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UW Trustees Approve Launch of School of Computing

January 13, 2022
three people working with scientific equipment outside
UW Senior Research Scientist Ramesh Sivanpillai, center, works with students Nicholas Case and Sarah Weidler to review spectral reflection data taken of grass and trees, as collected by a hand-held spectrometer. Use of computing and new data science technologies to solve real-world problems across all disciplines is at the heart of UW’s new School of Computing. (UW Photo)

The University of Wyoming’s commitment to raise its performance in computing and technology, both to improve students’ education and better serve the state and nation, has taken a major step forward with the creation of a new School of Computing.

UW’s Board of Trustees voted today (Thursday) to authorize the launch of the new academic unit. Reporting to the provost, it initially will be housed in the College of Engineering and Applied Science to accelerate its development. Eventually, the School of Computing will become a separate unit similar to the School of Energy Resources and Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources, with its own dean and interdisciplinary connections across the university.

“Computing’s impact is found in virtually every discipline today, and new data science technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain are starting to transform every academic discipline, every industry and every aspect of modern society,” UW President Ed Seidel says. “Access to world-class infrastructure and workforce training in computing and data is critical for Wyoming citizens and for UW’s students. The School of Computing will be the catalyst for the university to emerge as a leader in rural computing and data science, and to generate additional revenue streams and industry partnerships.”

The school will begin operations immediately, including appointment of an interim director, hiring of initial staff members and advertising for faculty members. One-time funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act allocated by Gov. Mark Gordon will be used to accelerate the development of the school.

“The primary purposes of the School of Computing curricular programs will be to provide more students with career pathways that utilize the power of computing and technology; provide new opportunities to increase the diversity among UW students using computing in their disciplines and careers; and establish a pipeline of tech-savvy graduates for Wyoming’s and the global economy,” says Provost and Executive Vice President Kevin Carman. “This will be a cross-university school with joint appointments possible with any UW department; will eventually have robust, multiple pathway degree programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels; and will leverage partnerships with industry, national laboratories and units across UW.”

Starting the School of Computing within the College of Engineering and Applied Science will minimize costs and the administrative burden, allowing resources to be focused primarily on student programs. During this “incubation” period, estimated to be about four years, the school will focus on identifying and offering needed 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 plan for the School of Computing sets the stage for the betterment of academic development and opportunities for all students at the University of Wyoming,” says Hunter Swilling, president of the Associated Students of UW, which passed a resolution in support of the plan. “I really believe that this will help all of the students of UW by teaching us essential skills for the workforce.” 

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.

The school’s pace of growth will depend, in large measure, on its ability to secure external funding, as well as on student demand.

“All School of Computing faculty and research scientists will have significant expectations for securing external funding through grants and corporate partnerships,” Seidel says. “There will be excellent opportunities for investments from corporations and individuals, and fundraising to support School of Computing programs will be a priority of the administration and faculty.”

Incubating the School of Computing in the College of Engineering and Applied Science 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.

“The School of Computing will not be an ‘engineering only’ entity -- it will help a wide variety of both technical and nontechnical students, faculty and staff,” says Cameron Wright, dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science. “But having it start in our college provides an excellent and supportive place for us to best see what works and what doesn’t. This approach gives the School of Computing the best chance of flourishing and becoming a unit that contributes to the advancement of computing across colleges and disciplines.”

The School of Computing will take a lead role in efforts to assure that all UW students graduate with digital literacy, regardless of their areas of study. A revision of the university’s general education curriculum, called the University Studies Program, is getting started just as the School of Computing launches.

“It’s important that all UW undergraduate students learn how digital and computational tools and approaches are increasingly part of their chosen disciplines and all aspects of life,” Carman says. “At a general level, students should be exposed to the variety of ways that digital tools can be used to accomplish computational tasks across all disciplines and gain introductory experience in using them.”

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 also 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.

“I couldn’t be more excited about what the School of Computing has the potential to do for UW, our community colleges in the Wyoming Innovation Partnership and the state as a whole,” Seidel says. “Building upon past investments and existing strengths, we can make a big statewide impact in economic and workforce development, education and research of importance to Wyoming in this digital age.”

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