Celebrating 50 Years of Excellence: A Remarkable Journey in Computer Science

UMD's Department of Computer Science reflects on five decades of tremendous growth.
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Hundreds gathered to commemorate the University of Maryland Department of Computer Science’s 50th anniversary on October 7, 2023. The celebration—filled with reflections, forward-looking discussions and honorary events—showcased the remarkable journey of a department that began with just a handful of faculty members and students in the early ’70s and is now a highly esteemed and top-ranked program.

Throughout the day, more than 500 alums, students, faculty and staff members, and distinguished guests attended engaging panel discussions, inspiring keynote sessions and guided tours of the Brendan Iribe Center for Computer Science and Engineering. 

During the festivities, attendees reflected on the department’s impactful past and bright future. Professor Ashok Agrawala, having witnessed the department’s evolution firsthand for five decades, shared his insight and stories as the master of ceremonies for the 50th Anniversary Celebrations.

"Over the past five decades, I have witnessed the Department of Computer Science evolve to its status of recognized excellence in education and research," Agrawala shared. “It was a delight for me to participate in the planning and execution of the event and meet old friends, colleagues and alums who came and recalled their memories at UMD. Nurturing such connections is very stimulating for us and our current students.” 

A blend of nostalgia and rekindled connections charged the atmosphere. 

"Returning after all these years feels like a homecoming. It's wonderful to see how much the department has grown and its exciting new trajectory," expressed Eric Chomko (B.S. '80), currently a principal software engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This place was much different back then. We had to share a room with another department because computer science didn't have the prominence it has today. However, we have come a long way since then.” 

The legacy and progress of the department resonated not only with its alums but also struck a chord with the younger generation.

"Being part of a departmental anniversary with such a storied history is truly inspiring,” said Xaviar Francois, a high school student currently interning at UMD's Ideal Lab. “I've always known the computer science department as a place of innovation and forward-thinking initiatives, but hearing firsthand about its remarkable journey and evolution has made it all the more real. Moving forward, I’m eager to see the department's future path and the exciting new frontiers it will explore."

The program concluded with an Alumni Hall of Fame ceremony to induct five new members—Ronald Larsen (Ph.D. ’81), Debanjan Saha (M.S. ’93; Ph.D. ’94), and brothers Haroon (B.A. ’01), Idris (B.S. ’10), and Zeki Mokhtarzada (B.S. ’01)—for their significant contributions to science and society.

As part of the anniversary celebration, the department also recognized and honored five former department chairs: Victor Basili, Larry Davis, Samir Khuller, Jack Minker and Satish Tripathi. These individuals were celebrated as "Pillars of Computer Science" for their significant contributions that shaped the department's legacy. 

As Saturday evening drew to a close and attendees gathered for a social at The Hall CP the significance of the department’s journey and its community came into sharper focus. Department Chair Matthias Zwicker shared his perspective on this golden anniversary.

“The 50th Anniversary Celebrations served as a remarkable testament to the incredible community that has flourished around computer science at UMD over the past five decades," said Zwicker, who holds the Elizabeth Iribe Chair for Innovation and the Phillip H. and Catherine C. Horvitz Professorship. “It was truly exhilarating to reconnect with alumni, including some who hadn't set foot on campus in many years, and introduce them to the remarkable Brendan Iribe Center. Sharing our collective stories of accomplishments and achievements was a tremendous experience. I'm profoundly thankful to all who contributed to making these events a resounding success."

Story by Samuel Malede Zewdu, CS Communications 

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