We want to extend to everyone a very warm welcome (back) to the campus — after being remote for more than a year!  The events of the past year have instilled an even deeper community spirit in everyone, and we eagerly look forward to resuming in-person activities inside and outside our classrooms and collaboration spaces. We appreciate that everyone is exercising caution during this transition. The university will continue to monitor everyone’s safety across campus and adjust policies as appropriate.

We have exciting departmental news to share, and important information to keep everyone safe for the Fall semester.  Please read on!


Monday August 30:  

  • New Student Orientation for undergraduate students.  A CIS welcome video will be shared. Grab your boxed lunch anytime from 12-1pm, and meet with faculty advisors 1-4pm.  

Thursday August 31: first day of classes for 2021-22.

UpcomingClimate Week at Penn, September 20-24.

Five New Faculty!

The CIS Department welcomes five new hires! In order of arrival:

Travis McGaha has joined us over the summer as a Lecturer, after completing his Master’s degree in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington.  Travis will be teaching a number of courses at the introductory level, as well as courses at the hardware-software interface. You can find him in

Kevin Johnson will be joining us in November as a Penn Integrates Knowledge (PIK) Professor spanning the Department of Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Informatics, the Annenberg School for Communication, and CIS. Kevin is transitioning from a role as the Chair of Biomedical Informatics at Vanderbilt University.  He gives us new expertise in using AI techniques to help manage electronic health records and clinical treatment. [read more]

Andrew Head joins us in January as one of the two founding members of our new Human-Computer Interaction group.  Andrew’s work is in interactive systems that help communicate knowledge, including tools that help scientists write exploratory code in computational notebooks, and systems that help scientists read scientific articles.

And starting in the next academic year:

Danaë Metaxa will join us in Fall 2022 as a co-founder of our HCI Group.  They are currently doing a postdoc at Stanford’s Center of Philanthropy and Civil Society.  Danaë’s work has strong connections to Communications, with a focus on developing and deploying methods for studying bias and representation in algorithms and algorithmic content.

Mingmin Zhao will be joining us in Fall 2022, after a postdoc at Microsoft Research.  Mingmin uses wireless technology plus machine learning to sense people’s pose through walls. He will bring exciting new connections between CIS, medicine, precision agriculture, and IoT. 

Department Leadership Transitions

Joe Devietti is our new CIS Undergraduate Curriculum Chair, succeeding Andreas Haeberlen.  As a Penn CIS undergraduate alumnus himself, he’ll bring a unique perspective to our undergraduate programs!  [read more]

Tom Farmer has been named the Program Director for the MCIT Online Master’s degree program.  Tom has taught for this program since its beginning, and we are excited about his new role.

Adam Mally is the new Program Director for the Digital Media Design program, succeeding Norm Badler. Adam has played a core role in the DMD program for many years, and he has a great vision for the curriculum as we move forward!

Promotions and School Awards

Andreas Haeberlen has been promoted to full Professor of Computer and Information Science, in recognition of his research leadership, as well as his invaluable contributions to the department and his stellar mentorship and teaching.

Steve Zdancewic was named the Schlein Family President’s Distinguished Professor of Computer and Information Science, in recognition of his sustained research excellence and leadership.

Chris Callison-Burch was awarded the Ford Motor Company Award for Faculty Advising.  This award recognizes dedication to helping students realize their educational, career, and personal goals. [read more]

Susan Davidson and Boon Thau Loo were recognized with the Ruth and Joel Spira Award for Excellence in Teaching, sponsored by Lutron Electronics.  Both are exceptional teachers in the classroom, who promote an engaging, interactive, and supportive environment.  Moreover, they play key leadership roles in our graduate education programs, as Co-Director of the DATS Program and Associate Dean of Graduate Education, respectively.

PhD alumnus Georgios Pavlakos, currently a postdoc at UC Berkeley, won the CIS Department’s 2021 Morris and Dorothy Rubinoff Award, which recognizes dissertations that have resulted in or could lead to innovative applications of computer technology. His dissertation was on Learning to Reconstruct 3D Humans and he was advised by Kostas Daniilidis.

