Engineering Hall, 07.27.2018

The UNL College of Engineering.

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Throughout its 50-year history, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Department of Computer Science and Engineering has spread across both the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering.

A plan to consolidate UNL's computer science, computer engineering, software engineering and other technology-centric programs under a single banner within the College of Engineering is in the works, however.

The proposal for an interdisciplinary "School of Computing" would help the College of Engineering meet its goal of becoming "a top-50 college within 10 years" by growing student enrollment, attracting new faculty and securing new research funding, the university said.

Administrators said the new school would also help UNL meet increased workforce demand for college graduates with computing skills, and fill jobs the Nebraska Department of Labor deems "H3" — high-skill, high-demand and high-wage.

Chancellor Ronnie Green will announce the new school during his State of the University address Friday morning. The annual look back and look forward, scheduled for 10:30 a.m. at Nebraska Innovation Campus, will also feature the public debut of UNL's N2025 strategic plan.

But the work to elevate the Department of Computer Science and Engineering into a more-prominent School of Computing has been ongoing parallel to other efforts to grow the College of Engineering.

In a memorandum of understanding (MOU) approved by department faculty and signed off on by Green and other administrators last June, UNL outlined the steps the university will move through to establish its newest school.

Chief among them: “To realize a (School of Computing) at UNL first requires addressing the short-term needs, including: resolving faculty salary inversions in order to help retain and recruit faculty."

Luring and keeping talented computer science and engineering faculty at the state's flagship university campus has been a problem UNL has wrestled with for years, said chief of staff Mike Zeleny, as those individuals may be recruited to another university or take a job in the private sector.

As a start toward remedying the issue, UNL awarded pay raises to 32 faculty in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering last year, bringing the average pay for employees in the department from about $101,000 to $115,000, according to Board of Regents documents.

"The salary is based on the market," Zeleny said. "We took a proactive approach to improving some of those salaries as kind of a first step."

The MOU guiding the project also recommends the establishment of a fundraising program to find "high-profile donors to create a quantum-leap increase in the resources and visibility" of the computing school, as well as developing new facilities that could become its home.

Zeleny said there are no immediate plans to move the programs included in the proposed School of Computing under a single, physical roof. The MOU recommends the school "have sufficient, co-located space to support research, teaching and outreach" by 2024.

The timeline for creating the new school is also flexible.

While a proposal was supposed to go before UNL's Academic Planning Committee last fall, that was pushed back to this spring. If approved by the shared governance committee, the School of Computing plan could go before regents in late summer or early fall.

The new school proposal comes as the College of Engineering embarks on several initiatives designed to raise its stature among the Big Ten Plus Engineering Consortium, which features top programs from the University of Illinois, University of Michigan and Purdue University, as well as non-Big Ten members MIT, Carnegie Mellon and Stanford.

Moving all of the computing students and faculty into the college would create immediate growth toward Dean Lance Pérez's goal of increasing enrollment from 3,200 undergraduate students this year to 5,000 by 2027.

Financial commitments totaling $150 million from state and private sources will pay for new learning and research spaces in Nebraska Hall and build the new Kiewit Hall at 17th and Vine streets, which the college expects will also foster growth.

Speaking to regents last year, Pérez indicated the college was attacking its ambitious plans for growth on several fronts simultaneously, particularly as it seeks to respond to double-digit percentage growth in information technology-related job needs in the state over the next several years.

"We've had to respond to that, because it is a market," he said of the need to pay more to faculty at the time, "and, if we want to get the kind of faculty talent, we need to drive this economic growth. We have to play in that market."

Breaking down Nebraska's colleges and universities

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS

This article originally ran on journalstar.com.

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