PITTSBURGH—Business, medicine, science, engineering, humanities: widely divergent fields of study though they are, they have in common a growing requirement of students—an understanding of and proficiency in using computing and information resources.
University of Pittsburgh trustees today approved creation of a new school aimed at addressing that need. In an era characterized by the outsized influence of technology on advances in other major fields, the School of Computing and Information (SCI) at Pitt will host an array of academic programs that integrate computing and information with core disciplinary strengths across the University.
The result will be a dynamic, multidisciplinary environment that supports discovery, innovation, and entrepreneurship driven by data and technology, said Pitt Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Patricia E. Beeson.
“The new School of Computing and Information will provide an environment rich in discovery. I am confident the innovative programs and collaborations envisioned by our faculty will be transformative for our students, and for research across the University,” said Beeson.
The University has an opportunity to take advantage of these emerging trends to better prepare all Pitt students for the world that they will shape, and to accelerate progress in research and innovation, she said.
The school, which will begin operations with the opening of the new fiscal year in July and officially enroll its first cohort of students in fall 2017, is a key element in Pitt’s strategy to support research in data and computation-intensive fields across the University.
“With this launch, Pitt and our board have recognized the rapidly growing importance of computing and information in virtually every discipline—and in solving both large and small issues facing our society today,” said Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher. “I want to thank our provost for her leadership and her vision on this effort, and to recognize the many faculty members who collaborated to bring this to fruition. Your vision is a compelling one, and I can’t wait to see it come to life.”
Architects of the school envision training a new generation of computing and information scientists who work in collaboration with colleagues in discipline-based organizations to develop context-responsive solutions.
“This is so critical for our students,” said Trustee Emeritus Al Moyé (A&S ’68). “Not only will it benefit the students, but it will make it easier for them to understand what kind of opportunities there are for them in the modern world.”
Work to develop the guiding principles of the new school began formally in April 2015 when faculties of the School of Information Sciences (SIS) and the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences Department of Computer Science were asked to consider how best to structure computing and information at the University.
“As [representatives of] disciplines, we must remove technological silos and insular research and education efforts to place computing within the context of its use,” said an early description of the effort.
Former IBM executive Leona Mitchell, now a visiting professor of practice in SIS, described the intersection of data and computing across disciplines as “worlds colliding.”
“The school can become a center of gravity in this emerging field,” she said. “This will differentiate Pitt, not only in the country, but in the world. We have a unique value proposition in this new school.”
SCI will initially organize teaching, research, and outreach along three themes:
- Connected Life, Health, and Medicine will capitalize on Pitt strengths in machine learning and data mining and explore data-driven technologies to advance decision making in next-generation health care systems.
- Synergistic Computing in Education will integrate computing into the education of students, teachers, and the workforce, potentially transforming teaching and learning to adapt to the differing needs of individuals and varied contexts in which learning must take place.
- Computing at the Extremes takes advantage of the power of supercomputing with “big data” to solve some of the world’s most complex problems, particularly in biomedical sciences, genomics, and climate studies.
Students and recent graduates of the existing computing and information sciences programs have reacted to the proposal with enthusiasm.
Brendan Quay (ENGR ’15), who studied computer engineering and cofounded HiberSense, a company he created with another student and a professor, said, “I think it will provide the necessary infrastructure for students to accelerate their learning through innovation. Every opportunity you have to be innovative, you should really take it … because that’s what the real world is. It’s being able to create things that actually affect the world.”
Faculty for SCI will initially be drawn from the School of Information Sciences and Department of Computer Science, augmented by a five-year, $30 million investment in faculty expansion and development of innovative interdisciplinary degree programs and research collaborations.
Students currently enrolled in the existing programs will have the option to continue their studies as originally planned or join the new school, taking advantage of anticipated enhancements to the curriculum. New certificate programs are expected to enhance students’ career goals. Bachelor’s and master’s degree programs will begin to include domain-specific computing and data-analytics topics developed in collaboration with domain departments.
The University has formed a search committee and engaged a professional search firm to conduct a nationwide search for a founding dean for the new school.
“This is truly a remarkable opportunity,” said Ron Larsen, dean of SIS. “This will take the research and scholarship of the School of Information Sciences to a new level and provide Pitt an exciting new opportunity to shape society’s use of information and computing resources.”
“The school will provide a shared conceptual framework to enable researchers to jointly explore discipline-specific theories and holistically address multifaceted problems critical to our society,” said Taieb Znati, professor and chair of computer science. “It will usher in a new culture of collaboration, where the silos disappear.”