HOUGHTON — Michigan Technological University’s computing showcase kicked off Monday with an awards and induction ceremony and a discussion on computing at the university.
The three-day event is a joint project of The Institute of Computing and Cybersystems and the College of Computing. It will feature cutting-edge research by both students and faculty, and include presentations and discussions on where computing is headed.
“The College of Computing showcase is really meant to celebrate computing, to help advance computing at Michigan Tech, and to really focus on the connections that computing makes,” said Dennis Livesay, dean of the College of Computing. “Every discipline is becoming a computing discipline.”
Speakers at Monday’s panel, “Computing at MTU: Past, Present, and Future,” discussed their experiences at Tech, their careers and the role computing played at the university. While computing has become part of every discipline, in some ways that makes a standalone computing college more important, they said.
“A lot of people out there use computers, a lot of people dabble in programming,” said Linda Ott, chair of the Department of Computer Science and a computer science professor. “But it’s really important that as a university, we recognize that there’s a discipline behind all of this, that there is value in doing it right, there’s value in understanding algorithms, there’s value in understanding all the different kinds of concepts that are part of our fields.”
The college is working to expand computing principles beyond the fundamentals of computing science, said Daniel Fuhrmann, chair of the Department of Applied Computing at MTU and the Dave House professor of computer engineering. His department spans numerous disciplines, including electrical engineering technology, health informatics and cybersecurity. It also spans the computing infrastructure that creates the resources behind programming and the operations technology for the physical infrastructure.
“That blending is only going to get tighter as time goes on,” he said. “That’s sort of the hallmark of industry 4.0. So we’re kind of moving in that direction in the Department of Applied Computing.”
Panelists also discussed ways to ensure teams are diverse both in demographics and in the perspectives they bring.
Asked about how computing can be made accessible to more people, Dianne Marsh said the people who need to be asked are the ones who chose not to go into the field. And making further strides in gender diversity requires work from the men, she said.
“There’s many more men in this field than there are women,” said Marsh, director of content security at Netflix. “And we need you guys to be advocating for having this diverse voice …We have a lot of big problems to solve. We can’t solve it with half of the population.”
Marsh also spoke about how to get perspectives from all team members. At Netflix, they’ve embraced a memo-based culture, versus a meeting-based culture that advantages the loudest people in the room. That allows them to get ideas when people take longer to develop their ideas.
ICC Achievement Awards were given to Brian Yuan, an assistant professor in computer science and applied computing; Sidike Pahiding, an assistant professor in applied computing; and Kelly Steelman, associate professor and department chair in cognitive and learning sciences.
House and Ott were also inducted into the College of Computing Honor College.
House, a 1965 Tech graduate and chairman of Brocade Communications, has had a decades-long career in computing, including overseeing the Intel team that created the Pentium microprocessor.
A chance encounter with one of his friends during senior year led to him enrolling in a graduate course for computer design.
“It allowed me to do something that led to where I eventually wound up getting to be in a position where I could come back and help the university that helped me,” he said. “I’m passionate about Michigan Tech, because Michigan Tech gave me that opportunity.”
Ott came to Michigan Tech after earning her Ph.D. from Purdue University in 1978.
She chaired the computer science department from 1996 to 2010, returning to the post in 2019.
She recalled being inspired by a high school FORTRAN course in 1967, which led her to take computing classes in college.
“That opportunity is what’s led to this, so I think sometimes I’m also passionate about inclusivity, about making sure that students — particularly high school students who don’t have a lot of opportunities — are given the exposure, so that they can make an informed choice, they can discover, computing is actually freaking fun,” she said.