "do a demo" getting attention and money for themselves and leaving behind nothing but broken hopes and disappointments. That's simply not David Hughes' way of doing business. For well over a decade, David Hughes has been wandering across the country (and around the world) planting seeds of wireless connectivity and hopes for a better tomorrow. Every project he started is still functioning (and even growing) because he has expended the time and effort to train the local community to support and maintain their own infrastructure.
During our post-colonial period, the legendary Johnny Appleseed is said to have wandered the wilderness and "crossed the great divide" planting seeds to benefit future generations. In my mind, Dave Hughes is Johnny Appleseed wandering the "wilderness" (across the domestic and international digital divide) to develop a lasting infrastructure for future generations.  In the infrastructure he has deployed and the people he has trained and mentored, Dave Hughes has build a remarkable legacy of which he and all those associated with him can and should be proud.Reflecting on my (over) thirty two years of federal service, including the Marine Corps in Vietnam, I can think of no individual I have known more singularly deserving of the respect and honor of his comrades than David Hughes.
                           Donald R. Mitchell
                           Visiting Associate Director for Strategic Collaborations