The Department of Computer Science at The University of Texas-Pan American has many things to be proud of this year as it celebrates 25 years, including its more than 500 extraordinary alumni, outstanding students, and award-winning professors.
"I am proud of the growth and the maturity of the computer science program since its inception," Dr. Zhixiang Chen, professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science, said. "I am proud of our alumni and students, many who are successful and received awards and recognitions, and I am proud that our faculty members are dedicated teachers, actively involved in leading-edge research."
The department commemorated its anniversary April 18 at the University Ballroom. Alumni, current students, faculty and administrators gathered together to reminisce about the program's growth and successes.
Chen said the program has grown into a dynamic department offering multi-degrees, including a CAC/ABET-accredited Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in computer science with a required minor field, and an 18-hour minor in computer science. In addition, a Master of Science in Computer Science and Master of Science in Information Technology are also offered along with a joint bachelor's degree in computer engineering with the Department of Electrical Engineering.
The department also most recently accomplished a milestone when Dr. Bin Fu, assistant professor in computer science, was the first faculty member in the history of the program and the second in the Universiy to receive the National Science Foundation's most prestigious honor, the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award in March.
Pearl Brazier, associate professor, computer engineering program director, and undergraduate coordinator for computer science, had a hand in developing the program, which went from a computer science minor in the Department of Mathematics into a major in 1983, and eventually into its own department in 1994. Brazier served as chair from 1995-2001.
"I saw an opportunity to try and create a major in computer science here. What I did in terms of creating the program, watching it, and helping it to grow I probably would not have had the opportunity to do anywhere else. I pretty much started it from the ground up," she said.
Another highlight for the program came in 2001 when it received CAC/ABET accreditation, which Brazier said is "a stamp of approval that your program measures up to other universities in the country."
The CAC (Computing Accreditation Commission) recommends accreditation criteria and conducts the accreditation process while ABET is the recognized accreditor for college and university programs in applied science, computing, engineering, and technology in the United States.
Brazier points to the placement of its graduates as another major accomplishment for the program. Many who have gone on to work for Fortune 500 companies - Exxon Mobil, IBM, Microsoft, Raytheon, Xerox, Boeing, Intel, and many more.
"With Career Services we have had major companies come and recruit here and we have placed students with major companies. I know where people go and it is quite an impressive list," Brazier said.
"We are just extremely proud of our students because they have really represented the University and the program really well," she added.
Eric Gonzalez, a Master of Science in Computer Science student who plans to graduate in fall 2009, said he decided to pursue his graduate studies at UTPA for its career placement opportunities in the program and because he was not through learning.
"Career Services is really involved in the program and the number of companies they are able to gather down here is quite impressive. I am really impressed with the resources of the University." Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez, a graduate from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, was recently named the UTPA College of Science and Engineering Outstanding Student of the Year and plans to intern at IBM in Austin this summer, one of many internship offers he had to choose from. In addition, he received a scholarship from Northrop Grumman, a leading global security company, and has already interviewed for a position with the company in Baltimore, Md.
"I thought if I did my master's I would get to work on more advanced projects and have a certain amount of confidence going into the work force," Gonzalez, a teacher assistant in the department, said. "I have liked it a lot and I think I have gained that here."
Jose M. Cavazos was the first to graduate from the program in 1984 during a time when few people had a computer science degree he said.
"There were few people with computer science degrees and most of those in the computer science fields had mathematics degrees. So, having that degree definitely gave me the upper-hand," Cavazos said.
Today, the Mission, Texas native works for Houston Independent School District as a data quality manager. Before moving to Houston he worked for Mission Consolidated Independent School District for 18 years as director of computer services.
Cavazos said it was an honor being the first student to graduate from the program and he will be eternally grateful to Brazier for helping him along the way. He is extremely proud of his alma mater and all the computer science program has accomplished in its 25 years Cavazos said.
"My birthday wish for the Department of Computer Science is that they continue being leaders in the field of technology and putting out the leaders that will shape the Rio Grande Valley and the world. This is a fine institution that can hold its own with any of the major universities in the U.S.," Cavazos said.
As far as what is next for the Department of Computer Science, Chen said he would like to establish a Ph.D. program in Computer Science at UTPA as well as add laboratories dedicated to computer science.
"We would like the administration to support the growth and enhancement of the computer science program to establish one introductory computer science lab for hands-on instruction on programming in the introductory courses, and four dedicated teaching and research labs for systems and architecture, networks and security lab, database and Web services, and computer applications," Chen said.
Chen said computer science and computer technologies have become part of people's daily lives, from the cars they drive to the movies they watch. He states it is virtually impossible nowadays to find any job that does not require any knowledge about computer science.
"Knowing computer science is a necessary skill for an educated person these days and in the future, no matter what career one may choose. Obtaining a degree in computer science will provide one with valuable knowledge that opens the doors to many types of lucrative careers. Jobs in computer science are among the highest paid and have the highest job satisfaction, and are very often associated with innovation. Advancements in computer science are the key to maintaining national competitiveness," Chen said.
To learn more about the Department of Computer Science, visit http://cs.utpa.edu/.