Reflections on Being Chair

This is my last official letter as chair—the department is on an excellent trajectory and I hope for an even greater future.

I’d like to note a few major changes in the last five years.

A new home
The department is finally scheduled to move into the Brendan Iribe Center for Computer Science and Innovation after three decades in our “temporary home,” the A.V. Williams Building. In February of 2014, I invited Brendan Iribe and Michael Antonov to visit the department. In April, they visited for Bitcamp, and during that visit were inspired and eager to support a new space for computer science at Maryland with extraordinary gifts. This project has brought faculty and staff together, and has been a game changer for us all. The Brendan Iribe Center will have inviting open spaces for study and collaboration, welcoming natural light, modern classrooms for active learning, and a cafe!

The new space will be a major recruiting tool for our department. The building will have a major impact on generations of students. With the co-location of the Computer Science Department, the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS) and other related faculty and labs, we expect this building to strongly influence the already innovative research being conducted here, especially in the areas of robotics and virtual reality.

I would especially like to acknowledge the hard work of our space committee, chaired by Professor Jeff Hollingsworth and Professor Neil Spring. Our work has been supported by the fundraising efforts of Emeritus Professor Bill Pugh and Stacey Sickels Locke as well as by the communications team of B.K. Adams and Todd Holden. I would like to acknowledge all of our donors, as well. Their engagement and commitment to the department has been truly inspiring. Our alumni and friends have supplied us with energy for us to give more than 100 percent to this project every single day. The Iribe Center and the work associated with it has received immense support from the State of Maryland as well as our campus administration including President Wallace Loh, Provost Mary Ann Rankin and Dean Jayanth Banavar. For all of their support and best wishes, we are eternally grateful. I would also like to thank Carlo Colella, Ross Stern, and Bill Olen, as well as the team at HDR Architecture including Brian Kowalchuk, Rachel Park, Stephen Waller, and Michael Vinkler.

New hires and new chairs
A huge step in the department has been the recruitment of talented and brilliant faculty and staff members. In the last five years we have hired gifted assistant professors including David Van Horn, Zia Khan, Tom Goldstein, Michelle Mazurek, Marine Carpuat, David Levin, John Dickerson, Furong Huang, and Max Leiserson. We have also hired excellent senior faculty including Andrew Childs, Eytan Ruppin, Daniel Abadi, and Matthias Zwicker. We welcomed inspiring lecturers including Pedram Sadeghian, Anwar Mamat, and Jason Fillipou. These faculty enable us to offer new courses, and build strength in quantum computing, cybersecurity, computational (systems) biology, personalized medicine, language processing, machine learning, databases and augmented and virtual reality. We have recently hired four new assistant professors including Jordan Boyd-Graber, Xiaodi Wu, Leilani Battle, and Abhinav Shrivastava.

We have three new chaired professorships funded by Elizabeth Iribe that have helped us to recruit talented people to the department. We also have a new prestigious post-doctoral fellowship founded by Emeritus Professor Vic Basili.

Undergraduate initiatives
As many of you know, the nationwide trend of increasing enrollment in Computer Science has been amplified at Maryland. The number of majors will have increased from 900 in 2010 to over 3100 by fall semester of 2017. Unlike most other comparable departments, enrollment in CS at Maryland is not limited. In order to help with this rise in the number of students, we have hired additional academic advisors (bringing the total up to five), and we have recently hired a new assistant director for the undergraduate program. This rapid growth in the number of students has been a challenge for everyone, especially the undergraduate office and Associate Chair Professor Alan Sussman.

For our many undergraduates we have created new major specializations in data science and cybersecurity, and we have added several exciting courses in robotics, virtual reality, machine learning, data science, and web development. We have several new scholarships for our outstanding students including our newest scholarship named for Randy Baden, Ph.D. ‘12. Our CS honors program is thriving thanks to the work of Professor Neil Spring. Our students have worked on research with professors, and they have spent time studying abroad. We continue to sponsor hackathons both inside of the department and around campus. They are fantastic opportunities for our students to work and collaborate on group-defined projects, have fun, and learn something new. When it is time for our students to look for internships or full-time jobs, our two career fairs per year bring over 200 companies on campus and over 3000 participating CS, CE, and i-School students. It’s a sight to behold.

Graduate student initiatives
For our graduate program, we are so proud to have launched the Maryland Max Planck Ph.D. Program in Computer Science. It offers students a singular opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. degree with faculty from our department and a Max Planck Institute in Germany. Graduate students are co-advised, perform collaborative research and take advantage of the expertise, resources, and culture at both institutions by spending time in both countries. Without Professor Bobby Bhattacharjee and Professor Peter Druschel, this international exchange of ideas and research could never have happened. I am grateful to them both.

Alumni and outreach initiatives
In 2013, we launched a major alumni outreach initiative as we planned the department’s 40th anniversary event, with Professor Ashok Agrawala leading this effort. In order to reconnect with our alumni, we created an email list of over 1000 successful and talented graduates. We continually update them about what is going on here, learn how we can further reconnect with our alumni, and continue to help them in their ventures. Many of our former students come back to visit. We have continued to host events all over the country with some in New York City, Seattle, Washington D.C. and the Bay Area—places where many alumni live and work. In addition, we launched the Corporate Partners in Computing (CPIC) program with UMIACS, and this has led to increased engagement between our faculty and students with local, national, and international companies.

