Atanasoff Today: Department of Computer Science Celebrates 50th Anniversary

by Robyn Goldy

Photos by Alisha Carroll, Keo Pierron, Brittney Walters-Chester

“We have come a long way since our establishment in 1969. This would not have been possible without the extraordinary students during those years, now our distinguished alumni, who got excited by the promise of computer science as a discipline even when the definition and future of the discipline was unclear,” said Hridesh Rajan, interim chair of the Department of Computer Science. Last September, the Department of Computer Science marked 50 years of education and discovery at Iowa State University with a multi-day celebration on campus. More than 150 alumni, current students, past and current faculty, prospective students and supporters converged on campus for lectures, networking, tours and more.

During the celebration’s keynote lecture, “Our Digital Future (Through the Lens of the Past),” Douglas Van Houweling (’65 government), explored just how far we’ve come from the days of punch cards and what innovations may be around the corner.

Guests also attended several timely and relevant lectures presented by esteemed department alumni and faculty. Rajesh Parekh (MS ’93 computer science, Ph.D. ’98 computer science), engineering director at Google, live streamed his lecture from Google headquarters. His talk focused on how large scale machine learning and computer vision algorithms can help to build a planet scale map. 

Myra Cohen, Lanh & Oanh Nguyen Endowed Chair of Software Engineering and professor of computer science, demonstrated how programs are becoming biological, and how living programs behave in similar ways to traditional software.

Bamshad Mobasher (’85 computer science and mathematics, MS ’89 computer science, Ph.D. ’94 computer science), professor of computer science and the director of the Center for Web Intelligence at DePaul University’s College of Computing and Digital Media, shared innovative ideas on how providers of online information and services such as Amazon, Netflix and Spotify, can learn from context to enhance their personalized recommender systems.

Doina Caragea (Ph.D. ’94 computer science) gave what would be a particularly prescient lecture in the time of COVID-19. Her talk, “Mining Social Media to Aid Disaster Response,” demonstrated how machine learning solutions have the potential to transform the way in which crisis response organizations operate, and, in turn, provide better support to the victims of disasters in a timely fashion.

Other celebration events included a student alumni luncheon, campus and department tours, a graduate student poster competition and a breakfast where current computer science students had an opportunity to network with individuals from more than 20 employer organizations. The celebration concluded on Friday evening with a banquet dinner at the ISU Alumni Center.

Alumnus and former department chair George Strawn (’69 mathematics) traveled from Virginia to attend the festivities. Strawn, a founding member of the department, said, “It has been a great privilege to have watched the department grow and mature over 50 years. I fully expect the next 50 computing years will be even more exciting than the last 50, and I equally expect ISU’s Department of Computer Science will play a major role in those developments.”


Return to the Atanasoff Today main page here.