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UB celebrates 50 years of computer science

Computer scientists at UB in the late 1960s. Photo: University Archives.

By CORY NEALON

Published September 26, 2017

Multimedia
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Highlights of 50 years of computer science at UB.

In 1967, most people knew nothing about computers.

Not so at a small, rented office on Ridge Lea Road in Amherst, where five UB professors were creating one of the nation’s first academic departments to study the emerging field of computer science.

The professors — including founding chair Anthony Ralston and Patricia James Eberlein, who often advocated for more women in computer science — laid the groundwork for what has become one of the university’s largest and most dynamic academic departments.

Now, after producing thousands of graduates, some of whom are world-renowned innovators, UB’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a four-day event Sept. 28-Oct. 1.

“At 50 years, the Department of Computer Science and Engineering is stronger than ever. Our student body is growing. We have more faculty members than ever before. Our research funding is rising. We have an incredible relationship with our alumni, many of whom play pivotal roles at some of the world’s leading technology companies,” says Chunming Qiao, CSE chair and SUNY Distinguished Professor of Computer Science and Engineering.

The celebration will bring together alumni from around the world, including graduates who work for Google, Microsoft, Bloomberg and other household names. It will provide an opportunity for alumni, as well as faculty, students and staff, to reflect on the department’s first 50 years and look toward the future.

President Satish K. Tripathi, himself a professor of computer science and engineering, will deliver remarks. He will be joined by fellow CSE faculty member Venu Govindaraju, vice president for research and economic development at UB and a SUNY Distinguished Professor of computer science and engineering, and Liesl Folks, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.  

The keynote speakers are:

  • Victor Bahl, an alumnus of CSE. He is a distinguished scientist and director of Microsoft’s Mobility and Networking Research Group, as well as a fellow of IEEE, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
  • Jin-Yi Cai, a former CSE faculty member who is the Steenbock Professor of Computer Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is an ACM fellow.
  • Sung-Mo (Steve) Kang, an alumnus of CSE. He is the former president of the Korea Advanced Institute of Technology and a former chancellor of the University of California, Merced. Kang is a distinguished chair professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an IEEE fellow and AAAS fellow.
  • Jian Pei, a former CSE faculty member who is now professor of computer science at Simon Fraser University. He is an ACM fellow and IEEE fellow.

Other attendees expected to speak include one of CSE’s first doctoral graduates, Bruce Shriver, a computer science academic who previously served as president of the IEEE Computer Society, and alumnus Hongyi Wu, Batten Chair of Cybersecurity at Old Dominion University.

The celebration will include undergraduate research demonstrations, a graduate research conference, tours of Buffalo and Niagara Falls, a golf outing and an alumni symposium. A complete program guide is available online.

The event comes as CSE is experiencing tremendous growth. The number of faculty members is approaching 50, up from 40 seven years ago. Meanwhile, research funding has increased from $2.1 million in 2013-14 to $8.6 million in 2016-17, according to Qiao.

A timeline outlining CSE’s impressive contributions to the field, as well as its history at UB, is available on the department’s anniversary webpage.

Some additional facts about CSE:

  • Robin Li, co-founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Baidu Inc., the Chinese language equivalent to Google, graduated from CSE in 1994 with a master’s degree. Li, who is unable to attend the event, recorded a video message fondly remembering his time at UB.
  • C.L. Max Nikias, president of the University of Southern California, received his master’s degree and PhD in computer science from UB in 1980 and 1981, respectively. Nikias, who also is unable to attend the event, previously recorded a video message noting CSE’s many accomplishments. The message is included in the department’s video.
  • Handwriting analysis tools developed by CSE researchers have enabled the U.S. Postal Service to automate much of its letter-sorting operations, saving billions of dollars.
  • Carl Kesselman, a Lovelace medal winner credited with co-inventing grid computing, received computer science and electrical engineering degrees from UB.