Students in a laboratory setting.
Students in the lab of Caroline Budwell, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer science. (Photo courtesy of VCU College of Engineering)

College of Engineering at VCU to offer new Ph.D. in computer science

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The College of Engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University will offer a new doctoral program in computer science. This program reflects the Department of Computer Science’s robust growth in research funding and scholarship. It follows new doctoral programs in pharmaceutical engineering (a joint program with the School of Pharmacy) and chemical and life science engineering

“The ability to award a Ph.D. in a scientific discipline like computer science speaks to the accomplishments of our faculty in research and teaching at all levels of academic learning. This is particularly important in the era of COVID. Universities like VCU must provide the next generation of qualified faculty needed to ensure that we can educate the workforce for the digital economy       that has made it possible for us to rapidly respond to situations like the pandemic and will continue to fuel the 21st century,” said Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., the Alice T. and William H. Goodwin Jr. Dean of the VCU College of Engineering.

Previously, computer science students at VCU could earn a Ph.D. in engineering with a concentration in computer science. Now, these students can earn a Ph.D. in computer science, approved by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia in light of the department’s growth in faculty-led graduate student research.

“Computer science has experienced significant enrollment growth at all levels in recent years with dramatic increases in the numbers of women and underrepresented minorities. Building on that success, the department has a larger pool of students interested in the graduate program,” said Gregory E. Triplett, Ph.D., senior associate dean for academic affairs in the college.

The program will welcome its first cohort in the fall. It will offer students opportunities to conduct advanced research in areas including cybersecurity, data science, bioinformatics, machine learning and software engineering, as well as in distributed, high-performance and mobile computing.

Students will receive mentorship from accomplished faculty members, many of whom have received recognition in computational sciences, including induction as fellows of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.

In addition, the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security recently named Virginia Commonwealth University a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Research. The program promotes both education and research in cyber defense to reduce vulnerability in the national information and industrial infrastructure.

Krzysztof “Krys” Cios, Ph.D.,  a professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science, put the new doctoral program in the context of the department’s overall growth in recent years.

“When I joined VCU in 2007, my goal was to strengthen computer science undergraduate and graduate programs. We modernized our undergraduate curriculum and introduced specialty concentrations for both undergraduate and graduate students. Enriching our programs was a steppingstone for obtaining the [National Security Agency] designations of academic excellence in both education and research,” Cios said. “Having a Ph.D. program in computer science will help us to attract top doctoral students, as well as faculty members. We worked hard on achieving this goal for the last few years and are pleased to have succeeded in having it approved by SCHEV.”    

Students in this program will be among the first cohorts of researchers to work in the college’s new Engineering Research Building. The entire second floor of the 133,000-square-foot facility is dedicated to cutting-edge, collaborative research in computer science.

Tomasz Arodz, Ph.D., associate professor and director of graduate programs in computer science at VCU, said these resources, plus the new doctorate, will greatly enrich an already strong program.

“Doctoral students in our department are getting a first-class education and mentorship. They are publishing in top journals and presenting at major conferences. Just this past year, our student was featured in Forensics Focus. Another won a prestigious Computational and Data Science Fellowship from the Association for Computing Machinery,” Arodz said. “Upon earning their doctorates, our alumni continue in academia or as postdocs at institutions such as the National Institutes of Health, Carnegie Mellon and Princeton. Others are finding jobs in industry, including with top Virginia companies and high-tech giants like Amazon, Google and Microsoft.”