VU engineering

Vanderbilt University has taken the first step in a three-year plan that calls for doubling the number of computer science faculty in the engineering school.

In a release issued Thursday, a spokesperson for the VU School of Engineering detailed the hirings of 14 full-time professors including 10 computer science faculty members. The other four hires are professors of civil, environmental, mechanical and biomedical engineering.

By doubling the number of computer science professors, Vanderbilt’s School of Engineering faculty will grow by roughly 20 percent in three years, said engineering dean Philippe Fauchet. The 14 professors were selected from several hundred applications, sourced from a nationwide search, he added.

One of the main focuses in expanding the computer science program is further developing the school’s cyberphysical curriculum. Vanderbilt offers one of the  world's top cyberphysical programs, according to the school’s computer science department chair Xenofon Koutsoukos. Cyberphysical technology is a branch of computer science that deals with unconventional computers. For example, stoplights, automated doors, microwaves and countless other devices all have computers integrated into their design; however, they are not typically thought of in the conversation of computer science, Koutsoukos said.

“98 percent of all devices that have computers inside them are not traditional computers,” he said.

As technology advances across all industries and sectors, cyberphysical knowledge and skills are becoming increasingly important to tech companies and employers recruiting new talent, he added. Carnegie Mellon, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California and Stanford are the program’s only true competitors within this arena, according to Fauchet.

“Vanderbilt (school of engineering) does not compete with anyone in the Southeast,” Fauchet said.

While the number of faculty will increase, the number of students in Vanderbilt’s undergraduate computer science programs will remain fixed, according to Fauchet. Right now, 80 percent of Vanderbilt’s engineering students are from out-of-state, 10 percent are from Tennessee and 10 percent are international, said Fauchet. More than half of the school’s 1,400 engineering students are studying computer science.

Koutsoukos emphasized the depth of the school’s curriculum.

“Our graduates have the same level of engineering knowledge as their peers at MIT or Stanford, but they also learn critical leadership skills that aren’t taught in most top engineering programs,” said Koutsoukos.

Vanderbilt’s newest computer science graduates earn an average of $110,000 after graduation, added Fauchet. It is the highest-earning degree of all Vanderbilt’s undergraduate programs, according to Koutsoukos. It’s not surprising considering, nationally, the only undergraduate major via which students are primed to earn more is petroleum engineering, according to U.S. News and World Report.

However, it is likely that the number of graduate students in computer science will increase in the coming years, according to Koutsoukos.

In addition to creating a competitive curriculum, Fauchet and Koutsoukos are focused on growing the program’s diversity and inclusion. According to the school, Vanderbilt is currently leading its competitors in the number of female computer science students and graduates.

To put the program’s female representation in perspective, Koutsoukos said that 42 percent of VU computer science students are female compared to a national average of 20 percent. This statistic bolsters the previously reported increase of female representation in the Nashville tech sector.

Since Fauchet was appointed the dean of the school of engineering in 2012, its faculty has already increased by roughly 30 percent.

“Once the three-year plan is complete, our faculty will be nearly 50 percent larger than it was when I started nine years ago,” he said.

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