New Dean Appointed for Future School of Computing and Information

On March 8, University of Pittsburgh Provost Patricia E. Beeson announced the appointment of Dr. Paul R. Cohen as the founding Dean of the School of Computing and Information, beginning August 1, 2017. Dr. Cohen is currently a professor at the University of Arizona and a Program Manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Dr. Cohen earned his PhD in Computer Science and Psychology from Stanford University, and is a noted scholar with expertise in Artificial Intelligence─having been elected Fellow of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.

The School of Computing and Information will officially open on July 1, 2017 and will include the faculties, staff, students, and degree programs of the School of Information Sciences and the Department of Computer Science. The School of Computing and Information, under the leadership of Dean Cohen, will bring together the intrinsic power of both technology (computing) and knowledge (information) to work to benefit other fields of exploration and society.

The official announcement can be found on the University of Pittsburgh’s Web site.


Three faculty members promoted to full professor

Dean Ronald L. Larsen is pleased to announce that faculty members Marek Druzdzel, Daqing He, and Prashant Krishnamurthy have been promoted to the rank of full professor. Promotion to full professor recognizes the accomplishments and reputation of the faculty member in a recognized field of learning. Through outstanding records of teaching, research, and service, these recently-promoted faculty have contributed greatly to the information science field, the associated professions, and the prestige of both the school and the University of Pittsburgh.

“These individuals have had a tremendous impact on the School of Information Sciences and will continue to profoundly influence the growth and reputation of the School of Computing and Information,” explains Dean Larsen. “In their individual fields, these faculty members have performed research that has significantly advanced the information science and telecommunications disciplines, in addition to attracting excellent students. They have created academic programs that have helped to prepare hundreds of students to find successful careers, many in higher education. Their impact on Pitt, the school, and the academic community at large is incalculable.”

Marek Druzdzel joined the faculty in 1993 after earning his PhD in Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University. Druzdzel has become a noted scholar in the fields of decision making under uncertainty, decision-theoretic methods, intelligent systems, and design of user interfaces for decision support systems. His research group, the Decision Systems Laboratory, conducts theoretical work, system building, and empirical studies to build computational modeling environments that will enhance decision making in strategic planning. Druzdzel teaches the graduate level courses in Decision Analysis and Decision Support Systems, Data Structures, Introduction to Doctoral Studies, and Research Design, among many others. In 2007, he was awarded the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award in recognition of his integration of research and teaching, as well as his many efforts to enrich students’ educational experiences by participating in research. He is a lead faculty member for the School’s Big Data specialization in the MSIS program and is affiliated with the Intelligent Systems Program here at Pitt.

Since joining the faculty in 2004, Daqing He has been a leader in the School’s efforts to build international relationships, multidisciplinary research and teaching programs, and a significant research program in technology and information seeking behaviors. His work on information retrieval, intelligent information exploration, collaborative information seeking, and scholarly collaborative behaviors and needs has resulted in an impressive record of publication and grant funding totaling over $1 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC)/Association for Library and Information Science Education (ALISE). Interestingly, his work crosses the traditional boundaries that separate IS and LIS, which has been critical in growing the school’s global reputation as an iSchool. His multidisciplinary approach is also reflected in his teaching: he has regularly offered courses on information storage and retrieval and information technology in both the MSIS and MLIS programs, advised doctoral students in both programs, and even created several academic offerings that spanned the two fields. He is an international collaborator on four national and regional research projects at Wuhan University and Nanjing University in China.

In 1999, Prashant Krishnamurthy joined the faculty and immediately began to work on building a research program and degree offerings on the design and implementation of wireless networks. He also was one of the co-founders of the school’s Laboratory for Education and Research in Security Assured Information Systems (LERSAIS), a national Center of Academic Excellence (CAE) in Information Assurance Education (IAC) and Research (IAR). LERSAIS educates professionals and academics who will be charged with protecting information infrastructure. Krishnamurthy’s research on position/location and security in wireless networks has expanded to consider avant-garde directions for radio spectrum policy and spectrum virtualization, efficient design of location-based social networks, the design of positioning schemes to support wayfinding, and approaches to multi-level information privacy. Over his time at Pitt, Krishnamurthy has developed new courses and programs of study for the school, particularly addressing the wireless and security curricula, which has attracted over $5 million in curriculum and education/scholarships grants (for which he served as PI or co-PI) from the National Science Foundation and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He teaches at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, offering introductory and advanced courses on wireless networks and cryptography. He has also served as the chair of the doctoral program in telecommunications, overseeing the program’s continual evaluation and evolution to best meet the needs of this constantly changing field.

