Letter From the Chair (Summer 2013)

Lori A. Clarke, Professor and CS Chair

Save the date! October 17-19 we are planning to celebrate becoming a School and the 50th anniversary of Computer Science at UMass Amherst. Thursday afternoon, October 17th, will be an informal career fair where our alums are invited to meet with our current students to discuss their career experiences and promote their companies. That evening will be a good opportunity to visit the town and your favorite area hangout (it is probably still there). Friday there will be panels with invited speakers discussing the future of computer science research and education and our future plans for the School of Computer Science. Friday night is an alumni and faculty social and dinner at the top of the Campus Center. Saturday morning there will be hands-on displays that should be fun for visitors of all ages. More information is available on page 10 of Significant Bits, and we'll be sending more details about the program and registration soon. October is prime leaf peeping season, so plan ahead and make hotel reservations soon. We only turn 50 once, so please plan to join the celebration. As an incentive for early registration, we'll give commemorative 50th anniversary t-shirts to the first 50 alums who register.

For those who graduated with an undergraduate degree, you might be surprised at how much our undergraduate program has changed. Like most programs, we have seen a phenomenal increase in interest in our programs (i.e., BS, BA, and CS minor). In 2008 we had 262 computing students, but today we are almost three times that size. We have a very selective undergraduate program; students with outstanding high school records are admitted directly, while other students must demonstrate competence by performing well in our predictor courses. In a survey, graduating seniors reported that almost 70% of them did at least one internship and 30% worked with faculty on an individual project. Almost a quarter of our graduating seniors did a double major, with half of those also majoring in mathematics. Seventy percent are planning to eventually get a graduate degree, with 15% going to graduate school immediately. The undergraduates now have their own space, called the USpace, for studying and meeting with other students. TAs can hold their office hours in the USpace, and our undergraduate Peer Advisors hold their advising hours there as well. Undergraduate Ambassadors give tours to visiting high school students throughout the year. We have a very active ACM Student Chapter, which, under the leadership of Professor Erik Learned-Miller, competes in the ACM programming contest. The undergraduate program committee has monthly information sessions (every first Friday of the month) to discuss issues about the academic programs, internships, job and career planning, and other topics, and hosts fun events such as Wearable Computing Night. Undergraduates have a representative at faculty meetings, helping to assure that faculty understand the issues that concern undergraduates the most.

Our faculty continue to receive outstanding recognitions. Congratulations to Distinguished Professor Jim Kurose who recently received the 2013 INFOCOM Achievement Award (see the article on page 3 of Significant Bits). This award is given to one researcher a year to recognize their outstanding contributions throughout their career. Many of the major subareas of computing have such Lifetime Achievement Awards. As a faculty, we have received ten such awards in the areas of Computer Communications, Performance Evaluation, Neural Networking, Software Engineering, Information Retrieval, and Artificial Intelligence. At the junior faculty level, our faculty has garnered eighteen NSF Career Awards. As computer science has matured, many major conferences now look back ten years or more and honor papers that have been extremely influential since their publication. These "Most Influential" or "Test of Time" awards are great honors. To date, seven of our faculty have been recognized with such awards. Conferences also often recognize the current best papers (and sometimes these become the most influential papers of the future). In this arena, our faculty have had an extraordinary year, receiving nine Best or Most Distinguished Paper awards so far in 2013 (see Significant Bits Faculty News, page 18).

I'm pleased to announce that we recently added two new endowed scholarships: the Jim Gray Scholarship in Computer Science and the Sudha and Rajesh Jha Scholarship. Both these scholarships are intended to help support graduate students during their first year of studies. These scholarships are greatly appreciated by the students and help the School attract outstanding students to our program.

The School has had several personnel transitions within the last six months. We are delighted that Professor Arjun Guha, who works in programming languages and software security, is joining the faculty this semester. Tim Richards is now a full-time, permanent lecturer and also serves as the Chief Undergraduate Advisor. Priscilla Scott, a grant administrator, retired after working for CS for 29 years and for the University for 37 years. Keeping up our tradition of having retirees continue to support and participate in the department, Priscilla will continue to help out on a post retirement appointment. On a very sad note, Lecturer Steve Constantine unexpectedly passed away in May (see Significant Bits page 7). Steve taught our undergraduate writing course, focusing on ethical and societal issues of computing. His teaching evaluations were always amazing. Based on student evaluation comments, Steve strongly influenced our students to think about complex societal issues. He will definitely be missed.