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Published February 25, 2022
An accomplished administrator and scholar in computing and its applications in modern life has been appointed as the inaugural director of the University of Wyoming’s new School of Computing.
Gabrielle Allen, a professor of mathematics and statistics and adjunct professor of physics and astronomy, who also serves as a special assistant in UW’s Office of Research and Economic Development, begins her new post March 1.
“We are extraordinarily fortunate that an individual of Dr. Allen’s experience and stature has agreed to lead the launch of what will be a transformational academic unit at UW,” Provost and Executive Vice President Kevin Carman says. “Her academic credentials align exactly with this important leadership position, and we are confident she will develop and lead an interdisciplinary team that will infuse computing across campus for the benefit of our students, faculty and partners around the state.”
Allen played a key role in developing the plan presented to UW’s Board of Trustees, which approved the School of Computing in January. With Allen’s appointment, work will proceed to hire other initial staff members and advertise for faculty members. One-time funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act allocated by Gov. Mark Gordon is being used to accelerate the development of the school.
Allen holds a Ph.D. in physics from Cardiff University and additional degrees from the University of Cambridge and University of Nottingham. Her research has focused on the development of community software platforms that enable large-scale science applications to take advantage of cutting-edge computing technologies. Her contributions to applying computing in physics were recognized in 2017 with her election as a Fellow of the American Physical Society. She has also received a number of prizes and awards for her computing research, including the Gordon Bell Prize for Supercomputing, the High Performance Bandwidth Challenge and the IEEE International Scalable Computing Challenge.
Previously at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she served as associate dean for research and research education in its College of Education -- where she led an effort to develop state certification programs for K-12 computer science teachers -- and as director of the Bureau of Educational Research. At the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, she was the associate director for research and education.
Her career has included being a member of the faculty of Louisiana State University’s Department of Computer Science, where she also served as assistant director for computing applications at LSU’s Center for Computation and Technology, and was a leader of the Louisiana Statewide National Science Foundation (NSF) EPSCoR RII CyberTools Project.
Allen has served as a program officer with NSF’s Office of Cyberinfrastructure and led the Computational Science Group at the Albert Einstein Institute in Golm, Germany. She was a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, the research collaboratory that detected the first gravity wave, a major prediction of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.
Allen has a strong record of securing research funding from NSF, the Department of Energy and other major federal agencies. Her record of scholarly publications is truly remarkable, Carman says: Her work has been cited over 36,000 times in scientific literature, with publications ranging from physics to applications of computing in areas as diverse as hurricane forecasting to crop science.
Allen’s current advisory roles include serving on the External Advisory Board of the School of Computer Science and Informatics at Cardiff University; on the Governance Board of the Irish Centre for High End Computing; on the Advisory Board for Supercomputing Wales; and on the External Advisory Board of the NSF computing infrastructure project “Accelerating Computing for Emerging Sciences” led from Texas A&M University.
The School of Computing initially will be under the umbrella of UW’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, allowing resources to be focused primarily on student programs. During this start-up period, estimated to be about four years, the school will focus on hiring faculty; prioritizing and offering courses and certificate programs; working with other UW units and Wyoming community colleges to develop a sequence of first-year and sophomore-level courses for students interested in majoring in computing-related programs; and partnering with UW departments to create minors in computing.
Plans call for bachelor’s degree programs in the School of Computing -- including 2-plus-2 agreements with the community colleges -- to launch in the 2024-25 academic year.
“The School of Computing is fundamentally about students,” Allen says. “Across every discipline and every major, employers are looking for students who know how to use computers and data and how to apply that knowledge in novel and interesting ways.”
Students in the School of Computing will learn how to approach problems, utilize software options and work on interdisciplinary teams, Allen says. Similar to research scholar programs in science and engineering, students will be able to apply to become computing scholars, earning money toward their education along with hands-on research opportunities. Also in the works is an internship program in which students will work on interdisciplinary teams with Wyoming companies.
“We want this to be an environment where students can take ideas and run with them,” Allen says. “They are really going to come up with new innovations.”
At the end of its first five years, the School of Computing is expected to have -- in addition to a director, a business manager and an office manager -- 10-13 faculty members in computing, the majority of whom are envisioned to be jointly hired with other UW departments; five graduate assistants; 15 undergraduate scholars; and 10 faculty affiliates.
Ultimately, plans call for the school to have about 24 faculty members, with a dean, more graduate assistants and other support staff. This structure will support planned undergraduate and graduate degree programs in computing, along with collaborative research programs with public- and private-sector partners. A national search will be conducted for a dean prior to the transition of the school to a stand-alone unit.
Incubating the School of Computing in the College of Engineering and Applied Science also will allow the new school to work closely with the soon-to-be-combined departments of Computer Science and Electrical and Computer Engineering, which are part of the engineering college. While UW will continue to offer degrees in those fields, the envisioned degree programs in the School of Computing will have a somewhat different focus -- looking at how computing applies to a broad range of disciplines, with less of an engineering emphasis.
“As I reviewed Dr. Allen’s application materials, I felt very lucky that someone with her background and her capabilities would be willing to serve as the inaugural director of UW’s new School of Computing,” says College of Engineering and Applied Science Dean Cameron Wright. “I’m confident she will get the new school off to a strong start.”
The School of Computing will provide connections to and build on the variety of existing digital assets at UW, such as the Advanced Research Computing Center, the Data Science Center, the Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center, the Shell 3D Visualization Center, the Innovation Wyrkshop and UW Libraries. The new school will complement UW’s Tier-1 Engineering Initiative, Science Initiative and Trustees Education Initiative, as well as UW’s relationship with the National Center for Atmospheric Research-Wyoming Supercomputing Center near Cheyenne.
The school also will help UW become more competitive for national research grants that enable research and educational opportunities for students. Federal research agencies such as NSF increasingly focus existing research funding toward areas that are advanced by computational approaches, and Congress is working on providing significant increases in funding to NSF, the Department of Energy and other research agencies in these areas.
“The school will really help us provide that bridge between new tech, computer science and applications, and bring the varied expertise we have on campus to bear on problems of regional and national importance, significantly increasing our capacity to bring external funds to UW to support our students and faculty,” Allen says. “It will also place us in a better position to engage with more corporate partners to provide our students with the real-world experience they need.”