Please join us in congratulating Marek, Daqing, and Prashant on this well-deserved honor!


Graduates recognized at final SIS Recognition Ceremony

On Sunday, April 30, the School of Information Sciences held its Recognition Ceremony to honor its 2017 graduates (covering June 2016 – April 2017). More than 550 faculty, staff, family, and friends came together in Alumni Hall to celebrate with those students earning degrees and receiving awards.

This event is traditionally a joyous occasion and this one was no exception, even as Dean Ronald Larsen noted the bittersweet nature of this year’s ceremony. It is the last time students will graduate from the School of Information Sciences, which will become the School of Computing and Information in July 2017. In addition, this was also Dean Larsen’s final recognition ceremony, as he will step down as Dean of the School on July 31, 2017.

“As we planned for the School of Computing and Information over the last two years, it has always been my intention to step down as dean by the time of its grand opening,” said Dean Larsen during his opening remarks. “After all, a new school should have new leaders, and I’m truly happy that I have been able to work with faculty and Pitt administration to make this new school a reality. Therefore, today is my last graduation ceremony as the dean of the School of Information Sciences.” The audience and students paid tribute to Dean Larsen’s 15 years of service with a standing ovation.

The keynote address was given by Richard Cox, professor in the Library and Information Science program. An alumnus of the School, Dr. Cox joined the faculty in 1988, and, after nearly 30 years, he will retire at the end of 2017. His remarks addressed the need for information professionals with technical skills, a passion for the profession, and a clear understanding of the ethical challenges that face the field. He urged graduates to become familiar with the ethics codes of the organizations that guide the professions, stay current with the scholarly and professional literature of the various information fields, have the conviction and courage to speak out about unethical uses of information and technologies, and continuously reflect on the ethical implications of our work. Dr. Cox noted, “We all accept the power of the technologies we are working with and designing, and this means we must accept the great responsibilities we have been given.”

Towards the end of the ceremony, Eric Spiegel (BSIS ‘88) welcomed the new graduates to the network of more than 14,000 iSchool alumni, who live across the globe and whose careers span many different information fields. He commented on the impact of his Pitt academic training on his career and professional life, encouraging the new graduates to remain engaged with both the school and the university.

“I hope you will take advantage of the many ways to stay involved with the University of Pittsburgh and School of Information Sciences (soon to be the School of Computing and Information, and I hope you will visit us when you can,” said Spiegel.

Please join us in congratulating the final class of the School of Information Sciences.


iSchool students place in Randall Family Big Idea Competition

Last month, seven students presented H2Info, an online resource for people affected by water contamination, in the Randall Family Big Idea Competition. They placed 4th and won the People’s Choice Award; receiving $3,000 to fund their concept.

There are more than 20 million people in the United States who live in areas served by community water systems that are in violation of EPA lead and copper protocols. For these affected, H2Info will be a consolidated resource center that provides both knowledge and solutions.

H2Info will provide the following services to users:

  • An interactive map to view contamination levels/risk of user’s address
  • Lead tests that the user can complete at home and receive the results within a week
  • Water filter recommendations based on the user’s test results and allow them to opt-in for replacement filters to be sent on a schedule
  • A resource for hiring local plumbers or contractors for pipe replacement

Designing for Sustainability
The concept for H2Info was created in Fall 2016 when Raanan Gurewitsch, a sophomore Information Science student, began a chapter of Design for America at Pitt. Design for America is a national network of student communities committed to design, innovation, entrepreneurship, and the capacity to make change.

Once the concept was developed, they entered into the Sustainable Solutions Competition in February. Even though they did not win, they continued to refine their concept and later entered into the Randall Family Big Idea Competition.

“We got a lot of feedback throughout the process that was incredibly helpful,” said Christian Abad, a sophomore student majoring in Marketing. “What we had initially developed was a concept that utilized design and technology to solve a problem. They helped us enhance that concept and also build a business and financial model around it.”

Built to Benefit
Now that the competition is over, the team plans to continue to work on H2Info and build it into a viable Web site. They have been accepted into the Blast Furnace this summer, a program that provides Pitt student entrepreneurs with the knowledge and skills necessary to market their ideas. Through this program, they hope to further refine their business and financial model.

“We have all become very passionate about this project,” said Gurewitsch. “We plan to continue working on H2Info until it makes a lasting impact across the nation.”

