Atanasoff Today: Dear Alumni and Friends

image ofAs I write this letter, many of you are likely in temporary spaces as you do the best to continue moving your lives and work forward. By the time this magazine mails, you may even be transitioning into another new routine.
My routine has been in flux for quite some time. I began my role as Interim Chair in September last year. Since then, I’ve enjoyed digging in and learning more about the individuals who make it such a remarkable place. As the pandemic jilted us into an entirely new reality, I quickly learned how exceptional our faculty, staff and students truly are.

On March 10, President Wendy Wintersteen issued the official message to transition all university courses to an online format. Just a week later, almost all operations were moved off campus. Within just 13 days, all 54 courses taught by computer science faculty and graduate students were available to students in an online format. I am proud to report that our students successfully re-engaged in their classes, our instructors rose to the challenge of reinventing their courses and staff have been truly incredible in their dedication and support of both students and faculty.

Innovation often springs from relentless challenges, and that’s what I am seeing here. An interdisciplinary group of data science faculty responded to the global crisis by creating a single, indexable, searchable web-based database of over 60 years of coronavirus research. This infrastructure made important data quickly accessible to scientists, virologists, epidemiologists and public health officials working on medical solutions and critical planning. Faculty and staff went the extra mile for student success, from virtual communities to advisors who reached out continuously to offer students academic and well-being support.
We continue to conduct groundbreaking research, even from afar. In this issue you’ll learn about a new collaboration, the D4 (Dependable Data Driven Discovery) Institute. It’s an exciting initiative and an applicable model for innovative interdisciplinary work.

We are also investing in the expansion of artificial intelligence (AI) research, laying the groundwork for a new master’s degree. As the world relies more and more on AI for scientific breakthroughs in healthcare, agriculture, energy, transportation, security and countless additional industries, the need for graduates in this specialized area escalates. Our graduates will be highly sought-after, with their ability to apply AI and machine-learning methods to solve practical problems on a small to large scale.

You might recall that computer science faculty took a lead role in developing an interdisciplinary undergraduate degree in data science. It has been exciting to provide the administration and leadership for the major, minor and certificate. The program has enrolled more than 50 majors since its official start two years ago.

We are also pursuing growth in three additional priority areas: quantum information science, autonomy (both autonomous aerial vehicles and autonomous cars) and smart one precision health, a digital amalgamation of medical, environmental and genetic data to provide predictive and responsive health care.
Our existing strengths in theoretical foundations will provide ample opportunity to heighten our research profile in quantum information science. The recent strategic hiring of Ali Jannesari, Nok Wongpiromsarn and Hongyang Gao will fuel our emergence as a highly regarded home for not only autonomy, but also AI, machine learning and data science. Smart one precision health will encompass our unique breadth of faculty research in bioinformatics, computational biology and medical informatics/smart home/gerontology.

Expanding our leadership in these innovative fields is ambitious, but so are our faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends. My vision for this growth entails a critical partnership between all of these stakeholders, and I am excited to ignite new relationships and spark existing ones on the path to reaching our goals. I invite you to share your ideas about how we can work toward endowed positions in support of these goals, or other high-need areas, like scholarships for underserved students.

I was delighted to meet several of our alumni and friends during our 50th anniversary celebration in September 2019. Thank you for celebrating this milestone with us! I was truly humbled by the support from sponsors, the engagement of students and the incredible range of talent, knowledge and accomplishments of our alumni. I hope you will enjoy a recap and a few photos from the event in this issue.

Thank you for all of your kind words, your involvement in our students’ academic adventures, your partnership and your continued support. We are truly a better department because of you.

Hridesh Rajan, Kingland Professor of Data Analytics and Chair
Department of Computer Science


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