Letter from the Chair (Winter 2014)

From the Chair

The big event this past fall was the Schoolhood Celebration on October 17 - 19, where students, alumni, campus and community members celebrated the creation of the new School of Computer Science and the 50th anniversary of the founding of our Department. Jim Kurose chaired the event, and with the support of many faculty (Rick Adrion, James Allan, Emery Berger, Bruce Croft, David Jensen, Robbie Moll, Lee Osterweil, Prashant Shenoy, Don Towsley, and Michelle Trim) and many staff members (especially Deb Comeau, Donna Falcetti, Jean Joyce, Terrie Kellogg, Leeanne Leclerc, and Adam Tabaka) put together a terrific program.

The afternoon of the 17th was a Career Fair, where students visited with company representatives, many of whom were our former students. The room was abuzz with activity. The 18th was a day of panels and discussion about the impact of computing on computer science research, on research in other disciplines, on education, and on society. State Senator Stan Rosenberg attended and presented our new School with a citation from the state, recognizing our many contributions to the Commonwealth. Senator Rosenberg also attended the banquet that evening where alumni, faculty, and friends of the School enjoyed a trip down memory lane with a photo review of the department over the years. Saturday morning was family day, where Rod Grupen and Rui Wang, and some of their students, led hands-on robotics and wearable computing activities. Some of the photos displayed during the banquet are shown in the center section of this newsletter. (Many of us have certainly changed quite a bit over the years!)

One of the major events at the banquet was the launch of our Community Drive. Now that we are a School, there is an expectation at UMass Amherst that each school be active in alumni outreach and fundraising. As you all know, CS prides itself on pursuing excellence and being in the top ranks on every measure of quality. Well, we were all disappointed to learn that when it comes to fundraising, we have a long way to go. We have lost contact with many of our three thousand alumni, and only a small percentage of our alumni make donations - which puts us pretty much near the bottom in these categories. And correspondingly, we do not have as many scholarships and fellowships for our students as our peer top CS departments around the country.  But there has been progress. In the last few years, we have added seven endowed fellowships for students (see www.cs.umass.edu/donate/) - which is a terrific start - but the level of support provided by these fellowships is modest and the overall number is still small for a School as large and diverse as ours. In discussions with some of our active alumni, we decided to use the Schoolhood Celebration as a springboard for a Community Drive, whose goal is to reach more of our alumni and increase their participation in our community. We laid out what we hope are significant but achievable goals, including increasing the number of up-to-date alumni email addresses that we have and increasing the number of donors to the School, especially the number of first time donors. Of course, large donations are nice and get the attention of the administration, but our primary goal is to broaden our community and deepen alumni involvement; donations of any size indicate a sense of belonging to our community. As a catalyst to energize the community, Steve Vinter, Engineering and Site Director at Google Cambridge and esteemed alum, pledged to match contributions up to a total of $50,000. We are deeply appreciative of the support that Steve has given CS over the years, and greatly appreciate this very generous contribution to our community-building drive. We hope alumni will join with Steve and our many other deeply-involved alumni to help us make our 50th anniversary the year that alumni, students, and faculty all come together to build the strong foundation of support that will make our School a leader in all categories.

Over the years, a number of alumni have asked about keeping their UMass email account. So this month, we are introducing an alum email address program. This email address will be yours forever. It will basically forward mail to whatever address you provide, so that as you change jobs or providers, your alum email will remain the same. Information about how to sign up for an alum email address can be found at https://www.cs.umass.edu/lifetime-email-forwarding.

Finally, let me end by pointing out some highlights described elsewhere in this newsletter. We are delighted to report that Brigadier General Jody Daniels will be receiving the UMass Alumni Award April 2nd at a ceremony at the State House in Boston. Graduate student Yunmeng Ban was just awarded a Microsoft Research Graduate Women's Scholarship (one of ten awards given), and undergraduate student Daniel Stubbs was just awarded the Computing Research Association's Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award (one of two awards given to the top undergraduate researchers within the U.S. and Canada, one for the top male and one for the top female student). And Emeritus Professor Andrew Barto was awarded the 2014 International Neural Network Society Hebb Award, which will be presented in Beijing this summer; Distinguished Professor Bruce Croft was awarded the Tony Kent Strix Award; Distinguished Professor Jim Kurose was selected to give a University Distinguished Lecture (scheduled for April 9); and Assistant Professor Yuriy Brun received the 2013 IEEE TCSC Young Achievers Award. This is an impressive, but only partial, list of the awards and recognitions received by our students, faculty, and alumni during the last six months.