Archive for December, 2017

Dec 13 2017

The Place to Be for Computer Science

Published by under chair

(This post was authored by Dr. Jerry Gannod.)

Have you ever heard anyone use this phrase: “TTU is a hidden gem!”. I know that some would like things to stay this way; if you are an employer looking for graduates, hidden gems are wonderful because you don’t have to compete for the next wave of new hires. I personally have an issue with this. My desire for this department is to have it become recognized as the top destination for computing students in the State of Tennessee – e.g., become the place to be for computer science. There are many ways to interpret what that means and to me, I think that our brand, as an institution and as a department is one that has its foundation in excellence in teaching without sacrificing quality in scholarship. In our current state, I don’t believe we are ready to broadly compete in research with the likes of UT-Knoxville or Vanderbilt University. However, our faculty are excellent scholars who understand that a balance between teaching and scholarship yields outstanding outcomes for our students.

Hidden Gem_Gannod
We’ve had many positive accomplishments in the past year. We hosted our first Computing and IT Alumni Conference in April, 2017 in partnership with the Department of Decision Sciences and Management (DSM). The conference provided the backdrop for the announcement of SAIC establishing the Cookeville Technology Integration Gateway, including the creation of 300-400 new jobs in the area. Indeed, many of our successes have been due to our corporate relationships. We’ve been able to raise approximately $50K in new funding to support our capstone course due to generous gifts from Unum, Relatient, SAIC, CARTA, Urban Science, and Cru. These gifts allow our students to travel to sponsor sites, acquire equipment and software subscriptions, and generally operate a small software development organization. We also were able to raise an additional $50K in new funding from The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee Foundation to establish a new endowed scholarship. These scholarships will enable us to continue our efforts improve the diversity of our student body. Furthermore, through the efforts of Dr. Ambareen Siraj and the Cybersecurity Education Research and Outreach Center (CEROC), an infusion of $2M from the State of Tennessee has been allocated to help CEROC make the Department of Computer Science at TTU the place to be for cybersecurity education.
Each success over the past year has been tempered by challenges that have required the kind of mindset that is open to unconventional solutions and exploring new ground. While we have seen hundreds of new computing jobs get created in Cookeville, we have also experienced budget cuts that have reduced our fiscal flexibility. We’ve seen growth in student enrollment, but have also faced challenges in being able to reduce class sizes in order to provide the best educational experience for our students.
My desire as the chair of this department is to try to enable every part of this community to become successful. I have had one of my colleagues tell me that our strategic plan and all of our efforts have been aimed at the “top” students and that we effectively ignore the middle and lower part of the bell. I disagree. For instance, all of the funding in the capstone course is spread across ALL teams, not just an elite few. The new scholarships are aimed at increasing diversity – to students from underrepresented groups that would not otherwise even consider TTU as a destination for matriculation. As we seek to create opportunities for our students to study abroad, our focus is making this accessible to all students – not just the elite ones.


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Anyway, I like to believe that my mindset is a growth mindset. In particular, regardless of the challenges and roadblocks that we might face, I believe there are always solutions to our problems. We just might not have found them yet. These solutions might not fit into the mold of what we want, and they may only get us part of the way towards our original goals. These solutions are cumulative and as we move forward, it is just as important to learn something along the way, to build partnerships with those we meet on the road, and to consider that just because we may have always done some things certain ways doesn’t mean that we’ve always done it the right or best way. As such, we have to be willing to push the boundaries of our experiences and assess whether or not some new way of approaching our problems may hold promise. We pick and choose our battles, realizing that ground lost today may yield ground gained tomorrow.
As we look forward to the new year, I invite you to keep an eye out on some other developments in our department. We hope to add five new faculty members over the next couple of years in order to meet our teaching and scholarship mission, especially in the presence of our growing enrollment. Also, in the new year we will be opening up our new Data Science and Analytics Collaboratory in the Volpe Library in a joint effort with the Department of Decision Sciences and Management in the College of Business. We will be continuing our efforts to renovate our learning, research, and faculty spaces, and redoubling our efforts to attract the best and brightest students to TTU to study Computer Sciences. I hope that you will join us on this journey.

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