By Lisa M. Rosellini
A recent call for faculty participation in the new School of Information Sciences and Technology has drawn an impressive and immediate response -- a clear indication to planners that there is an interest and a need for such a thrust. Student response is expected to be equally strong.
Penn State's new School of Information Sciences and Technology, which will begin to accept students for the 1999-2000 academic year, was approved by the Board of Trustees on Sept. 11 and must quickly take shape.
In early October a letter went out to all administrative heads within the Penn State system asking them to pass on this message to faculty: Would they like to be affiliated with the new endeavor? The letter, from John A. Brighton, executive vice president and provost, spelled out several ways faculty members might be involved. In addition, there is currently a recruitment committee in place to conduct national searches for additional faculty members.
"We wanted to gauge the level of interest from our own faculty, who are experts in many areas of the fields that information sciences and technology (IST) crosses," Brighton said. "Penn State and its faculty members have an opportunity with this new school to meet an important and serious need for the numerous industries touched by IST. The breadth of this field is incredible. It really cuts across traditional disciplines like no other enterprise."
In fact, Brighton said faculty response to his call for participation has been from across the board, in a wide variety of areas within the University. Ways in which faculty at Penn State might be involved in the new school include: through a courtesy or adjunct appointment, for those who may teach an occasional class or advise students; through a formal joint appointment, for those who teach some courses on a regular basis and have a portion of their salary supported by the school; or a full appointment that would change their current tenure base to that of the new school. All potential shifts are subject to review and approval.
Plans call for the new school to grow to 30 core faculty members, plus 15 with joint appointment at University Park over the next five years. Another 25 new faculty members at other Penn State locations will be added during this same time period. The IST program will be offered at the associate, baccalaureate and graduate degree levels. The baccalaureate degree will be offered at University Park beginning in fall 1999 and at other campus locations that have the necessary faculty and other resources to deliver this degree. Other locations are also expected to be identified for the associate degree. The graduate program will be offered beginning in the fall 2000.
An implementation team headed by James Thomas, senior associate dean in The Smeal College of Business Administration, is developing the baccalaureate degree curriculum, while a team headed by Joseph Lambert, associate professor of computer science and engineering, is working on curriculum for the associate degree program. The implementation teams are working closely to ensure that the programs are compatible.
"Launching a new school within a University as complex and diverse as Penn State is challenging and exciting," said George McMurtry, associate dean emeritus in the College of Engineering. McMurtry, who was called from retirement, is acting as a special assistant to Brighton during the initial development of the school. "There are no enrollment trends to look at, no data to analyze -- but all indicators from industry say this type of program is an absolute necessity."
Student response is expected to be high, since the demand for jobs in the areas of information sciences and technology is projected to double by the year 2006. According to a recent national survey, across the United States about 346,000 "core" information technology positions -- like programmers, network administrators, software designers, data managers and systems analysts -- are vacant.
"Setting up the school is a complex process, but everyone is enthusiastic and supportive," he said. "It is an interdisciplinary initiative that provides an opportunity for faculty members to interact and collaborate with those in other disciplines. It's also an opportunity to be on the leading edge in a growing field of study."
McMurtry said teamwork and communication will be major components of the school's programs, since they traverse such a large number of disciplines.
Some of the responses to Brighton's initial call have -- not surprisingly -- come from those in the expected fields of engineering, computer science and mathematics. In addition, faculty members in business, health sciences, liberal arts, communication and other arenas have expressed their interest in the program, since demand for information specialists in their fields has skyrocketed.
Both Brighton and McMurtry are encouraging interested faculty members to respond by Nov. 16. Anyone interested should contact McMurtry at (814) 865-3528, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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