Directors and program heads weigh in on new College of Informatics schools
September 16, 2022
The new semester comes with a turning point for the College of Informatics, which will begin to comprise two new schools. All existing degree programs are now grouped within the School of Computing and Analytics or the School of Media and Communication.
The School of Computing and Analytics houses degree programs in Information Systems & Analytics (Business Information System, Health Informatics, Library Informatics), Computer Science & Software Engineering (Applied Software Engineering, Computer Science, Data Science) and Cybersecurity & Information Technology. Master’s degree programs in Business Informatics, Health Informatics and Cybersecurity are also grouped within the school.
The School of Media and Communication consists of Communication & Public Relations (Communication Studies, Health Communication, Public Relations and a master’s degree program in Communication) along with Media & Journalism (3D Digital Design and Visual Effects, Electronic Media and Broadcasting, Journalism).
According to College of Informatics Dean Kevin Kirby, the reorganization aims to elevate COI programs and increase clarity to prospective students. It follows the model of the existing School of the Arts, which used to be three separate departments: Theatre & Dance, Music and Fine Arts.
“We have a College of Informatics – though it’s unclear to some people what informatics is – and then we have three departments,” Kirby said. “We thought, ‘Well, why don’t we combine two of them around the theme of computing and analytics, bring those folks together, and then elevate communications and media?’”
Kirby hopes that putting different people from different disciplines together will give them new ideas about the curriculum, research projects, student engagement, international affairs and interaction with other colleges. It will also facilitate the breaking of barriers between disciplines, so that a journalism professor with an interest in data journalism, for example, can get an appointment in the part of the school that focuses on databases and analytics.
Two directors will assume leadership of the schools. Traian Marius Truta, previously associate chair of the Computer Science department, is the interim director for the School of Computing and Analytics. Department of Communication Chair Stephen Yungbluth is now the interim director for the School of Media and Communication.
The new schools are currently in pilot year and awaiting approval from President Ashish Vaidya and the Board of Regents. Kirby and the new school directors assure that the reorganization will not produce any direct or immediate changes to the curriculum, degree requirements, class schedules or teaching faculty.
“This is primarily a reorganization of the faculty levels,” Truta said. “The impact [on students] is pretty much nonexistent.”
Indeed, the formation of the new schools mostly affects faculty and staff structures on an administrative level. A program head now supervises each program – which consists of several degrees – within the schools.
Rasib Khan is the program head of Computer Science & Software Engineering, Tony Tsetse the head of Cybersecurity & Information Technology, and Crystal Summers the head of Information Systems & Analytics. Within the School of Media and Communication, Zach Hart is in charge of Communication & Public Relations and Sara Drabik leads Media & Journalism.
According to Yungbluth, such a restructuring shifts the workload away from the department chair, allowing the distribution of work to be more manageable for everyone involved. The school director’s responsibilities are not too different from those of a department chair, he said, such as reviewing programs and faculty performance. But in his new position, he now has more freedom to take on other tasks.
Yungbluth looks forward to exploring what he always wanted to do as department chair but never found the time for, and to spending more time on strategic initiatives instead of managing day-to-day activities. Among his priorities is planning class schedules further in advance, so that students have a better grasp of when certain courses are offered and can plan their schedules accordingly.
For Kirby, the biggest impact of the new schools is adding to how Northern Kentucky University distinguishes itself from other universities. The COI is joined at the hip with other NKU colleges and works alongside other distinctive features of NKU like SOTA and the Health Innovation Center to elevate the institution, he said.
As the new model enters pilot, he looks forward to seeing the new leadership settle into their positions.
“You have young faculty members who have never been leaders before, and suddenly they get to shape programs. It’s really nice to see that: you have all this creative energy that we’re unleashing,” Kirby said.
Rasib Khan came to NKU in 2016 as an associate professor specializing in cybersecurity. He was involved with multiple initiatives for the Cybersecurity department, chair of the Pre-Proposal Committee, and was offered the position of Computer Science & Software Engineering program head this July. In addition to looking after all the program majors and minors, he performs maintenance and updates on the school’s website.
“It’s a lot of moving parts at the moment, a lot of roles that are being defined and redefined,” Khan said, adding that the overlapping of fields within the school will enable collaboration among the faculty and increase management efficiency.
Sarah Drabik was already the program director for Electronic Media and Broadcasting before she was approached with an offer to be involved as program head, a role that she considers a natural fit. While her responsibilities as program head are still under discussion, she is involved with creating and scheduling classes, registering students, giving tours, attending recruitment events, and connecting students with faculty who can deepen their interest.
“I see it as a service role to the department, to the college, and mostly I’m just there to help the rest of the faculty in my program, to teach their classes to the best of their ability, to work with their students, to keep everything organized,” she said.
As the new schools are effectively works in progress, the journey ahead will not be without obstacles. Kirby points to competition from other universities and decreasing enrollment as the main challenges facing the COI in the future. Other challenges include keeping the curriculum up to date and providing students with cutting-edge education, which can prepare them for graduation in fields that are constantly evolving.
“You hear the dean talk about how a school is more of a destination, so [the challenge is] making sure that we are in fact a destination, that we can live up to that sense of a name and what it offers,” Yungbluth said. “It sounds more prestigious but if there isn’t anything to back that up it might become meaningless.”
For Truta, the challenge is making sure everybody knows who to contact and how things will be run from this moment forward.
“By trying this model we hope that we’ll lay the foundation for a true transformation of the college in future years,” Truta said. “We’re trying to optimize how things are working and we’re trying to raise the visibility of the schools outside of NKU.”
The COI is also bringing in internal grants and discussing with board members, corporate representatives, employers and stakeholders, all to develop new ideas for leveraging the schools.
“I guess the most important point of the schools is just a foundation,” Kirby added. “They’re not in themselves going to change the world, but they make change a lot easier and a lot faster.”
Echoing this sentiment, Drabik hopes to put a good front face on the programs for everyone in the community, both at NKU and beyond.
“We do a lot and not quite everyone understands that. Our students and our faculty have won so many awards, worked on so many projects, helped out with so many nonprofits in the community. They’ve left such a footprint on the region and I’m excited for that to be more well-known,” she said. “I’m excited that this new structure can make it easier for us going forward to do even cooler stuff, to leave even more of a footprint.”