Head of CS moves to NSF directorate

In four months, the School of Computer Science will be missing an integral part of its hard drive. As of July 1, Jeannette Wing, president’s professor and head of the department of computer science, will be taking a temporary leave of absence from Carnegie Mellon to fill another position. Wing has been chosen by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as the assistant director of the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate.

After joining the Carnegie Mellon faculty in 1985, Wing served five years as the School of Computer Science’s associate dean for academic affairs, overseeing and standardizing the school’s nine doctoral and 12 master’s programs. She spent the following nine years as associate department head for the doctoral program in computer science. In 2004, she was named president’s professor and department head and has held that position ever since.

“She has a boundless energy and enthusiasm that she brings to everything she does,” said Randal Bryant, dean of the School of Computer Science. “She is a leader, researcher, and professor who has the unique ability to speak for the whole computer science community.”

As director of Carnegie Mellon’s Specification and Verification Center, Wing conducts new research every day, focusing on formal methods and their application to safety and mission critical systems. She has made great advances in various areas of computer science, including abstract data types and concurrent systems. In addition, she has authored more than 100 publications and presented more than 200 speeches based on her original research.

Most recently, she has become interested in computing with a focus on software security. She is especially interested in how system components not originally designed to work together can lead to surprising behavior when combined.

“Her research is very well-regarded and widely recognized by the academic community and by the industry,” said Carnegie Mellon President Jared L. Cohon. “Jeanette has been a central figure in the University’s excellent relationship with Microsoft.”

During her time at Carnegie Mellon, Wing has greatly enhanced the Carnegie Mellon experience for students in the department of computer science through her administrative skills, revamping of the curricula, and the development of a distance-learning program.

In terms of education, Wing keeps two things in mind: keeping curricula fresh, up-to-date, and relevant, and ensuring that people get their fundamentals, she stated in a July 2006 article in IEEE Spectrum. If a student has strong foundations, he or she can do practically anything, she believes.
Wing is not only focused on education at Carnegie Mellon but has a strong interest in sparking elementary and high school students’ interest in math and science.

“She is very passionate about education,” Cohon said. “She has been a leading proponent of what she calls ‘computational literacy’ for all, starting with school-age children. She is an excellent role model for women in science and engineering, and she is a staunch advocate for sustaining diversity in all of its dimensions.”

Although a realistic thinker, Wing clearly stated that she has a grand vision for the world. She admits that she is partly biased, coming from computer science. But in her ideal world, she would have everyone be able to think computationally, Wing said in IEEE Spectrum.

“Carnegie Mellon is very proud of Jeanette and her appointment at NSF to one of the most important and influential positions in the information technology world,” Cohon said.

Since its creation in 1950, NSF has been one of the leading independent organizations responsible for distributing the majority of federal funding in mathematics, computer science, and the social sciences. The NSF receives an annual budget of approximately $5.58 million, some of which goes towards backing about 20 percent of all federally supported research conducted at colleges and universities.

In her new role, Wing will be responsible for determining the breakdown of a $527 million budget that finances approximately 86 percent of all federally funded research in computer science. She will also be appropriating money and resources toward educating and training future computer scientists and engineers.

When Wing assumes her role in the NSF directorate, she will join a line of Carnegie Mellon faculty and alumni who have occupied the position. Peter Freeman, who currently holds the position, received his Ph.D. in computer science at Carnegie Mellon in 1970. Freeman’s predecessors include William Wulf, a former member of the computer science faculty, and Gordon Bell, who taught both computer science and electrical engineering at Carnegie Mellon.

“We have a history of Carnegie Mellon faculty occupying this role with NSF and we are glad that it will now be in her hands,” Bryant said. “It is such an important position for computer science.”

As for who will replace Wing for the time she is away from campus, SCS is forming a search committee to find and hire a new candidate by the beginning of July.

“It will be difficult for us to lose her, even for a limited period,” Cohon said. “We look forward to her return after she completes her NSF service.”