Weekly Memo

March 16, 2015

Dear members of the Hajim School community:

   Henry Kautz, Professor of Computer Science, was formally installed as the Robin and Tim Wentworth Director of the Institute for Data Science on Thursday. Henry is a great choice to lead our data science initiative for many reasons. For example, as President Joel Seligman noted, when you’re looking for support for data science in Albany, you don’t get very far talking about complex algorithms. It makes all the difference in the world, however, when you can tell lawmakers that the director of your institute is nationally recognized as one of the 10 leading scholars in artificial intelligence. Thanks, Henry, for taking on this challenge! And thanks to the Wentworths, who recognize that the university’s data science initiative will be a “force multiplier” in attracting talented faculty, top students, and additional philanthropic support -- and, above all, in “branding and distinguishing” us as a university that can indeed impact our world.

   Rettner Hall is truly coming into its own as a 24/7 gathering place for students of all disciplines to study together, share ideas, and engage in fun projects. On a recent Sunday evening 50 students were scattered through the Multipurpose Learning Center, the Digital Media Lab, and informal gathering areas on every floor.

    They included members of the UR Makers student group, working on a cabinet and LED sign in the  Fabrication Studio on the first floor. The goal of UR Makers is to bring together engineering, arts, and sciences students who like to design and build things – and want to learn how to use a variety of tools as they do so. Not for a class. Not for credit. Just for the fun of it.  This is the club's first year, and already it has hosted several fun activities, including a "retro tear down" event and mouse trap car races. Read more here. The group, which is definitely interested in recruiting more members, can be contacted at URmakersclub@gmail.com.

   EAS 141 -- our basic mechanical fabrication course for freshmen and sophomores -- is among Hajim School classes now making use of Rettner Hall's facilities. Jim Alkins, the senior laboratory engineer who recently joined our staff after 33 years at Kodak, teaches the basic skills of using lathes, drill presses, mills and band saws in the Fabrication Shop. As Associate Dean Jim Zavislan notes, even with the current emphasis on computer assisted design, an understanding of how things are fabricated remains important for engineering students. You can read more about EAS 141 here.
   And mark your calendars: From 5 p.m. Friday, April 3, to noon on Sunday, April 5 -- yes, the same weekend as Passover and Easter -- the University's second spring hackathon will be held in Rettner Hall. DandyHacks will give student teams access to the fabrication shop, Makerbots and an assortment of hand tools and electronics equipment -- plus food -- to work on hardware or software projects of their choice, then pitch them to a panel of judges for prizes. In others words, "free food, free stuff, cool people, fun time," says Jack Valinsky '17, who is organizing the event. Open to all students, the event will have a 1920s jazz era theme, including a social dance. Definitely sounds like fun! Contact Jack or the DandyHacks team for more information, or sign up here.

    I'd like to extend a warm welcome to Nick Valentino, formerly an Assistant Director of the Kearns Center (and before that, a Counselor in the Financial Aid Office), who has joined the Hajim School Dean’s Office staff as an Academic Counselor and Coordinator of our STEM-Gems Program. Nick is charged with increasing the recruitment, retention and graduation of Hajim School undergraduates who are historically at-risk of not completing an engineering or computer science degree. This includes setting strategic priorities for this population, and working with relevant on- and off- campus offices and student organizations to help the School meet its goals. Let's give Nick all the support we can as he takes on this all-important task!

    Prof. Shaw Chen, Asst. Prof. Alex Shestopalov and Prof. David Wu, all of Chemical Engineering, and Jack Baron ’83 (Biochemistry), President and COO of SweetWater Energy and a member of our Dean’s Advisory Committee, participated in a recent “Science Roundtable” discussion hosted by Evan Dawson on WXXI, a Rochester public radio station. The discussion centered on the motivation and potential for biofuels to fulfill part of our energy needs and the possibilities of using plant-based feedstock as raw material for the broader chemical industry. Click here to listen to the full broadcast.

     The next Engineering Inclusive Teaching webinar, from 1 to 2 p.m. March 25, will present research-based tools and tactics to mitigate the impact of stereotypes of all kinds on student learning, performance and representation. This free webinar, facilitated by Catherine Good, an Associate Professor of Psychology at Baruch College, is especially timely given the Hajim School's emphasis on creating an inclusive learning environment. Register here; contact Jenny Hadingham, Assistant Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning, if you have any questions.
    As always, keep me updated and have a great week.


Robert L. Clark
Professor and Dean