Professors McKeown and Culligan to Lead New Data Sciences Institute

Columbia Engineering has named Professors Kathleen R. McKeown and Patricia J. Culligan as the inaugural leaders of the University's new Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering, which was launched at a joint press conference July 30 led by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Interim Dean Donald Goldfarb with Institute Director Kathleen R. McKeown, Associate Director Patricia J. Culligan and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
—Photo by Eileen Barroso
Watch a video of the press conference below

McKeown, who is the Henry and Gertrude Rothschild Professor of Computer Science, will serve as the director of the Institute, and Culligan, professor of civil engineering and engineering mechanics, as its associate director. Both McKeown and Culligan spearheaded the University's response to the City's proposal for a new applied sciences campus.

"Professors McKeown and Culligan are the driving force behind this new Institute and have been since the early stages of the RFP," said Dean Goldfarb, in announcing their appointments. "Not only do they have firsthand knowledge of the Institute's mission from the bottom up, they work extremely well together and have proven their ability on this initiative to connect faculty from a vast array of disciplines across the University."

At the press conference held at Columbia's Northwest Corner Building, Mayor Bloomberg applauded the University's comprehensive plan for an Institute that will tackle the ever-increasing abundance of data. The mayor detailed the new partnership alongside Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger, Columbia Engineering Interim Dean Donald Goldfarb, Professor McKeown, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and other prominent city and elected officials.

The new Institute will focus on five key sectors: smart cities, new media, health analytics, financial analytics, and cybersecurity, and speaks directly to the City's groundbreaking Applied Sciences Initiative to increase New York's capacity for applied sciences and potential for economic growth. As part of the agreement, the City will provide Columbia with $15 million in financial assistance to help with the development of the Institute. The agreement also includes the creation of 44,000 square feet of new space on Columbia's campus by 2016 and the addition of 75 new faculty—engineering and other disciplines—over the next decade and a half.

A leading scholar in the field of natural language processing, McKeown focuses her research on big data and her interests include text summarization, question answering, natural language generation, and multilingual applications. McKeown joined Columbia in 1982, immediately after earning her Ph.D. from University of Pennsylvania. In 1989, she became the first woman professor in the school to receive tenure, and later the first woman to serve as a department chair (1998-2003).

McKeown has garnered numerous honors and awards for her research and teaching. She received the National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award in 1985. She also is the recipient of a National Science Foundation Faculty Award for Women, and was selected as an AAAI Fellow, a Fellow of the Association for Computational Linguistics, and an ACM Fellow. In 2010, she won both the Columbia Great Teacher Award—an honor bestowed by the students—and the Anita Borg Woman of Vision Award for Innovation.

"I am thrilled to take on this new role on a very exciting project that I've had the chance to develop with my Engineering colleagues, as well as with my fellow faculty members and administrators across the University," said McKeown of her new appointment. "How to best exploit big data for society's advantage is an issue for many companies and research fields, and our Institute will focus on data science research across disciplines and the development of programs for training future data scientists much needed in today's world."

Added Culligan, "The interdisciplinary challenges that the Institute will address are both exciting and current, and Columbia is ideally positioned to address these challenges. I am looking forward to partnering with the City in continuing to strengthen its leadership in engineering and applied science."

A leader in the field of water resources and urban sustainability, Culligan has worked extensively with The Earth Institute's Urban Design Lab at Columbia University to explore new interdisciplinary solutions to the modern-day challenges of urbanization, with a particular emphasis on New York City. Culligan is the director of a joint interdisciplinary Ph.D. program between Columbia Engineering and the Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation that focuses on designs for future cites, including digital city scenarios. Her research group is active in investigating the opportunities for green infrastructure, social networks, and advanced measurement and sensing technologies to improve urban water, energy, and environmental management.

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