PhD student Liangcheng Yu was selected as a Penn Presidential PhD Fellow, recognizing highly accomplished and diverse PhD trainees from across campus. [read more]

National Awards

  • Michael Kearns was elected to National Academy of Sciences. [read more]
  • Norm Badler was elected into the 2021 ACM SIGGRAPH Academy Class. [read more]
  • Vijay Kumar was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. [read more]
  • Susan Davidson received the VLDB Women in Database Research Award, given annually by the VLDB Endowment to an outstanding woman researcher in databases, who inspires the next generation of researchers.
  • Tal Rabin has been named the Chair of the Executive Committee for the ACM Special Interest Group on Algorithms and Computation Theory (SIGACT).
  • Minchen Li, PhD 2021, was awarded the ACM SIGGRAPH Outstanding Dissertation Award. [read more]

Additionally, this year the outstanding work of four of our faculty has been recognized for its long-term impact:

  • Rajeev Alur received an AAMAS Most Influential Paper Award. [read more]
  • Rajeev Alur also received a CONCUR Test of Time Award! [read more]
  • Tal Rabin received the STOC 30-year Test-of-Time Award. [read more]
  • Duncan Watts received the WSDM 2021 Test-of-Time Award. [read more]
  • Mayur Naik received the EuroSys 2021 Test-of-Time Award.

PhD student Konstantinos Kallas won the Best Paper Award at Eurosys 2021 and the first prize in the Student Research Competition at POPL 2021. He also received second prize at the cross-computer science ACM Student Research Competition!

Retirements and Departures

After nearly five decades on our faculty, Professor Norm Badler elected to retire on June 30th, 2021.  Norm’s incredible career has been marked by many contributions to the computer graphics community, our department, and the vibrancy of our academic programs. You can read more about Norm’s career and his recent SIGGRAPH Academic Class recognition here.  We look forward to celebrating Norm’s retirement in-person, soon!  Moreover, we are fortunate that he has agreed to continue to contribute towards our department’s teaching mission for this next year, advising DMD senior projects and BAS senior theses.

Director of Diversity and Belonging Rita Powell is retiring on August 31.  She played an instrumental role in numerous departmental initiatives to enhance student learning, to recruit women and underrepresented minorities into computer science and the CIS Department, and to involve students in summer research.  These initiatives continue to grow both within the department and through the School’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.  We are delighted that Rita will continue to be involved with CIS and SEAS this year through the Fife Coding Clubs.

Assistant Professor Chenfanfu Jiang took a position in the Department of Mathematics at UCLA, his alma mater.  We wish him the best as he continues to do outstanding work in computer graphics, right in Hollywood’s back yard!

Other News

The NSF has established The Institute for Learning-enabled Optimization at Scale (TILOS) as a partnership between Penn, UC San Diego, MIT, National University, UT-Austin, and Yale.  Congratulations to Vijay Kumar, CJ Taylor, Alejandro Ribeiro, Hamed Hassani, and Shirin Saeedi Bidokhti. [read more]

The new SEAS data science building has made it through several key design and approval stages, and is on track to open in 2024!  The building will add approximately 130,000 square feet of space to the School, across 6 floors, including new research facilities, new classrooms, and many group-study and collaboration spaces.  It will be the new home for many of CIS’ and SEAS’ efforts in the data science space.  We anticipate further announcements in the next few months, and we continue to try to engage students, staff, and faculty for feedback!

COVID Safety Reminders

As we transition back to in-person activities, we want to remind everyone that the responsibility falls on all of us to keep one another safe.  Penn will continue to follow the best practices as advised by on-campus, city, state, and national medical experts.  Please monitor https://coronavirus.upenn.edu/ and your email for updates.

As described in the Public Health Guidance page, the University is currently requiring all members of the Penn community to wear masks while indoors in public or shared spaces, including classrooms and shared offices.  Students, faculty, staff, and postdocs are also required to be vaccinated and to submit documentation of vaccination. 

Wherever possible food should be eaten outdoors. Departmental events that serve food and beverages will be held outside. Participants should maintain physical distancing even while eating.  Masks should be worn at all times except when actively eating and drinking.  Food should be grab-and-go, individually portioned/boxed as opposed to self-serve buffets.  For any event that includes visitors, attendees must attest to having been vaccinated, and must register contact information in case follow-up from contact tracers is needed.

Stay Informed about the Department

Our best wishes for a successful and safe academic year!

Zack Ives, Department Chair

Steve Zdancewic, Associate Chair

Joe Devietti, Undergraduate Chair

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