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Letter From the Chair (Winter 2012)

Tue January 31, 2012

Lori A. Clarke, Professor and CS Chair

This is my first newsletter, since I only became department chair this fall (one semester down, 5 more to go—but who is counting?).  This past semester has certainly been a learning experience for me. What have I learned? That the department chair receives a tremendous amount of email—it just keeps flooding in. That the UMASS bureaucracy is even more overwhelming than I anticipated—and I expected it to be overwhelming.  But there are good things too. I knew that the department was extremely collegial and that the faculty work hard to share the load, but now I have a much better appreciation of how much needs to be done to keep all aspects of the department moving forward. And yes, we always are trying to move forward. Many faculty step up to take on major service jobs — in addition to their research and teaching loads.

And the commitment and professionalism of the staff is amazing. With the departure of Claire Christopherson as our Business Manager (although she is still available to provide much needed advice and guidance) and the retirement of Gwyn Mitchell as a Grant Administrator (although she too provides support as a post-retiree), this has been a difficult semester. But the staff has really pitched in to help cover the load while we look for people who can grow into these positions. Even Sharon Mallory, our past office manager, temporarily came out of retirement to help out. What an amazing place!

The department is embarking on a number of new initiatives. Some are still under wraps, waiting for final approval (more about this in future newsletters). Last year we officially started a new B.A. degree in computer science to complement our B.S. degree. We envision the B.A. degree serving undergraduates who want to combine computer science with studies in non-science disciplines, recognizing the emerging interdisciplinary nature of computing.

We also have started a terminal master’s degree program. Previously, we only accepted graduate students who we thought would pursue a Ph.D. degree. With the increasing demand for master’s degree students, we now accept students who most likely will be seeking industrial jobs upon graduation, although some are interested in improving their academic credentials before applying to Ph.D. programs in computer science.

We also have been trying to improve the overall environment for our computer science undergraduates. We now have a U-Space in the computer science building where our undergraduates can hang out in between classes. There is usually a monthly First Friday undergraduate event. This last month, there was a Wearable Electronics event where undergraduates could learn how to program wearable processors as well as imaginably sew them onto their clothing (I hear the sewing was harder than the programming!). The ACM student chapter has also been very active. We had three programming teams compete in the ACM collegiate programming contest, with one team going on to compete in the Northeast North Regional Division. 

Finally, let me end with a thank you to Rick Adrion, Jim Kurose, Bruce Croft, and Andy Barto. As “recent” past department chairs, I frequently call on them for advice. Our department has been extremely fortunate to have had such good stewardship over the years. I am serving a department that is in excellent shape. Although external funding has been on the decline nationally, our department funding has been increasing, our undergraduate enrollments have been growing significantly, and our graduate admission applications are rising. And although we had three retirements this year, most of our retirees continue to be research active. Moreover, we are currently searching for four new faculty positions. And next newsletter, I hope to be able to announce some more exciting news.