The Northerner | Directors and program leaders comment on new College of Informatics schools

The new semester brings a turning point for the Computer Science School, which will begin to include two new faculties. All existing courses are now combined in the School of Computing and Analytics or the School of Media and Communication.

The School of Computing and Analytics includes the courses Information Systems & Analytics (business informatics, health informatics, library informatics), Computer Science & Software Engineering (applied software engineering, computer science, data science) and Cybersecurity & Information Technology. The master’s degree programs in business informatics, health informatics and cybersecurity are also combined in the faculty.

The School of Media and Communication consists of Communication & Public Relations (Communication Science, Health Communication, Public Relations and a Masters in Communication) and Media & Journalism (3D Digital Design and Visual Effects, Electronic Media and Broadcasting, Journalism).

According to Kevin Kirby, dean of the College of Informatics, the reorganization aims to improve COI programs and increase clarity for prospective students. It follows the model of the existing University of the Arts, which used to consist of three separate departments: Theater & Dance, Music and Fine Arts.

“We have a College of Informatics — although some people don’t know what computer science is — and then we have three faculties,” Kirby said. “We thought, ‘Well, why don’t we combine two of them around computing and analytics, bring these people together, and then improve communications and media?'”

Kirby hopes that bringing diverse people from different disciplines together will give them new ideas about curriculum, research projects, student engagement, international affairs, and interaction with other colleges. It will also help break down barriers between disciplines, so for example a journalism professor with an interest in data journalism can get a call into the area of ​​the faculty focused on databases and analytics.

Two directors will be in charge of the schools. Traian Marius Truta, previously deputy chair of the Department of Computer Science, is interim director of the School of Computing and Analytics. The Chair of the Department of Communications, Stephen Yungbluth, is now the Interim Director of the School of Media and Communication.

The new schools are currently in the pilot year awaiting approval from President Ashish Vaidya and the Board of Regents. Kirby and the new principals assure that the reorganization will not result in any direct or immediate changes to the curriculum, graduation requirements, timetables or faculty.

“This is primarily a reorganization of the faculty levels,” said Truta. “The impact [on students] is as good as non-existent.”

In fact, the founding of the new schools primarily affects the faculty and staff structures at the administrative level. A program manager now oversees each program – which consists of multiple degrees – within the schools.

Rasib Khan is the Program Director of Computer Science & Software Engineering, Tony Tsetse is the Director of Cybersecurity & Information Technology and Crystal Summers is the Director of Information Systems & Analytics. Within the School of Media and Communication, Zach Hart is responsible for Communication & Public Relations and Sara Drabik for Media & Journalism.

According to Yungbluth, such a reorganization shifts the workload away from the department head, making work distribution more manageable for everyone involved. The school principal’s responsibilities aren’t all that different from those of a department head, he said, such as reviewing programs and faculty performance. But in his new position he now has more freedom to take on other tasks.

Yungbluth is looking forward to figuring out what he always wanted to do as a department head but never found the time and spending more time on strategic initiatives rather than managing day-to-day operations. One of his priorities is planning class schedules well in advance so that students are more aware of when certain courses are offered and can plan their schedules accordingly.

For Kirby, the biggest impact of the new schools is that Northern Kentucky University will stand out from other universities. The COI ties at the hip with other NKU colleges and works with other NKU characteristics such as SOTA and the Health Innovation Center to elevate the institution, he said.

As the new model goes into pilot operation, he looks forward to seeing the new leadership settle into their positions.

“You have young faculty members who have never been leaders before, and suddenly they can design programs. It’s really nice to see that: they have all this creative energy that we’re unleashing,” Kirby said.

Rasib Khan joined NKU in 2016 as an Associate Professor specializing in Cybersecurity. He has been involved in several initiatives for the Department of Cybersecurity, Chair of the Pre-Proposal Committee and was offered the position of Program Director for Computer Science & Software Engineering in July. In addition to overseeing all majors and minors in the program, he maintains and updates the school’s website.

“Right now there are a lot of moving parts, a lot of roles that are being defined and redefined,” Khan said, adding that the overlap of areas within the school will allow for collaboration between faculties and increase managerial efficiencies.

Sarah Drabik was Director of Programs for Electronic Media and Broadcasting before being offered the position of Program Director, a role she takes for granted. While her responsibilities as program director are still being discussed, she is involved in creating and scheduling classes, enrolling students, conducting tours, attending recruitment events, and connecting students with faculty who may further their interest.

“I see it as a service role for the faculty, for the college, and most of the time I’m just there to help the rest of the faculty in my program teach their classes to the best of their ability and work with their students to keep everything organized hold,” she said.

With the new schools practically in the works, the journey ahead will not be without its obstacles. Kirby points to competition from other universities and declining enrollments as the biggest challenges COI will face going forward. Other challenges include keeping the curriculum up to date and providing students with a state-of-the-art education that can prepare them for graduation in areas that are constantly evolving.

“You hear the dean talk about a school being more of a target, so [the challenge is] making sure that we are indeed a destination, that we can live up to that sense of a name and what it offers,” said Yungbluth. “It sounds more prestigious, but if there’s nothing to back it up, it could become meaningless.”

For Truta, the challenge is making sure everyone knows who to contact and how things will be from that moment on.

“By trying out this model, we hope to lay the groundwork for a real college transformation in the years to come,” Truta said. “We’re trying to streamline how it works, and we’re trying to increase the visibility of the schools outside of the NKU.”

The COI also brings in internal grants and consults with board members, company representatives, employers and stakeholders to develop new ideas for using the schools.

“I think the most important thing about schools is just a foundation,” Kirby added. “They alone will not change the world, but they make change much easier and much faster.”

Echoing that sentiment, Drabik hopes to put a good face on the programs for everyone in the community, both at NKU and beyond.

“We do a lot and not everyone understands that. Our students and faculty have won so many awards, worked on so many projects, and helped with so many nonprofits in the community. They have left such a footprint in the region and I look forward to seeing that more widely known,” she said. “I’m excited that this new structure can make it easier for us to do even cooler things and make even more of an impact.”

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