I am writing this inaugural “Dean’s annual update” on a hot, humid summer evening a few days before I begin as Interim Dean. I find myself reflecting on our many accomplishments since SCI’s founding in July 2017: It has been a remarkable journey that I look forward to continuing.
As I take on this role, our country, University, and School are in a state of change. It is difficult to imagine conditions more complex than the ones that we are currently facing – particularly with respect to two challenges: the COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustice in our country. SCI, as an interdisciplinary community with faculty members, staff, students, and alumni who are accustomed to thinking beyond boundaries and innovating new approaches, is poised to be among those who lead our institution and nation to positive change.
The School has already adapted in the face of the pandemic, which has affected every facet of Pitt’s operations and posed challenges to the entire University, especially students. In the past few months, we first quickly incorporated remote instruction. And the University community has come together through numerous committees to develop shared plans. We are now working hard to prepare for the fall, and to adopt approaches, like physical-virtual flipped classrooms, to embrace the Flex@Pitt instructional model to its fullest advantage to best teach and support our students. Additionally, students and faculty in the School are combating the pandemic through their research – including debunking misinformation about the virus, evaluating the reproducibility of COVID-19 scientific claims, increasing precision of contact tracing, and analyzing mobility for adherence to social distancing.
Secondly, as we confront deeply rooted injustices and divisions in our society, Chancellor Gallagher has challenged the University community to contribute in “reshaping our university to be more diverse, inclusive and just—while also expanding our reach and impact in promoting social justice.” We are listening and learning together, but it is clear that we must do more. While we are only at the earliest point in initiating new actions at SCI, we as a community are committed to creating meaningful and sustainable action throughout the School and have already begun to determine our individual and collective actions. We understand the extent of the work that must be done, and we will need to be in the marathon together, with our partners at Pitt and in the Pittsburgh region, to ensure the inclusiveness and diversity of the School and the computing and information fields.
Navigating these challenges, and others yet to emerge, will require everyone’s voice and determination. We will continue to “set the foundation” by solidifying existing programs and establishing new ones, such as data science, computational social science, and community and civic engagement; incorporating social justice into our scholarship; furthering the inclusiveness of our work environment; increasing the scale of innovative research and scholarship through cross-disciplinary effort; clarifying school governance and organization; and piloting new ways to spark and catalyze collaboration by students, faculty, and staff in all school matters and forms of scholarship including discovery, integration, application, translation, and learning. These efforts will propel the School’s growth and further amplify our impact.
In the coming weeks, I will reach out to listen and learn about your personal goals, interests, and aspirations for the School. I hope to individually meet with all faculty, staff, and members of the Board of Visitors, as well as hold events for alumni and School partners. We will also pilot some new, fun ways to work together. At the same time, of course, we will need to resume on-campus operations; support our students – including those that may be remote at moments; learn new ways to teach and adapt curriculum for Flex@Pitt; and actively pursue our programs of scholarship. All the while, we will be living in a mixed-media physical-virtual world and/or staying 6 feet apart!
There will be a brief “all hands” faculty and staff meeting on Friday, July 31, 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. We will share updates about the fall, restarting operations, and some other plans for the coming year. Zoom details will be forthcoming. Also, Adam Lee will soon start a weekly coffee hour to discuss the fall semester and share information.
As a School, we will strive to be collaborative, open, and transparent, and we will pursue our goals and ideas with thoughtfulness, energy, and optimism. And most importantly, I invite you to join SCI in continuing to write our story together.
Interim Dean and Professor of Computer Science
School of Computing and Information