The Web site will launch by Fall 2017 with a focus on the Oakland area. The initial site will be an information source while they continue to develop the interactive map and other site contents.

The Randall Family Big Idea Competition is an experience-based learning opportunity for undergraduate and graduate Pitt students with big ideas that offers $100,000 in cash prizes to the ideas with the most promise. It is made possible through the generous support of the Randall Family.


SIS student wins Pitt leadership award

Last week, Chun Hua Tsai, a PhD student in the Information Science and Technology program, was awarded a 2017 Leadership and Service Award from the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate and Professional Student Government (GPSP).

Tsai has been very active in the Pitt community since coming here in 2013. Some of his most notable highlight are:

  • President of the SIS International Student Organization from 2014 to 2015
  • President of Taiwanese Scholar Society at Pitt from 2014 to 2015
  • Current PhD student representative on SIS Council
  • Current president of SIS Graduate Organization
  • Current assembly member and member of the election committee in the GPSG

“While my outreach efforts to build resources and collaboration have always given me great satisfaction, it is the valuable experience of reflection and personal career development that I believe to be most important in my PhD study,” said Tsai.

The GPSG Leadership and Service Award seeks to recognize current University of Pittsburgh graduate and professional students for their service or leadership to the University of Pittsburgh, the surrounding community, and to the world at large. By creating this award, GPSG aims to make service by graduate and professional students more visible and valued on campus and to honor those who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and service.


SIS students win at iConference

During iConference, which took place from March 22 through March 25 in Wuhan, China, two SIS students won the Best Poster Award.

This award was judged based on both the submitted abstract and the poster presentation at iConference, which took place on Thursday, March 23 and Friday, March 24.

PhD students Danchen Zhang and Sanqiang Zhao, Associate Professor Daqing He, and Lei Li, a PhD student at the Nanjing University of Science and Technology, won for their poster titled, “Wikipedia Based Automatic Diagnosis Prediction in Clinical Decision Support System.”

In addition, “Automatic Course Website Discovery from Search Engine Results,” by PhD students Rui Meng, Zexin Zhao, and Yu Chi as well as Dr. He was one of four finalist poster presentations in the category.

Congrats to our SIS students and Dr. He!


Catching up with our alums: Jeff Stanek (MST ’89)

Jeff Stanek graduated from our MST program in 1989. Since then, he has had a very successful career working at various organizations throughout the Pittsburgh area. Although much has changed about the industry since that time, the skills and experiences he gained at the iSchool prepared him to adapt to those changes and excel.

How did our program prepare you for your career?

The MST program gave me a great idea of the industry at the time. It prepared me for many of the challenges and diverse technologies I would face in the work environment, and gave me a deeper professional outlook of the business world. One very important thing the MST program does is promote their students throughout their education. Because of this, I had several opportunities for employment once I graduated.

What do you consider to be your greatest professional accomplishment? Why?

Although I have been given several awards and have had various articles written about my career, I would have say that the longevity of my career within the industry has been my greatest accomplishment. I have worked for six different companies since I graduated from the program. Each position I’ve held has been a success, and my experiences have built on each other to add to my overall knowledge and skills.

How has the Telecomm industry changed since you began your career?

The change to the industry has been quite extensive. From a technical standpoint, the technologies available when I first entered the industry were quite limited. Technologies such as wireless, security, collaboration (i.e. Video, IP telephony), and IoT were in their infancy.

My first position was working on a batch processing system at Mellon Bank and the only services the carriers offered were T1’s and T3’s. Security and wireless were not even a thought at that point. Since then, so many companies have emerged; there are now hundreds of niche players that did not exist in the early 90s. Telecommunications now can mean so many things and the career options are unlimited.

What is your favorite memory of Pitt?

I have so many great memories of Pitt, but I would say my favorite is the feeling of camaraderie I had with my fellow students. I built many great friendships at the iSchool that I still have today. The experiences we had together—whether it be in the classroom or out eating lunch—were priceless.

Who was the most memorable professor at the iSchool? Why?

There were several professors that were great, but Martin Weiss was the professor the stood out the most. Professor Weiss had a great relationship with his students and related very well to them. I have been able to catch up with him for lunch over the years; it’s always great seeing him again.

What advice would you give to current student in the Telecomm program?

My advice would be to enjoy your time at the iSchool—both in class and on campus. Take advantage of the relationships you establish as well as what you learn from your professors. And finally, be engaged! There are many wonderful activities and opportunities offered that you should take advantage of. It is an experience you will never forget.

