Letter from Dean Mary C. Boyce

The start of a school year is always a time of new beginnings, and we have many exciting developments happening this fall.

As you know, President Bollinger recently launched the Columbia Commitment Campaign, which includes many areas that directly intersect with engineering, particularly Climate Response, the Future of Neuroscience, Precision Medicine, and Data and Society. Our Columbia Engineering for Humanity vision aligns with the campaign and provides us an additional opportunity to illustrate how the engineering, applied science, and technology being pioneered at Columbia make a direct and profound societal impact. As we roll out our vision, we continue to highlight this groundbreaking work. In this issue, we again feature five faculty members who bring this vision to life by striving to create a more sustainable, healthy, secure, connected, and creative world.

In parallel, the impact that data is having on society cannot be underestimated. Our School’s ongoing investment in this area was underscored in May when the Data Science Institute, an Engineering brainchild, was elevated to a University-wide platform. In concert with this transition, Jeannette Wing, previously vice president of Microsoft Research, has come on board as the Avanessians Director of Data Science. We spoke with Jeannette about her plans for the Institute and her ideas about the role of data in the world today.

One area where data is having a transformative effect is finance. Financial technology—or “fintech”—is making progress toward an environment where financial transactions and investments are more efficient, transparent, and accessible. Our location in a global financial capital makes for an ideal setting to conduct research leading to innovation that will ultimately benefit us all. In this issue, we spotlight faculty and alumni who are working to reimagine and improve financial systems: Agostino Capponi develops algorithms that enable robot portfolio advisors; Shipra Agrawal studies reinforcement learning and online optimization for better revenue management and resource allocation; Garud Iyengar and Vishal Misra are looking at risk and security in the cyber insurance marketplace; and Allison Bishop is working with an alternative stock exchange to pursue fairness and transparency in trading. In companion pieces, we focus on three alumni—Armen Avanessians MS’83, Thomas Fortin BS’86, and Eric Poirier BS’04—who are bringing their expertise to this field.

We also interviewed alumni and Columbia supporters who have taken engineering into new fields. Jon Oringer MS’99, founder and CEO of Shutterstock, transformed a common work frustration into a NASDAQ-listed company with headquarters in the Empire State Building. Michael Donovan, a Columbia parent and pioneer in the area of advertising technology, has generously established, along with his wife, Linda, The Donovan Family Professorship to recruit and support a senior faculty member in the Department of Computer Science—Professor Christos Papadimitriou, a world-leading authority in computational theory.

We continue to encourage innovation through our programming, infrastructure, and facilities. The Translational Fellows Program is dedicated to helping put the next generation of entrepreneurs on the road to commercializing research done at Columbia. Our expanded Clean Room is now open, and major renovations are underway in our chemical engineering and earth and environmental engineering research labs. Also in progress is a major renovation to the Computer Science building that includes the creation of an inviting, window-filled “engineering walk” leading to the Mudd building.

As much as things evolve, we remain rooted in our central education and research mission. This fall, I welcomed one of the most talented and diverse first-year classes to our School, as well as 15 remarkable new faculty members, bringing to 78 the number of new faculty hires in the past four years. Our continued success in attracting the best and brightest is in large part due to the strength of our ever-growing and ever-evolving Columbia community, of which you are an integral part.

Mary Cunningham Boyce
Dean of Engineering
Morris A. and Alma Schapiro Professor