Letter from the Chair (Winter/Spring 2015)

This has been an incredibly busy time for Computer Science, with a number of very exciting new endeavors. First and foremost, plans are moving ahead to become an independent college. It was only a few years ago that we announced that we were a School of Computer Science within the College of Natural Sciences. That step increased our independence, but we viewed it as only a steppingstone to become a truly independent college. As we repeatedly demonstrated our ability to function as an independent unit and as the importance and centrality of computing has become ever more apparent, the university administration has joined us in advocating for a College of Information and Computer Sciences (CICS, pronounced "kicks" as in "kicks butt"). As we have presented our case before a number of faculty senate committees and councils, I have been pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming support we have received. It is clear that faculty across campus realize the potential impact computing can have on their disciplines and look forward to developing even more interactions with us. We still have a few more hurdles before the decision is final, but it appears that September 1, 2015 will be the inaugural date for the new college. There are many people to thank for pushing this forward. Our Strategic Planning Committee has been working on this for over a decade. Although many people have been involved, Professors Rick Adrion, Bruce Croft, Jim Kurose, and Lee Osterweil have devoted considerable energy to make this happen. Dean Steve Goodwin, the dean of the College of Natural Sciences, has also been a strong advocate, recognizing that although CNS will become smaller, the University will benefit overall. Also, the support of Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy and Provost Katherine Newman has been vitally important. I'm writing this column before the Board of Trustees will actually vote on our collegehood proposal, but if you are reading it, the vote was positive!

Another new initiative is the Center for Data Science, which is being led by Professor Andrew McCallum and will have a kickoff workshop on April 9th. This center will be a catalyst for research and industrial interactions, emphasizing the investigation and development of new approaches for decision-making based on the analysis of large data sets. The opportunities for applying data analytics are exploding as companies and researchers uncover a treasure-trove of computer processible data that, with new and emerging techniques, can now be analyzed to provide new insights and improved decision making. In addition to synergizing research activities, the Data Science Center will be the impetus for a number of new educational programs. In addition to our Data Science Track and the Information Retrieval and Search Track in our undergraduate B.S. program, we expect to offer an M.S. degree with an emphasis on Data Science. Although we have over two-dozen faculty with research interests related to this area, we will be adding new faculty in this important, emerging area to address the broad range of concerns and student interests.

As you read this newsletter, you'll see that many of our faculty received important recognitions over the last half year. A special congratulations to Professor Jim Kurose, however, who has been selected to serve as assistant director for the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Although the title is "assistant" director, this is a very high-level position that influences the research direction of the NSF. As reported in the Winter/Spring newsletter issue, Jim has already testified before Congress. I can't think of a more energetic, articulate, and knowledgeable person to advocate for and represent computing at the NSF. We wish Jim the very best (but look forward to his return in three years).

Although we are all very happy for Professor Robert Moll and wish him the very best, it is with some sadness that I announce that Robbie, the perpetual teacher of many of the beginning computer science courses, retired this past December. He will still continue to teach some courses over the summer, in a post retirement appointment, but most new students will not have the pleasure of learning their first programming language or learning the wonders of data structures from him. Best wishes to Robbie and his wife Rachel Folsom for a well deserved retirement.

This fall brought to an end our 50th Anniversary (and our first) Community Drive. With your contributions and participation, we were able to meet nearly all of our (50%*4) goals. We increased the total number of donors and the number of first time donors by over 50%. Amazingly, we also increased the number of endowed scholarships by over 50%, adding four new endowed scholarships: the Clarke Scholarship for women and minority graduate students, the Flynn Scholarship for undergraduates, the Kurose Scholarship for graduate students, and the Moll Scholarship for students who attended community college. We are delighted that some of our alumni have stepped forward to establish student scholarships, and those faculty who have had scholarships named in their honor are proud to have their name associated with supporting our students. I know that most of our faculty would agree with me that the best part of being a faculty member is to be involved in helping students achieve their goals in life. Thanks to everyone who contributed for the first time and to those that contribute regularly to CS. We owe a special thanks to alumnus and friend, Steve Vinter, site director at Google Cambridge, who initiated the Community Drive with a $50,000 matching pledge and encouraged us to develop goals to help build our community. We can still use your help to achieve the final goal of increasing the number of email addresses of our CS alumni by 50%. To send us your email address, go to https://www.cs.umass.edu/forms/email-address-form. Don't forget that our alumni are all entitled to a lifetime CS email address that can be forwarded to whichever email account you are currently using. We will not sell or distribute this email address to anyone. And, although we would like to use this email address to send you (infrequent) messages about CS activities, you can even opt out of receiving our messages. To sign up for an alumni email address go to https://www.cs.umass.edu/lifetime-email-forwarding.

Finally, remember that on May 1st, we will once again have our Outstanding Achievement and Advocacy Awards Banquet. In addition to recognizing about a half dozen alumni and advocates who have made significant contributions during their careers, we will also honor some of our outstanding graduating undergraduate and graduate students. It is a well-attended event and a wonderful way to end another academic year. I hope to see many of you there.