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Computer Science Celebrates 40 Years as Department, 52 Years of Excellence

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Nearly 200 alumni (1960s-2000s), emeriti, faculty, students, staff, and other friends turned out on October 26 to celebrate the Department of Computer Science’s 40th anniversary and 52 years of computer science excellence at IIT.

The daylong event highlighted innovations that have come out of the department and the bright future of computer science as a field. Guests included past chairs Robert “Haas” Tobey, Bob Carlson, Edward Reingold and Bogdan Korel; emeriti Charlie Bauer, Peter Greene, Martha Evens, and Tzilla Elrad; and others. As part of the celebration, Computer Science Chair and Professor Xian-He Sun announced the launch of a new fund named for Evens, the adviser or co-adviser of more than 100 Ph.D. students and a prolific and well-regarded scholar who has published more than 350 articles.

Computer science at IIT goes back to 1959, when computers were a part of a physical chemistry course. The department was founded in 1971, growing out of the Information Science Center. Since then, more than 5,000 students have graduated with degrees in computer science from IIT, and CS has become one of the largest departments in the university.

Graduates of the department and IIT have created such things as the SPMD — single program, multiple data — model for parallel execution of applications on multiprocessors (Frederica Darema, M.S. PHYS ’72); Linksys networks (Victor Tsao, M.S. CS ’80); key technologies supporting Twitter (Abdur Chowdhury, Ph.D. CS ’01); Intel Pentium microprocessor architecture (Rajeev Chandrasekhar, M.S. CS ’88); the optionsXpress platform sold to Charles Schwab this year for $1 billion (Sairam Rangachari, M.S. CS ’02); Apple technology from the Lisa and Mac 84 to the latest Thunderbolt high-speed communication technologies (Ron Hochsprung, CS ’72); and much more.

After a greeting by Provost Alan Cramb, Sun kicked off the day’s events with a review of the department, highlighting its glorious history, solid standing, and great future ahead. Gus Hunt, chief technology officer of the CIA, followed that with the lecture “Big Data: Big Bets, Big Opportunities.” Hunt pointed out that data has become pervasive and has changed the conversation in IT. For instance, there are 144 million tweets per day and more than one trillion URLs. “Big data” provides big opportunities as well as big challenges. Hunt said that some of the key enablers that will allow the CIA to keep up with the data avalanche are cloud computing, enterprise data management (the data harbor), and advanced mission analytics.

That was followed by a panel on “The Next Wave of Computing,” moderated by Sun and featuring Darema, director, Mathematics, Information and Life Sciences, Air Force Office of Scientific Research; Chris Gladwin, president and chief executive officer of Cleversafe; Hunt; Roger Liew, chief technology officer of Orbitz; and Tim Stojka, chief executive officer of Argentis Energy. Panelists presented their views on how to address the “big data” issues from the angle of data collection, data understanding, and data transfer and security. In particular, Darema argued that the new wave of computing requires multidisciplinary research and the collaboration of academia and industry. A good interaction followed between the panelists and audience during the question session.

A special lunch in the MTCC Ballroom honored early pioneers of computer science and distinguished alumni. Among them were Darema; Tobey, the first chair of computer science; John Cole (Psych ’74/M.S. CS ’75), who did not attend; and Hochsprung. Earlier this year, the department honored IIT Early Pioneers Peter Lykos, Robert Dewar, Carma McClure, Greene, Bauer and Evens. A highlight of the lunch was a video covering the department’s history and a special presentation for Evens, who received a prolonged standing ovation for her teaching and dedication to her students. Sun also honored Cookie Ruggiero, who has been a staff member in the CS department since 1976. Tobey said, “The real highlight of being here was getting a spontaneous hug from Cookie!”

After lunch, Evens moderated a panel of alumni who discussed “Education and Me” — how their education brought them to their current path, and what might be done differently to help tomorrow’s computer science students. Panelists included Andrea Berry (CS ’84), SVP, Broadcast Operations, Fox Network Engineering & Operations; Vijay Gurbani (Ph.D. CS ’04), Distinguished Engineer, Alcatel-Lucent; Cheryl Hyman (CS ’96) Chancellor, City Colleges of Chicago; Timothy Koschmann, Professor, Medical Education, Southern Illinois University; Rangachari (M.S. CS '02), founder and chief executive oficer,, and co-founder of optionsXpress; and Tobey. Several spoke of working with a new generation who has plenty of distractions, but could be helped to understand the excitement of science and technology.

Then, alumnus Hochsprung spoke about fueling innovation. “I’m a hacker or computer bum and always have been,” he said. “Fortunately, I’ve always found myself in positions where that is helpful.” That included roles at IIT, Fermilab, Northwestern Hospital, Purdue, and National Semiconductor before he was hired at Apple. There, he has worked on everything from the Lisa and Mac 84 through the Thunderbolt. Hochsprung also worked on the earliest computers at IIT, knew and talked briefly about the late Steve Jobs, and admitted he is a Forth programmer.

“It is amazing to see what our students have made of themselves and their lives,” said Tobey. “It is also great to see how the department has grown and prospered: how educational directions set by Charlie Bauer, Ron Hochsprung, Tony Wojcik, Peter Greene, Robert Dewar, Martha Evens, Jim Vandendorpe, Marc Condic and many others have evolved to serve the department so well. I’m really glad I’m able to be here.”

Said Sun, “It was a great day. I learned that Ward Cunningham, who invented Wikis, was introduced to computers through IIT’s program for high school students in the 1960s; that our alumna Cheryl Hyman became Chancellor of City College of Chicago because that she believed education is the best way to improve the life of inner city disadvantaged young and contribute to the society; and so much more. I feel extremely proud of the achievements of the department, and I feel the responsibility to educate the next generation of technical and civil leaders and contribute to the advance of human society.”

posted: 11/04/2011