Department Head Hopes to Inspire EntrepreneursComputer Science Leader Wants to Move Intellectual Property into Marketplace
Aug. 26, 2009
The new head of computer science at UT Dallas is committed to further enhancing the department’s education and research, but he also wants to accelerate entrepreneurial activities, benefiting faculty, students, alumni and the regional economy alike.
“Software-based companies are, after all, particularly easy to start,” said Gopal Gupta, who officially became department head Aug. 12. “A few people with some good ideas and some laptops in a garage, and you’re ready to go.”
Dr. Gupta admits it may take a little more than that to produce the next Google – and having been involved with two start-up companies himself, he knows the process – but he thinks the department is well-positioned to help create successes in the commercial marketplace.
He attributes that in large part to his predecessor, D.T. Huynh, who stepped down after 12 years as department head, having tripled the size of the unit to nearly 50 faculty with almost $10 million in annual research funding. The department now enrolls more than 700 undergraduate students and about 650 grad students, which is close to half of the enrollment of the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science.
Perhaps most important, Dr. Gupta said, the department has built highly regarded centers of expertise in a number of areas, including cybersecurity, software engineering, natural-language processing, artificial intelligence, computer networking and computer science theory.
“The department has been growing for 20 years, and now we want to consolidate and build on our strengths,” he said. “That includes more collaborative research, working with more industries, pursuing more national projects and winning more awards from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, which was expressly created to foster the movement of universities’ intellectual property into the marketplace.”
He has other goals in mind for the department, too, including:
- Undergraduate Education — Bolster the teaching of foundational computer science courses — in programming, discrete mathematics and data structures — and further increase industry involvement in the crucial senior design course.
- Graduate Education — Further distinguish between the master’s program for working professionals and the Ph.D. program, which is generally for those interested in going into academia or doing applied research in industry. “This would allow us to better meet the needs of both groups of students while increasing the size of our master’s program,” Gupta said.
- Research Funding — Take an aggressive approach to increase funding, working with faculty to initiate more high-profile projects that will bring national and international visibility, as well as increased external research funding from federal agencies and industry.
- Student Involvement — Develop stronger and more active student organizations and involve students more closely in departmental functions. Also increase the number of fellowships and scholarships offered and enhance the department’s already solid relationship with the local high-tech industry through the Jonsson School’s student internship/co-op program.
- Academic Preparation — Improve recruiting to ensure students are academically prepared for the rigors of computer science while at the same time continuing outreach efforts designed to pique elementary and secondary school students’ interest in pursuing computer science studies and their preparation for doing so.
- Community Development — Foster more communication among students, among faculty and between the two so that everyone feels integrated into a department that is greater than the sum of its parts.
“Gopal has my full support,” said Mark W. Spong, dean of the Jonsson School. “I think he has some great ideas for taking the computer science department to the next level, and I have confidence in his ability to lead the department.”
Dr. Gupta, who holds a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, joined UT Dallas in 2000.
He is a leading expert in programming languages and applied logic, and has received more than $10 million in funding from national and international agencies over the past 17 years for his research and teaching activities. His research has been applied to solving many practical problems, including building systems to facilitate the study of mathematics by blind students. He has published more than 120 research papers, helped organize numerous research conferences, and he and his students have received several best-paper awards.
Along with his colleagues, Dr. Gupta currently is working on a National Science Foundation project to increase interest in computer science among K-12 students.
Former computer science head Dr. Huynh remains a professor of computer science and was recently named associate dean for administration and finance in the Jonsson School.