Remembering Rance Cleaveland (1961–2024)

Mar 28, 2024

W. Rance Cleaveland II, a professor of computer science with an appointment in the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS), died unexpectedly on March 27, 2024.

Known for his quick wit, positive demeanor and strong commitment to advancing the mission of the multiple organizations he was involved with, Cleaveland was highly respected and valued by friends, colleagues and students at the University of Maryland.

In addition to his teaching and appointment in UMIACS, Cleaveland was associate dean for research in the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences. In this role, he helped guide a multidisciplinary research enterprise that brings in more than $250 million annually in sponsored research funding.

Much of his own scientific work was focused on developing theoretical and applied methods for validating and verifying computer code, software packages and computing devices. Starting with an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship as a Ph.D. student at Cornell University, he received multiple research grants over the years, including an NSF Young Investigator award and an ONR Young Investigator award.

In 2021, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) named Cleaveland a Fellow for his work involving verification tools for finite-state and cyber-physical systems.

Within UMIACS, Cleaveland was active on multiple fronts, providing input on everything from senior-level policy decisions to developing the institute’s new website. Notably, he led the committee that recently wrote the institute’s new mission and vision statements.

“What I'll remember and will miss most about Rance was his unwavering commitment to enriching whatever organization he was involved with,” said Mihai Pop, professor of computer science and director of UMIACS. “Whenever there were important decisions to be made, often accompanied by contentious debate, Rance would always be there with his calm, collected and often humorous persona to help us find the best solution.”

Cleaveland was a leading scholar in software systems, having published more than 150 papers in this area. He also served on several journal editorial boards and was co-founder and steering committee member of the International Conference on Tools and Algorithms for the Construction and Analysis of Systems.

In 2018, he took a four-year leave of absence from the University of Maryland, serving as director of the National Science Foundation’s Division of Computing and Communication Foundations. There, he oversaw the division’s support of more than $200 million in research and education projects through four core programs: algorithmic foundations, communications and information foundations, foundations of emerging technologies, and software and hardware foundations.

Cleaveland came to the University of Maryland in 2005, when he also became executive and scientific director of the Fraunhofer Center for Experimental Software Engineering, a position he held until 2014. Under Cleaveland's leadership, the center—an applied research and technology transfer organization affiliated with UMD—doubled its number of publications, more than doubled its research funding, and grew its staff by nearly 50%.

Cleaveland received his M.S. and Ph.D. in computer science from Cornell University in 1985 and 1987, respectively, and his B.S. in mathematics and computer science from Duke University in 1982. Before arriving at UMD, Cleaveland held faculty positions at Stony Brook University and North Carolina State University.

A memorial service for Rance Cleaveland will be conducted at the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., on Monday, April 29 at 1:30 p.m.