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Montclair Launches New School of Computing

School to provide students more opportunities for research, interdisciplinary collaborations and pathways to success

Posted in: Homepage News, Science and Technology

Student walking past the entrance of the Center for Computing and Information Science
The new School of Computing will be based in the Center for Computing and Information Science building.

To keep up with student demand, Montclair State University is expanding and combining its departments of Computer Science, and Applied Mathematics and Statistics, and has launched a new School of Computing. Given the explosion of opportunities in computing, technology and artificial intelligence, the new school is critical.

“As demand for computing jobs shows tremendous job growth, the establishment of the School of Computing comes at a pivotal time,” says Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Junius Gonzales. “Having a School allows for more synergies, formal collaboration and interdisciplinary opportunities for research.”

The school is housed in the recently renovated Center for Computing and Information Science building, where “Montclair State University will continue to capitalize on the success of its math and computer science programs to help prepare students for this future job growth,” Gonzales says.

In addition to providing a welcoming and supportive environment for all students from diverse backgrounds, Gonzales sees future collaborations with other disciplines across campus.

Montclair faculty have been working behind the scenes for about two years on the transition to the School of Computing, says College of Science and Mathematics Dean Lora Billings. “The department has done an enormous amount of work revising their current programs to meet today’s students’ needs,” she says.

Billings notes that the tremendous interest and growth in the field has led to increased computer science enrollment at Montclair in the last decade.

“We’re close to tripling the number of undergraduates in the last 10 years,” she says. “The programs under the School of Computing are our fastest-growing, and we expect another record number of new students enrolled both at the undergraduate and graduate level next year.”

In 2013, Montclair State University had 373 students enrolled in computing disciplines. Last fall, enrollment hit 957. The number of graduate students went from 43 in 2013 to more than 200 this year. Computing jobs are growing at a rate four times that of all other occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Beyond the scope of a single academic discipline, Gonzales says the School of Computing will expand curriculum to what he calls “extending technology, which encompasses virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality, machine learning, artificial intelligence, etc.”

Anthony Scriffignano, a senior executive data scientist on the Computer Science department’s advisory board calls it “a very exciting time” for computer science at Montclair. “In the ’80s or even the late ’70s, there were not a lot of places where you could study this, and Montclair was right in there, right at the beginning. That’s really impressive.”

In addition, Scriffignano says, the new school will allow Montclair “to attract and retain talent to teach and to do fundamental research at the institution. It helps you give the students a more eclectic offering of things that they can study within that realm.”

The creation of the School of Computing is a significant step for the University, says Billings. “We find that traditional departments can encourage siloes, so by combining the two units – the Department of Computer Science and the Department of Applied Math and Statistics – we’re starting these collaborative approaches to an area that actually is more than the sum of the parts,” she says. “Computing, as a discipline, is an emerging area, so it’s important to be nimble.”

Billings cited Montclair’s Master of Science in Computational Linguistics, housed in both Linguistics and Computer Science, as an example of successful interdisciplinary collaborations that she would like to see flourish at Montclair. The master’s in Computational Linguistics is the only such program in the state and one of only a few in the country.

Montclair offers four computer-related master’s programs: Computer Science, Information Technology, Cybersecurity and Data Science. Plans call for a new undergraduate degree in Cybersecurity, as well as new graduate-level disciplines. Billings says the new School will provide students opportunities to “participate in experiential learning, student-faculty research and cooperative education both on and off campus at industry sites.”

Indeed, the new school “will expand graduate programs and boost Montclair’s reputation as a tech school,” says Constantine “Dino” Coutras, current chair of the Department of Computer Science, who will oversee the new school its first year. School leaders have been working to recruit and hire a new director and two associate directors of the school, as well as new faculty in programs such as Cybersecurity, Data Science, Computer Engineering, Computer Science Education and Game Development. The two assistant directors will divide day-to-day duties, with one focusing on faculty and academic affairs and the other on research and graduate programs while the director focuses on external relationships with community and industry leaders.

The School of Computing will prioritize building industry partnerships that create opportunities for student internships and cooperative education experiences, according to Billings and Coutras. Plans also call for the School to provide entrepreneurship partnerships and consulting services for businesses.

“Like other colleges and schools on campus, the School of Computing will also do external work in the community,” Gonzales says.

“This new infrastructure is necessary not just to keep up with the growth of the major and how it impacts other majors but also to provide ways for academia to interact with the local community and industry regarding how we deal with this growth and impact of this field,” he says.  “The School of Computing will be part of this growing conversation on what is the role of these new and advanced computer systems in society and in industry. We also hope to have a positive impact on the community in secondary education and preparing students for college also, but also in an advisory role to and in partnership with industry.”

The school’s creation signals that Montclair is taking computing seriously and hopefully will be even more attractive to students, Gonzales says.

Coutras says he’s already heard good things from students and others. “I think people will be looking at Montclair differently five years from now, as this School of Computing grows and has an impact,” he says, noting that students he’s spoken with seem excited about it. “The word I keep hearing is ‘cool.’”

Story by Staff Writer Sylvia A. Martinez. Photo by John J. LaRosa.

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