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Alumni Profile

Thanks to the mainframe

Prondzinski

Robert Prondzinski worked on Mizzou’s room-sized mainframe computer in the early 1970s and went on to a career in information technology. 

In 1964, when Robert Prondzinski broke his neck, life expectancy for quadriplegics was about seven years after being injured. Back then, blood clots and urinary tract infections claimed lives, Prondzinski says, and some who lived stayed home under the care of loved ones. 

Prondzinski, BS ’71, MS ’72, had other ideas. Instead, the Wisconsin native went looking for a school and landed at Mizzou. At the time, Mizzou was one of a handful of universities in the Midwest with accessibility programs that made them hospitable to wheelchair traffic and that offered other services for people with disabilities. 

“I owe my whole success in life to what happened at MU,” he says. 

A physics major with an interest in astronomy, Prondzinski took plenty of high-level mathematics. Although the campus was accessible, his disability created a few challenges nonetheless. For instance, he had to use his teeth to operate a slide rule. 

So, in more ways than one, Prondzinski was thrilled when he could tap into Mizzou’s room-sized mainframe computer to learn Fortran programming and conduct research on competing theories of the universe. He’d arrive at the computer terminal at about 11 p.m. armed with enough food for a long shift. By that time of night, he could get extended time on the mainframe. He’d plug in data about the universe and spend the night there as the mainframe crunched numbers. By 4 or 5 a.m., the computer gave him a few figures to add to his results for analysis. 

Although Prondzinski never realized his dream of working in the field of astronomy, his computer skills launched him into a successful career in information technology and later the business side of the pharmaceutical field. He spent his career with G. D. Searle and Baxter Laboratories. 

Prondzinski’s new book about his life and times as a quadriplegic is called Another Fine Mess You’ve Gotten Us Into (Nasus Publishing, 2008). — Dale Smith