Campus News

Georgia Informatics Institute for Research, Education takes shape

UGA is building upon its established strengths in the interdisciplinary field of informatics by creating the Georgia Informatics Institute for Research and Education.

Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Pamela Whitten has charged a committee composed of several of the university’s informatics faculty members with developing content for a new undergraduate core curriculum in informatics that will be the basis of an Engineering Informatics Program and a model that other schools and colleges can adapt for their students.

Planning for a new graduate certificate and professional development programs also is underway, and up to nine new faculty members will be hired this year through a Presidential Informatics Hiring Initiative announced in July.

“An important role of a leading public research university is to look toward the future to identify grand challenges facing our state, nation and world,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “If approved by the faculty, this institute could expand UGA’s capacity to respond to these challenges in numerous ways.”

Larry Hornak, co-chair of the Georgia Informatics Institute committee and associate dean for research in the College of Engineering, noted that the breadth of informatics research on campus is reflected in the committee’s membership.

In addition to Hornak and co-chair Thiab Taha, a professor and head of the computer science department in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, committee members include associate professor of engineering Kyle Johnsen; Jessica Kissinger, director of UGA’s Institute of Bioinformatics and a professor of genetics in the Franklin College; William Kretzschmar, the Harry and Jane Willson Professor in Humanities in the English department; Professor Dawn Robinson in the sociology department; and Rick Watson, the J. Rex Fuqua Distinguished Professor for Internet Strategy in the Terry College of Business.

“Creating an institute will help bring activities across campus together in a way that creates new synergies and opportunities,” Hornak said. “We’re trying to find ways to infuse informatics research and education across campus.”

UGA has long been an international leader in informatics, a broad field that encompasses the collection, classification, storage, retrieval, analysis and dissemination of massive data sets.

Agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the Department of Homeland Security and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency have funded millions of dollars in informatics research at UGA in the past three years alone, particularly in the field of cybersecurity. In addition, UGA is home to the Georgia Advanced Computing Resource Center, which provides high-performance computing and networking infrastructure, a comprehensive collection of scientific, engineering and business applications, as well as consulting and training services.

Initially, the Georgia Informatics Institute will be responsible for the creation and administration of an informatics core curriculum that will serve as the basis for a graduate certificate in informatics, a new undergraduate minor in informatics and the academic foundation of discipline-specific informatics undergraduate programs.

“UGA is making significant investments in big data to keep our students and faculty on the leading edge of a field that is transforming disciplines ranging from health care to business,” Whitten said. “We already have some of the world’s leading informatics researchers on campus; we’re now building upon that foundation to take our research, instruction and outreach to the next level.”

The Georgia Informatics Institute, which will be housed in the College of Engineering but will work closely with each of the university’s schools and colleges, also will take a leadership role in the Informatics Across Campus Initiative that will facilitate the infusion of informatics-related programs throughout the university curriculum.

Taha noted that demand for courses in cybersecurity and big data is so high that they reach capacity within the first few days of registration.

“Our students have their pick of jobs after graduation,” Taha said, “and some of them have secured a job a year prior to graduation.”