The Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) welcomed two new leaders on July 1, 2021 with the appointments of Tony Givargis as chair of the Computer Science Department and Melissa Mazmanian as chair of the Informatics Department. Both start their three-year term with more than a decade of experience in ICS, a great appreciation for their predecessors, and excitement about the prospect of leading faculty and students to success in cutting-edge research and education with real-world impact.
Computer Science Chair: Tony Givargis
“I am really excited and honored to be the next chair of the CS Department,” says Givargis, who first joined the UCI faculty in 2001 after earning his Ph.D. in computer science from the University of California, Riverside. An expert in the area of embedded systems, his research emphasis is on system software, advanced compilation for targeted applications, computational storage devices, accelerators and high dimensional computing. He has authored over 100 peer-reviewed papers, co-authored two popular textbooks, and received several awards for his research and teaching, including the ACM SIGDA Technical Leadership Award and the ICS Dean’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. He has also served in several leadership positions, including ICS associate dean for student affairs (2011-2016) and CS vice chair (2018-2021).
At the same time, he excels in bridging the gap between academia and application. He is a named inventor on 13 U.S. patents and is co-founder of Levyx, an Irvine-based startup company focused on enterprise big data software.
Givargis takes the reins from Alex Nicolau, who served as department chair for eight years, successfully hiring more than 15 new faculty members and managing a threefold increase in undergraduate enrollment as well as an expansion of the Ph.D. program. “I consider myself lucky, and grateful, to be next in line after Alex Nicolau,” says Givargis, “as he has set a high bar for excellence in hiring, among other things, and has paved the way for continued growth and development.”
Givargis plans to continue the excellence in hiring and growth of enrollment, particularly at the graduate level. “One of my highest priorities is to continue bringing in outstanding faculty and Ph.D. students,” he says. “I also want us to become better at promoting ourselves and gaining the national and international visibility that we deserve, given the great work that we’re doing.”
With more than 58 research faculty and approximately 200 doctoral and 250 master’s students, the Computer Science Department is at the cutting edge of research. The department is particularly proud of its many distinguished faculty, which include Bren, National Academy of Engineering and Academia Europaea Professors as well as numerous AAAS, ACM and IEEE Fellows.
“Our faculty are engaged in a variety of core research areas, including artificial intelligence, machine learning, theory of computation, computer architecture, embedded systems, computer graphics, computer networks, data management and mining, computer security, computational biology and biomedical informatics,” says Givargis. “Whether solving challenges of the modern data-driven world using computer algorithms, crafting rigorous proofs about problems dealing with computers and their applications, building next-generation software and hardware systems and accelerators, or transforming the ability of responding organizations to disseminate information to the general public in emergencies, CS faculty are making a difference.”
Many of these research projects are interdisciplinary work of great significance to national and international interests. Examples of collaborative work include understanding the relation between cognitive abilities and computational modeling, revolutionizing individual health by building personalized computer models that are enriched with sophisticated sensing capabilities, and understanding privacy and security implications of ubiquitous Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
“We have an incredible department that is home to outstanding researchers, educators and students,” says Givargis. “I look forward to working with each and every member of the department as well as the school in helping to build and promote us to the highest levels.”
Informatics Chair: Melissa Mazmanian
Mazmanian first joined UCI faculty in the Department of Informatics in 2009, after earning a Ph.D. in organization studies from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has served ICS in a variety of roles, including as vice chair for graduate affairs in informatics and as a representative on the UCI Academic Senate. Through her research, she has explored communication practices in personal and organizational contexts, specifically in relation to social norms and the nature of personal and professional time in the digital age. As she moves into her new role, she is acutely aware of the global pandemic’s effects on social norms, work/life integration, and the dramatic disruption people have experienced in their everyday lives.
“My immediate goals as the new department chair are to think about how to consciously and proactively regroup as a department after this time apart, recognizing that we have been through a collective trauma of various degrees,” she admits. “We need to have care and empathy in coming back together so we can reaffirm ourselves as a community and create energy and excitement around what we do and why we do it.”
As she starts to view the department from a wider lens, she is already impressed by the community around her. “What excites me about the position is looking around at my colleagues and seeing the incredibly relevant issues they are studying — orienting to games as educational and critical social spaces; engaging accessibility at all stages of technology design and use; rethinking the future of work; confronting thorny issues around ethics and AI; building stable and secure software, and so much more,” says Mazmanian. “Technology will continue to revolutionize our physical, social, and individual worlds, and the Informatics Department is the space for not just designing and building but also examining the deep moral implications of these changes.”
Her predecessor, Andre van der Hoek, helped expand the department’s focus, increasing faculty expertise in areas such as gaming, health, accessibility and learning. At the same time, he maintained the department’s core strengths in software engineering; human computer interaction; and science, technology, and society.
“One of the many things he did for the department was take a proactive role in nominating faculty for different awards, which is no small task. That’s something that I definitely want to continue in his stead,” says Mazmanian. “It is part of the department chair’s responsibility to lift up those around them. Although not everything will come through, there’s no chance if you don’t have someone behind your back blowing a little window into those sales.”
Earlier this year, thanks to van der Hoek’s nomination, Mazmanian received a Chancellor’s Fellowship. “It was an incredible honor to be named a Chancellor’s Fellow and I was really surprised,” she says. “I didn’t even know I had been nominated until I received it!” The fellowship is designed to reward mid-career scholars while encouraging them to continue their research, so it’s clear Mazmanian plans to remain active in her own research, even as she starts managing the Informatics Department.
She’s particularly excited about the department’s fall rollout of the Game Design and Interactive Media (GDIM) major. “It can appeal to a broader array of young people who are interested in both creating games and understanding their effect on society.” She’s also interested in seeing the work that comes out of the newly established Steckler Center for Responsible, Ethical, and Accessible Technology (CREATE). “It’s really exciting for the Informatics Department to be part of CREATE and to have the capacity to host these important conversations about organizational ethics, AI, accessibility in computing, and so forth,” she says. “This center is focused on understanding technology through lenses that will expose some of the most pressing moral and ethical questions of the day. Bringing together people engaged in these issues is one of the places that Informatics can add value to the school, the university, and the world more broadly.”
“Both the faculty and students in this department are primed to do insightful and cutting-edge work,” she adds. “I look forward to supporting that as much as possible for the next few years.”
— Shani Murray