Five years later, SCI thrives as a ‘transdisciplinary’ resource | University times


If it were up to Bruce Childers, every Pitt undergraduate student would have a connection to the School of Computing and Information.


The School of Computing and Information kicked off its fifth anniversary with an event on Aug.18.30.

The SCI community will celebrate this milestone through various events throughout the year, including series of speakers, a toast to SCI on the homecoming weekend and the Big Bash Weekend, the iconic anniversary event scheduled for spring. 2023.

Find out more about this celebration at

“Students today need, I believe, these computational skills and competences; if not a real skill, at least some critical thinking about the data, “said Childers, who went from acting principal to permanent principal of the school earlier this year.” So when some media releases a study, they understand what went into that study and they approach it with a critical mindset. I think it’s a really fundamental skill in today’s modern democracy. And I think Pitt should be prepared to deliver that, and I think SCI can do that. “

The School of Computing and Information was born five years ago, when the School of Information Sciences, the Department of Computer Science and the Intelligent Systems Program joined together to form the first new school in Pitt in over 20 years.

“What the school has emerged to be – and where we were founded and are actually seeing it now – is this highly collaborative, highly connected school, the word I like to use is ‘transdisciplinary’ school,” Childers said.

“One of the wonderful things about being a young school is that these longstanding structures that I imagine other schools have for decades are there for us to explore how to use them to create this transdisciplinary and collaborative environment,” he said.

As of fall 2017 with just 183 undergraduate students, the school has grown to be the fourth largest on campus, with 1,051 undergraduate students in fall 2021 (behind Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences, Swanson School of Engineering and College of Business Administration). Final student census numbers are not yet available for this fall, but Childers expects the number to rise again.

Another plus point is the master’s degree in librarianship, information science program, which went from 40 students in 2018 – when admission was suspended to allow for a redesign of the program – to around 130 hours. Childers said the redesign focused on creating partnerships with organizations that work directly with students, who study an organization’s information problem, develop a solution, pilot it, and then evaluate it.

Childers served as Dean’s Special Assistant for Data Science in 2019 and 2020 and helped form the Data Science Task Force and write its report. Provost Ann Cudd is looking to hire someone in her office to provide a “unified, visible and coordinated presence” with respect to data science, in both teaching and research. Cudd said she wants to leverage the momentum from the Data Science Task Force report in 2020 and the Year of Data and Society last year.

“I think data science literacy these days is a really core skill and skill for any student,” Cudd said in a recent interview. “Although it’s more like an appreciation of data science and being able to know what you can do with it so you can look for the kind of experience you need to help you get things done.”

Collaboration with other schools

A large area of ​​growth for SCI is in joint majors with other schools, which plays into Childers’ desire to connect students to computer science and data science. For example, SCI partnered with the Dietrich School’s Department of English for an undergraduate program in interactive digital narrative design.

“Combine coding with fiction. The way I think about it is to use storytelling through data and computation, “he said.” This could be in game design; it could be in data journalism. It could be a data scientist and a data analyst to tell the story. history through data “.

The major went from about 19 students three years ago to about 130 this year, Childers said. “I think none of us have ever imagined this as an outcome. It is a very exciting achievement and it has been a phenomenal partnership with Dietrich School. It’s just an incredibly positive way to work in an extremely collaborative way. “

Andrew Lotz, deputy principal of Dietrich School, said he was not surprised that the program was so popular. “This is entirely due to the great faculty in SCI and English. They would sit in meetings and say, ‘What does this thing look like? What would it mean to be properly prepared in these two areas? ‘ And then they built it and they did it “.

There is also a joint major with the Department of Biological Sciences, which according to Childers mainly comprises biology majors. A major in computational social sciences currently involves SCI’s computer network systems and political science department in Dietrich, where Lotz teaches, but will likely expand to other departments, such as economics and history.

Another program has been proposed with quantum physics and computing, and SCI is working with Pitt Business on a minor path in the School of Public Health’s new undergraduate program.

A data science major launched last year is a partnership between three departments of the SCI, as well as mathematics and statistics in the Dietrich School. Lotz said that “every single person all the time was like, ‘Yeah, that makes good sense.'” It took some time to get together due to the various governance issues involved in a project that involves so many departments.

“We love the shows,” Lotz said. “We have a couple of other departments we’ve talked to. … Any department that would ever want to get close to us, if it has an idea, we will open the word to it. “

Additionally, the Ph.D. program in Intelligence Systems – an interdisciplinary program on artificial intelligence and applied settings – is “something that has really grown in recent years as other schools, particularly medicine and health sciences, become partners. more closely, “Childers said.

Master’s programs

Many of SCI’s masters programs have seen enrollment challenges, Childers said, particularly during the pandemic. About 85 percent of those attending the master’s programs were international students before the pandemic, she noted.

“The way we think about our master’s programs is something that is evolving. We are starting to put a lot more emphasis on master-level workforce development for domestic populations and local and Pittsburgh populations, ”she said.

For example, a bachelor’s certificate with applied data-based methods allows people with no data science prerequisites to learn the basics all the way to modeling, visualizing, and capturing insights from data. It will enable people working in industries such as marketing or human resources to acquire these skills and hopefully it will be a gateway for them to enroll in a full master’s program.

SCI was recently among the Pitt units to receive funding through the Biden administration’s Build Back Better program. It will use the $ 800,000 to provide scholarships to workers displaced from the 10 counties covered by the Allegheny Conference to obtain the Applied Data-Based Methods Certificate, preparing them for data-centric occupations in the autonomous and applied robotics industry. The grant will provide tuition support to 16 students each year for four years.

The school also uses more informal ways to connect people with data science. Once a semester they offer an eight-week research informatics training seminar on data bases. The credit-free lesson teaches the Python programming language, as well as cleaning, preparing, and visualizing data. The seminar was enjoyed by faculty, staff and students, Childers said. The last session had about 200 people interested in the 60 places available. He is also interested in doing “data pop-up” sessions in the Cathedral of Learning to “do really cool stuff as the students come and go with the data.”

A new space

In addition to growing in programming and students, SCI is expanding physically this year.

Childers said they hope to begin using the new space at 130 N. Bellefield St. in October. It is 10,000 square feet, with approximately 19 offices, 20 student desks, and a small presentation area that can be used for events and other activities.

“That space really goes back to the idea of ​​SCI as a collaborative and well-connected entity,” he said. “There’s a lot of technology that’s designed around trying to create these hybrid spaces that we learned about during the pandemic, to foster research and education collaborations.”

He said they will try to use it as “a test case of how we, as a school, can internally create a culture of this kind of collaboration and … how we use technology to actually amplify our connections for the benefit of others.”

It will also be a test bed for a “hopefully future home” under one roof in the One Bigelow building which is part of Pitt’s ten-year campus plan.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 724-244-4042.

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