The first computer on the Missouri S&T campus — a Librascope General Precision, or LGP-30 — was about the size of two desks. Its memory was nonexistent. It retailed for $47,000, or about $400,000 in today’s dollars.
It was worth the price, too. That first computer sowed the seeds of the computer science program at Missouri S&T, the first of its kind in Missouri and a national leader in the field.
To celebrate, Missouri S&T is kicking off a Golden Jubilee celebration marking 50 years (or 110010 years in binary code) of its computer science degree program, says Pam Leitterman, who earned a bachelor of science degree in mathematics from the university in 1975 and is president of the Academy of Computer Science. The celebration will last through the fall 2015 and spring 2016 semesters.
From acorn to oak
Larry Clark and Robert DeLozier were the first to earn master of science degrees in computer science in 1965 — and scores have followed in their footsteps.
The first computer science class was taught in 1957, and the university’s Computer Center was founded in 1959 with a grant from the National Science Foundation. Dr. Ralph Lee, a professor of mathematics, was the center’s first director. A master’s degree in computer science was authorized in 1964, with a bachelor’s degree authorized two years later. In January 1969, the computer science department was formally organized, and Dr. Billy E. Gillett was its first chair, a position he served in until 1972. In 1976, the Ph.D. program was authorized, and in October 1977, Patricia McAdams became the first Missouri S&T computer science Ph.D. graduate.
This fall, the department has more than 550 undergraduate students, and computer science is the second-largest major on campus behind only mechanical engineering.
“We doubled our enrollment in the last five years,” says Dr. Sajal Das, professor and chair of computer science and Daniel C. St. Clair Endowed Chair of computer science at Missouri S&T. “We graduate about 60 to 65 students per year, which will grow in the next two to three years due to the enrollment growth. We have about 140 graduate students, including masters and Ph.D. students.”
The Golden Jubilee celebration is held in conjunction with Homecoming, with events planned for Oct. 22 and 23. It’s a time to celebrate the past, present and future of computer science at Missouri S&T while engaging with students, faculty, alumni and industry partners. It’s also a time to promote the achievements of, and partnership opportunities with computer science and Missouri S&T.
The jubilee kicks off Thursday evening, Oct. 22, with a recognition dinner for Dr. Arlan DeKock, who joined the faculty in 1968 as a professor of computer science and spent 38 years at Missouri S&T. He was department chair from 1981 to 1993 and was the founding dean of the former School of Management and Information Systems.
DeKock has seen it all — including early resistance.
He says the chair of physics at the time said, “Majoring in computer science was like majoring in slide rule.”
Luckily for Missouri S&T and its computer science alumni, leaders such as Lee and DeKock were looking to the future.
On Friday morning, Oct. 23, Academy of Computer Science members will lead alumni on a tour of the Computer Science Building.
And on Friday afternoon, CEO and founder of Emotiv Lifesciences Tan Le will launch the department’s speaker series with her keynote speech, “The Future is Closer Than You Think.” A global computer science pacesetter, Le has developed a brain-computer interface, which you can see in her TED Talk video. She will speak at 3 p.m., Friday in Leach Theatre in Castleman Hall, 10th and Main streets in Rolla. The presentation is free, but tickets are required.
After Le’s speech, videos of winning Hackathon for Humanity (H4H) projects will be shown in Leach Theatre. The Hackathon, which ran Sept. 3-21, pitted teams of alumni and students competing to help society through computing.
“The primary goal was to engage both our alumni and our students by having them collaborate on mixed teams creating apps for the common good,” says Dr. Daniel Tauritz, associate professor of computer science and H4H coordinator.
“The Golden Jubilee Celebration is truly a landmark for us,” Das says. “It is highly significant because not many computer science departments in the nation have yet celebrated their 50th anniversary. We are among the cohorts of MIT, Stanford, Cornell, Georgia Tech and the like. This means Missouri S&T was visionary to start its computer science program pretty early and build its reputation over the years.”
To say the department is resting on its laurels would be a mistake. It’s looking ever forward, with eyes focused on not just what’s innovative today, but also on what the innovations of the future will be.
“Smart computing is our theme and part of our strategic vision in the Golden Jubilee,” Das says. “S&T has chosen Smart Living as a signature area that originated from the computer science department and is supported by our academy. Smart Living extends the reach of computer science into societal relevance.”