In one of our largest community and outreach initiatives, we opened the Maryland Center for Women in Computing (MCWIC) in 2013-14. Jan Plane currently serves as the center’s director and she is assisted by Kate Atchison, our excellent coordinator. They run several programs, perhaps the most notable being summer programs for middle and high school students and the management of the Building, Recruiting, And Inclusion for Diversity (BRAID) program that has now provided funding to send over 150 students to the Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing. I am also delighted to announce Brendan Iribe’s continued and kind support for several programs being run out of MCWIC.

I would like especially to thank Professor Bill Gasarch, who has run our summer Research Experience for Undergraduates program with great enthusiasm. We have had 100 students from all over the country participate in this program already. We have even invited talented high school students to participate, as well.

New Technology
I would also like to thank Phil Horvitz, ‘75 for providing us generous funding towards the Horvitz Research Cluster in the AV Williams datacenter. The cluster consists of four computing nodes, two storage nodes providing 14.4 terabytes of disk storage and a 10Gb Ethernet switch. The cluster provides a high-availability virtualization environment to serve the needs of undergraduate honors students, independent graduate student researchers, and faculty.

Many of our faculty and graduate students have received numerous awards from the university and outside organizations including Sloan fellowships, CAREER awards, and best paper awards. Several of our graduate students have landed outstanding academic and research positions. Thanks to the efforts of our able and hardworking Associate Chair Professor Jeff Foster, we have also had a steady stream of impressive on-and-off campus awards for our students. As for undergraduates, we have nominated several students to the Computing Research Association (CRA) undergraduate research competition. Many of our students have been named finalists or have received honorable mentions. Before they leave for graduate school several of our undergraduates have received NSF Graduate Fellowships, as well. Research is important for all of our students, and I am proud that they work with our outstanding faculty. This hard work results in their getting admitted to top graduate programs.

Experience and Advice
My experience has not always been perfect. I have had my fair share of challenges and frustrations leading such a large, sometimes unpredictable, but ultimately superior department. In my own humble view, a significant challenge we sometimes face is that we are not consistently more than the sum of our parts. My greatest wish for all of us is that our senior faculty come together more often to accomplish more great things, and provide leadership and guidance to our junior faculty, staff, graduate students, and undergraduate students.

We started this effort in the strategic planning process in Spring semester of 2015, and I look forward to seeing these plans carried out. I would like to see the computer science department become a more diverse group of scholars. I am especially proud of how the number of women in the undergraduate program has increased from fewer than 100 in 2010 to nearly 600 in 2017. We also have one of the most racially and ethnically diverse groups of undergraduates in the nation. We have improved so much, but there is still a long way to go.

There will be a time when our students have an equal number of men and women faculty members who are inspiring them, teaching them, guiding their research, and advising them through undergraduate research, master’s theses, and the Ph.D. defense.

Thank you
I am incredibly grateful to the campus and department administration for their support. I am so thankful to my colleagues for this opportunity to have served the department for the last five years. I would like to acknowledge Pat Ipavich, Stephanie Peters, Sharron McElroy, Brenda Chick, Adelaide Findlay, B.K. Adams, Todd Holden and Stacey Locke. They have dealt with me patiently, responded to my late night and early morning phone calls and emails, and kept everything running. It has been an honor and pleasure to work with them. The department has brilliant, thoughtful, and tenacious staff. They have taken on the significant challenge of new initiatives that the department has launched, all in addition to our current and existing activities. The number of evening and weekend events for both faculty and staff has been at an all time high.

I thank everyone for their hard work in this time of change for CS, but especially Professor Emeritus Bill Pugh, who is an eternal fountain of good ideas, and who has been integral to funding the Sandbox makerspace and CS Education for Tomorrow.

Computer science is a field full of disruption, unconventionality and brilliant thinking. These are some of the core characteristics of our amazing department. Faculty educate and inspire students, and students in turn inspire us to work harder. Through our new group of young faculty we can expect groundbreaking, inspiring research and a future filled with successes.

The unprecedented support of our alumni is astounding. I am especially thankful for the gifts that Brendan and Lizzie Iribe, Michael Antonov, Bob Reisse, Dana Reisse and Jagdeep Singh have bestowed upon our department. Their love for the university and particularly the department has been especially heart warming. My hope is that together, we will make our accomplished alumni and generous friends even prouder of the department then they already are.

As for me, I am looking forward finally to spending time with my family and graduate students once again. They have hardly seen me in these last five years. They have all been so incredibly supportive throughout my time as the chair of the best computer science department in the world. They (and I) are counting the days until June 30th, 2017.

This department is one that is daring. It is one that is unconventional. It has a cast of characters who challenge each other and push established limits, and embark upon paradigm-shattering ideas. At times, through sheer force of will, we have achieved and continually strive for unrivaled success.

Samir Khuller
Professor and Elizabeth Stevinson Iribe Chair