What do you see for the future of the Telecomm industry?

Without being too philosophical, I think the Telecomm industry has endless potential. Today’s generation has so much information at their fingertips—it is mind blowing. This trend will continue to grow, and our field will be there to meet whatever challenges arise. It makes me think of some of those old movies full of space travel and robots…that age is upon us!


Meet our faculty: Leona Mitchell

In 2015, Leona Mitchell joined the iSchool as a Professor of Practice. Utilizing her 30+ years of business, entrepreneurial, technical, sales, and leadership expertise, Mitchell has created courses and experiences that increase our undergraduates’ knowledge and help them build the necessary skills to be successful as technology professionals.

A graduate of the iSchool’s MSIS program, Mitchell began her career at IBM in Pittsburgh as a Systems Engineer. During her tenure there, she held various executive leadership roles in sales, marketing, consulting, channel management and business transformation.

Since joining the iSchool as a faculty member, Mitchell has created learning opportunities that give students more insight into the information technology industry as well as a better understanding of the information professional’s role in business. Her class “Analysis of Information Systems,” for example, is a team-based class that presents students with a problem and tasks them to create a viable solution. Teams must create a solid plan—complete with market research, a business model, a feasible product design, and a marketing strategy—and present it to a group of stakeholders.

Most recently, she mentored a team of undergraduate students in the Randall Family Big Idea Competition, which is an experience-based learning opportunity that pushes Pitt students to present their innovative ideas as complete, marketable startup concepts. TravelRoots, a travel site that uses a person’s DNA to create a customized travel experience, was initially created by the team during Mitchell’s Analysis of Information Systems class in Fall 2016. The team won second place in the overall competition on Thursday, March 23.

How important is it to expose students to real-world experiences during their education?
Giving students industry-like experience early on is critical to their success. One example of this is through team-based learning projects. Students are expected to apply and interview for a spot on the team, just like they would in a real-world consulting job. The selected team is presented with a client problem, and the team is tasked with providing a functional solution within the semester.

The projects were created in collaboration with another Professor of Practice here, Dmitriy Babichenko. We have completed three with the City of Pittsburgh’s Department of Innovation and the feedback has been very positive.

The benefits of projects like these are two-fold. First, students get real-world experience dealing with clients, multidisciplinary teams, and conflict-resolution scenarios. Secondly, as a school, we enhance our reputation throughout the community as experts and problem solvers.

What has been your greatest accomplishment (either personally or professionally)?
The most important aspect of my life has always been my family and friends. I look at my daughter and see the person she has become and it makes me incredibly proud. I see my husband—my partner of thirty years—and feel very blessed. I feel very fortunate to share a close relationship with my brother, who, though I don’t get a chance to see very often, is always there for me. My friends are also very special and make such a difference in my life. To me, family and friends are the most important things.

What drew you to joining the faculty here at the iSchool?
After 33 years in industry, I was ready for a different challenge. One of the biggest issues employers face is being able to on-board university hires more quickly and more successfully. I felt I could use my industry experience to help students understand real-world challenges—many of which were challenges that I faced throughout my career—and help them be better prepared. On a higher level, I want our students to be able to make an immediate impact and distinguish themselves as IT professionals. I feel that this can best be done by not only giving them the necessary technical skills and knowledge, but also by providing them with a well-rounded view of the industry—including business, financials, marketing, and leadership training.

What has your experience been teaching so far?
Teaching and working with students has been a rewarding experience. Attending the recent Randall Big Idea Competition and seeing our students win is a great example of that. The staff and faculty have also been extremely helpful and have worked closely to help bring me on-board. The support has been tremendous! I am delighted to be working with such a dedicated and talented team.

What would you like to see for the school (or the undergraduate program) moving into SCI?
I really want to make sure we keep our identity. Being a computer scientist and being an information scientist are two similar, but also different, professions. Though we share many skills, the way we apply those skills and use them to solve problems is different. That being said, there is great synergy between our two disciplines, and we can create a school that provides a richer more expansive learning experience for our students.

For the undergraduate program, I have been a strong proponent of launching tracks that tie to professional career roles. Those tracks will not only help differentiate us and give us stronger visibility, but will position our students more competitively in the market.


LIS program maintains top 10 ranking by U.S. News & World Report

Our LIS program continues to be ranked within the top ten by U.S. News & World Report in their 2017 edition of “America’s Best Graduate Schools.”