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Celebrating 50 Years of Computer Science

From Punch Cards to Innovation Campus
Five decades. Half a century. More than 7,000 graduates. 

We have much to celebrate collectively, and cannot wait to share what tomorrow's landscape looks like in an amazing decade of growth. The department would not be here without the vision and dedication of so many, and find it important to honor those solid foundations. 

Although we would like to celebrate this milestone in person, it is not in the best interest of safety to do so at this time. As we plan for a safe future celebration held on campus, alumni and friends can reminisce with the below virtual programming that will be made public each month:

Learn more about where the department has been and where it is headed in this special message from Dean Ross and Department Head Cal Ribbens! 

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Watch the recording below to hear how the department and computer science has changed over the years from a panel of faculty, moderated by Cal Ribbens! 

Panelists included: Dwight BarnetteEd Fox, and Barbara Ryder.

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How in the world did VT come to utilize Apple Lisa’s running Unix System 5 at that time? 

  • Answered live at minute 21

  • Resource from Ed Fox on this decision: E. Fox and S. Birch. UNIX Micros for Students Majoring in Computer Science and Personal Information Retrieval. Microcomputers for Information Management, 1986, 3(1): 15-29.

How long did the Apple computer requirement last?  In 1993 we had to buy Unix DecStations.

  • Requirement was from Apple for about 5 years, I think.

Over your tenure with the VT CS program, what changes surprised you the most about the program? And what changes surprised you the most in the industry? 

  • Answered live at minute 24

  • The growth in our major population (due to the web explosion in the 1990s) and the decrease due to  the dot com  bubble and now growth again due to ML/AI/Security.

So is coding part of the core curriculum for all students? 

  • Answered live at minute 26

  • Yes, programming is still at the core of the curriculum. I don't see that changing anytime soon. But we are stressing to the students how they can take their degree and do a lot more than just program. I've even written a couple of law school recommendations over the years. I'm sure those people are now in IP law making lots of money.

  • A lot of majors do require their students to take some programming. Some of the departments teach their own form of programming specific to their field. We also serve about 2K non-majors each year. 

What’s being done by the department to encourage young women to study CS? 

  • Answered live at minute 30

  • One thing we are doing to support women is to get them more forward facing time in the department. To that end, since I manage the UTA program I go out of my way to recruit and hire our female majors.

How has the identity of CS@VT changed over the past three decades? What’s on the horizon? 

  • Answered at minute 38

  • The horizon is here. We have growing the undergrad population due to the Amazon East Coast HQ here in VA the past couple of years, and we will be continuing to grow for the next several years to produce enough grads for Amazon. With undergrad growth also comes faculty & staff growth.

How much have we infused ethics into the curriculum, such as the ethical and responsible application of AI? I remember only having one course that covered the topic (professionalism course) which also included resume writing, communication, etc. When we think about diversity and eliminating bias, there’s an important confluence with the humanities. 

  • Answered at minute 46

  • The new core curriculum includes ethics across several courses (including in major), but honestly, we need to do a lot more.  As you know, fairness in AI and related topics is a big deal and is a research area itself.

  • We have tried to expand ethics throughout the program. The ABET reviews we go through about every 5 years says we are doing ok with it, but I think we need to address it even more. 

Any advice for (re)entering academia after a time in industry, whether continuing to PhD and/or teaching?

  • We have positions for Prof. of Practice for people transitioning from industry to academia.

  • My advice is to just take a course or two and see if you like it and get fired up about a new topic.

When do you expect that CS will have its own building and move back to campus? 

  • A building is now under construction!  We move back to campus from the CRC in summer 2022.

As computer science encompasses ever more sub-specialties, does anybody foresee a time when it grows too big for a single department?

  • I don't think so. Look at some other older fields that have grown over the centuries and yet all universities still have Math, Physics, etc. departments.

George and Anne Gorsline
George and Anne Gorsline

Anne Gorsline was known as the founding mom of the Computer Science Department. Read the story of George and Anne Gorsline, the dynamic duo, who opened their hearts and homes to countless students and friends at Virginia Tech.

Department photo archives

Take a walk down memory lane with photos collected over the years and alumni memory submissions!

This virtual panel will be made public on March 15, 2021 at 9:00am ET. Alumni from each decade will share their perspective of what it was like to be a student within the department at the time. 

Panelists include:
Steve Choquette ('79)
Chris Bryan ('87)
Jeff Bogdan ('91)
Jaishankar Sundararaman ('08)

Step away from your screen and participate in our virtual 5K with alumni from around the world on March 20-21! Register to receive a special t-shirt and decal designed by computer science students, Jonah Bishop and Alyssa Farrell, in time to wear it for the race. This swag pack will be mailed to the address you provide at checkout.

t-shirt designed by CS Student, Jonah Bishop
Designed by Jonah Bishop
sticker designed by CS Student Alyssa Farrell
Designed by Alyssa Farrell

Registration for the event is $30. Each registration fee includes a $10 donation to the Computer Science Department Annual Fund. You are supporting student groups and activities, such as experiential learning and departmental growth.

Be sure to post your race times in our Facebook group!

Prefer not to run or walk a 5K? Try out these equivalent workouts:

  • 20k bike
  • 1.5K swim
  • 6.25K rowing 

Register now! Registration will remain open through March 22. Those registrations received between February 16-March 22 will be mailed after registration closes.

Take a "walk" through our Virtual Student Showcase anytime after April 15, 2021 at 9:00am ET to see what our student groups and researchers have been up to! Register to receive the link.

A list of student groups and student research projects will be shared soon.

The department is celebrating 50 alumni for our 50th anniversary! Check back periodically for more spotlights here

Video to celebrate 50th Anniversary
See how the department has grown over the years and what the future holds in this video. Click the image to watch.
Hokie Class of 1970 Playlist
Listen to the Hokie Class of 1970 playlist on Spotify by clicking the image above.
Virginia Tech Innovation Campus video
Learn more about Virginia Tech's Innovation Campus in this video. Click the image to watch.
Two Truths and a Lie
See if you can guess which fun fact about the faculty is a lie! Click the image to take the quiz.
Circa 1974, students line the hallways of McBryde Hall waiting to get into the punch card room.
Read the VT News article about our celebration by clicking the image above.

For additional information, please reach out to Hayley Roulston, alumni relations coordinator.