VOLUME 33, NUMBER 23 THURSDAY, April 4, 2002

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David Penniman is dean of the School of Informatics.

What exactly is informatics?
The term "informatique" was coined by the French in the early 1960s and referred to the application of computing to the communication processes used by scientists in exchanging information and data among themselves. The domain represented by this new term was ultimately viewed by the French and other Western European countries as an application of computer science and, subsequently, a term in place of computer science. The Russians, however, embraced the term "informatika" and took a broader perspective. They believed that this emerging field was, in fact, a social science, concerning itself with the use of technology in various communities (e.g. Scientific) and the interaction of technology and human/organizational structures. In the United States, the term never caught on, except in the area of medical informatics, where it was championed by individuals such as Ted Shortliff (now at Columbia University). Here, it took on a broad perspective and included "the cognitive, information processing and communication tasks of medical practice, education and research, including information science and the technology to support these tasks." Recently, other uses of the term emerged, including schools of informatics and several new fields, including bioinformatics, health informatics, nursing informatics, mobile informatics and school informatics. Here at UB, we believe that informatics incorporates at least three domains: (1) technology and its application, (2) information organization and structure, and (3) human behavior (especially communication). The intersection of these three domains is of particular interest to us.

Is the change from a Department of Communication and a School of Library and Information Studies to a School of Informatics a growing trend?
Several related fields are converging, including communications, information science, library science and applied computer science, as well as educational technology. A recent study indicated that from 1982 to 2001, there have been 17 mergers or realignments of "library schools." Of those 17, six joined with communication units, six with education, two with computer science, two with graduate education and one with management. I think the trend is toward the recognition that there is an opportunity to offer students something more than a traditional degree program by joining forces.

No School of Informatics can cover all the bases. What is the specific focus or foci here at UB?
Recently, our faculty completed a mission statement for the school stating that we are here "to vigorously develop and communicate knowledge about the social aspects of information through sustained programs of research, and through teaching students to be leaders in the information society." They also said that "We value the perspective of history and tradition, and understand the potential benefits of technology in furthering a democratic society" and that "our study, teaching, service and outreach concentrate on the intersection of human communication and information processes." If I were to sum all of this up, I would say that our focus is "where people and information meet."

How does the school fit in with other computer and computer-science-related programs here at UB?
Keep in mind that in many countries the term informatics is used in place of computer science, despite the broader interpretation found in its origin and in applications such as medical informatics. Given the broad scope of the term informatics, particularly when used in conjunction with another area (e.G. Bioinformatics), it is not surprising that there will be many players in the informatics initiatives at UB, as well as elsewhere. In the case of bioinformatics, for example, the major players will come from computer science, as well as biology and related medical and pharmaceutical sciences, since this initiative focuses on computers used for the analysis of complex biological structures leading to new drug development. Our school will play only a modest role during the early stages of this initiative. In other campus initiatives, such as an emerging effort in medical informatics, our school will play a larger role at the outset. In all cases, we are looking for opportunities to collaborate with other academic units.

What backgrounds do students in the program have?
At the undergraduate level, we recruit students who are interested in interpersonal, organizational, international, intercultural or mass communication, as well as communication technologies and information systems. At the graduate level, our students come from many disciplines and often have significant work experience prior to returning to graduate school.

What are the school's undergraduate offerings? Graduate programs? What kind of work will graduates do?
We offer a full range of degrees, from undergraduate to doctorate. For those seeking professional librarian status, we provide an ALA-accredited master's degree. We also offer an interdisciplinary master's degree blending communication and information science, as well as a master's degree in communication. We are developing additional degrees that will provide students with even more opportunities to study and learn in an interdisciplinary environment combining information technology and the human aspects of communication and information processing. Careers include account executive, advertising specialist, broadcaster, copywriter, counselor, information systems manager, information technologist, journalist, market-research analyst, media specialist or public-relations specialist. At the graduate level, some of our students choose to work as professional librarians. Others are exploring options in communications or the information industry. And some may be exploring new alternatives, just as our school is exploring new opportunities.

You've spent a large chunk of your career working for corporate and non-academic entities. What do you most enjoy about being on a college campus?
What I missed most when I was not involved with some university as a visiting professor or as a full-time employee was the interaction with students. It is good to have the opportunity again to interact with them. I always learned as much from them as I imparted.

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