Computing and Information Sciences Established as Independent Department

Valparaiso University’s mathematics and computer science department has divided into two departments. Computing and information sciences is now independent of the mathematics and statistics department.

Veteran computer scientist James Caristi, who joined the mathematics faculty at Valpo in 1980 to develop the department’s major in computer science, was appointed to chair the new CIS department. He took office on July 1, 2014.

“The two departments remain close,” says Professor Caristi, who notes that the faculty of the former MCS department enjoyed an exceptionally collegial work environment. “We’ll continue to collaborate in many areas, but the separation will enable us to administer our programs more efficiently.”

According to Professor Caristi, the primary impetus for the split was explosive enrollment growth in Valpo’s master’s degree programs, especially the graduate program in information technology. The graduate program experienced steady growth for several years after its establishment in the mid-2000s, with significant enrollment by international students. Two years ago, a change in U.S. State Department policy dramatically increased the number of student visas available, and a jump in enrollments followed.

There are now about 200 students enrolled in the graduate program in information technology, and a brand-new graduate program in cybersecurity launched in fall 2014. By January, all courses in the cybersecurity program will be available online.

The mathematics and statistics department, still chaired by former MCS Chair Ken Luther, will continue to supervise the master’s program in analytics and modeling as well as undergraduate majors in mathematics and actuarial science and a minor in applied statistics.

The CIS department’s undergraduate offerings include a major and a minor in computer science.

Computer science has a long tradition at Valpo. Former math department chair Kermit H. Carlson recognized the academic potential of computing in the 1950s and hired programmers Diane Krebs and Norman Hughes to teach at Valpo at a time when computer science was primarily confined to large research universities. By the time Professor Caristi was hired in 1980, the department taught enough courses in computer science to offer a major that was “just a few credits shy of a major,” Professor Caristi notes. The major was offered to Valpo students for the first time in 1981.

The undergraduate major in computer science approaches the field as a discipline in the liberal arts, with an emphasis on open inquiry and theoretical understanding of computing, Professor Caristi says, but “we prepare our students for practical applications of computing in a number of fields, and some members of our faculty concentrate on applied computing.” The former MCS department has a great many alumni who work in the IT industry as well as those who have pursued advanced degrees in the field.

Given the often overlapping academic interests of CS students in the College of Arts and Sciences and students in electrical and computer engineering at the College of Engineering, a goal of the new CIS department is to coordinate hiring and course offerings with the College of Engineering to avoid unnecessary duplication and encourage students to make the most of the courses and facilities of both colleges.

Meanwhile, the two new departments continue to share the same space that the former MCS department occupied in Gellersen Hall, as Professor Luther and Professor Caristi work out the administrative details of the split. Professor Caristi says he looks forward to solid growth in the department’s academic programs throughout the next few years.

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