Atanasoff Today: Greetings alumni and friends

Just a few months ago, I completed my five-year term as chair of the Department of Computer Science. When I left the University of California at Riverside to accept this role, I was excited to take on the challenges of leading such a dynamic department. Now I am pleased to recount the department's many accomplishments since then.

The biggest impact on our department has been the steep and steady increase in both undergraduate and graduate enrollment - which brings both excitement and new challenges. Each of the last five academic years, the number of undergraduate, master's, and Ph.D. students has increased by approximately 16 percent, resulting in a compounded overall growth of about 100 percent. Doubling the number of students in a short span of five years is almost unheard of in any other discipline.

This growth has been exhilarating for our faculty, as it has given us the opportunity to reach a larger percentage of Iowa State undergraduate student population, in which an interest in all things computing keeps growing. Our faculty can recruit more undergraduates, as well as graduate students to work on increasingly diverse research projects, such as theory of algorithms, software development, biofinformatics, data-intensive applications, security and privacy, system safety and verification, robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

This incredible growth has also been challenging with the limited resources facing higher education. Despite the explosive influx of students, we are adapting to minor increases in faculty and space, which translates into larger classes and crowded research labs. We hope to engage more partners and collaborators as we search for new resources.

Fortunately, we have a great resource in our exceptional faculty. Unlike most disciplines, the U.S. computing industry absorbs a huge percentage of graduates with doctorate degrees in computer science, thus creating an extremely tight academic job market, especially in the more recent years. Nevertheless, we have been extremely fortunate to fill all of our advertised positions with very strong hires in the last two years. In fact, recently, we have fortified our research and teaching portfolio with a diverse group of faculty members.

New faculty include: Forrest Sheng Bao (natural language processing, artificial intelligence, medical signal and image processing, embedded system); Kevin Liu (networking, optimization, machine learning); and the appointment of Jim Lathrop (molecular programming, information theory, human-computer interaction, computer gaming) to a tenure-track position. More recently, we added Ali Jannesari (parallelism and software engineering, program analysis, deep learning); Borzoo Bonakdarpour (dependable distributed systems, information-flow security, verification); and Myra Cohen (software testing, configurable software, software product lines, search-based software engineering), as professor and the Lanh and Oanh Nguyen Endowed Chair of Software Engineering. Each of them has attracted a substantial number of students to work in their labs, and their contributions have resulted in a healthy surge of grant productivity.

We are still heavily involved with the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC), thanks to the commitment of our senior lecturer Simanta Mitra. Not only has Simanta led our Iowa State team to the World Finals many times in the past, but he also brought the regional qualifying rounds to campus here at Iowa State, hosting for the last two years. Hundreds of K-12 students also continue to attend computational thinking workshops and the annual Spring Computational Thinking Competition right here on campus.

Another exciting development is the change of our undergraduate curriculum. New tracks within the degree programs allow students to take a smaller common core of computer science courses, and then choose a set of more specialized courses in a computer science subdiscipline. Mirroring the fast-paced diversification of applied computer science in industry, implementing this substantial change offers students a wider range of specialization opportunities. This change makes the degree program more attractive for students with specific interests and will also give graduates an edge in the job marketplace.

Finally, I would like to conclude that this is a very important year for our department, as Fall 2019 marks our 50th anniversary. You can read about our planned activities in this issue, and check online for updates. We would love to see you at an event!

As always, I thank you for your support,

Gianfranco Ciardoprofessor and chair
Department of Computer Science
Iowa State University


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