From Big Data to Big Ideas: Institute's Inaugural Symposium Brings Together Top Researchers and Tech Industry Leaders at Columbia

Data research centers to focus on key areas of local and global economy from cybersecurity and new media to finance, health care and sustainable cities.

Apr 05 2013

Media Contacts

Holly Evarts
Beth Kwon

NEW YORK, April 5, 2013 — At its first symposium on the promise and challenges of “big data” to our economy and society, Columbia University’s new Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering announced partnerships with tech industry leaders including Bloomberg LP, Google, Mediaocean and Microsoft.

The day featured faculty researchers with pioneering expertise in the mission-critical fields that the new institute will explore, including cybersecurity, health analytics, smart cities, financial analytics and new media. Several of these fields — particularly media, finance and health care — have long been mainstays of New York City’s global economic leadership. Recent news has also highlighted the significance of cybersecurity as the nation’s private companies and public institutions have been found highly vulnerable to digital intrusion.

“This symposium is the first in an exciting series of initiatives and events sponsored by our new Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering,” said, Kathleen R. McKeown, director of the Institute and the Henry and Gertrude Rothschild Professor of Computer Science. “And we are very pleased, at this early stage, to announce our collaboration with several corporations that are supporting the research of the Institute’s faculty and students, including Bloomberg LP, Google, Mediaocean and Microsoft.”

McKeown led the symposium. Keynote speakers were Eric Horvitz, distinguished scientist and co-director of the Redmond Microsoft Research Lab, and Lawrence D. Burns, director of Columbia’s Earth Institute program on sustainable mobility, professor of engineering practice at the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering and a former vice president of research and development at General Motors.

Guest speakers included Kyle Kimball, executive director of the New York City Economic Development Corporation which has led Mayor Bloomberg’s initiative to expand engineering and applied science in the city. Columbia’s Institute received $15 million in seed funding from the initiative. The creation of the Institute will lead to a significant expansion of Columbia’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science — 75 new faculty positions by 2030 and 44,000 square feet of improved space devoted to applied science.

“We believe that Columbia’s new Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering has the potential not only to solve some of the great global challenges of the 21st century, but also to cement New York City’s status as a capital of innovation,” said Kimball. “We are thrilled about the City’s partnership with Columbia, and we look forward to the groundbreaking research that will soon emerge from the Institute.”

Industry leaders participating in the symposium included Justin Moore, engineer at Facebook; Jennifer Tour Chayes, distinguished scientist and managing director of Microsoft Research New England and managing director of Microsoft Research NYC; Ben Fried, chief information officer at Google; Lisa Strausfeld, global head of data visualization, and Shawn Edwards, chief technology officer, both at Bloomberg LP.

“There’s a real shortfall of people with data-science skills,” said professor of civil engineering Patricia J. Culligan, associate director of the Institute and chair of its education committee. “We hope this certification program will address the urgent need — local, national, and global — for a skilled workforce in many industries, including finance, technology, media, and healthcare systems, all critical areas on which our Institute is focused.”

In planning for the Institute, McKeown, Culligan, and their colleagues have developed a Certification in Data Sciences, now in the University’s academic review process. The pending proposal calls for four, three-credit courses designed for graduate students with quantitative backgrounds who seek training in data sciences.

Among the faculty participants were George Hripcsak, Vivian Beaumont Allen Professor, chair of Columbia’s department of biomedical informatics, director of medical informatics services for New York-Presbyterian Hospital, board-certified internist with degrees in chemistry, medicine, and biostatistics, and a member of the Institute’s Executive Committee; Andrew Smyth, professor of civil engineering and engineering mechanics, chair of the Institute’s Smart Cities Center, and an expert in structural health monitoring who uses sensor information to determine the condition of critical infrastructure; Mark Hansen, professor of journalism, chair of the Institute’s New Media Center, and director of the David & Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media and Innovation at Columbia Journalism School, who works with data in an essentially journalistic practice, crafting stories through algorithm, computation, and visualization; and Shih-Fu Chang, Richard Dicker Professor in the departments of electrical engineering and computer science, senior vice dean of Columbia Engineering, and an active researcher leading development of theories, algorithms, and systems for multimedia analysis and retrieval.

McKeown also announced the appointment of Rene Baston, the former chief business officer at the New York Academy of Sciences, as its first director of industry interactions and entrepreneurship. He will be responsible for developing collaborative relationships with key partners through an Industry Affiliates Program and fostering entrepreneurship in data sciences at Columbia.

“The creativity and productivity of the Institute’s centers will be ignited by collaborations that are possible because they are located within our larger University community,” said G. Michael Purdy, Columbia’s executive vice president for research. “Big ideas and innovations flow from engineering and applied science that’s part of a multi-disciplinary academic environment that includes everything from Nobel Prize-winning basic science and biomedical research, to the entrepreneurship of a business school and, especially in our case, to the media-savvy of the world’s greatest journalism school.  That dynamic mix of talent and experience defines not just a great university like Columbia, but the dynamism of New York City itself.”

About Columbia University

Among the world’s leading research universities, Columbia University in the City of New York continuously seeks to advance the frontiers of scholarship and foster a campus community deeply engaged in the complex issues of our time through teaching, research, patient care and public service. The University is comprised of 16 undergraduate, graduate and professional schools, and four affiliated colleges and seminaries in Manhattan, and a wide array of research institutes and global centers around the world. More than 40,000 students, award-winning faculty and professional staff define the University’s underlying values and commitment to pursuing new knowledge and educating informed, engaged citizens. Founded in 1754 as King’s College, Columbia is the fifth oldest institution of higher learning in the United States.