Jeff MacKie-Mason

Jeff MacKie-Mason is Dean of the School of Information, Arthur W. Burks Professor of Information and Computer Science, and Professor of Economics and Public Policy.

The start of the academic year is always invigorating but this year promises to be exceptional. As we greet our first-year and returning students, we are energized by the vision that defines us: we educate socially engaged individuals to become change leaders for the digital age and use information management skills to improve people’s lives.

While we prepare students for careers where they can use their information skills to make the world a better place, I am always impressed by what many of them manage to accomplish while still at UMSI.

For example, two first-year students, Nikki Roda and Claire Barco, and UMSI alumna Emily Puckett-Rodgers of Open.Michigan, mounted the first-ever A2 DataDive earlier this year. They convinced over 60 local statisticians to volunteer for a weekend of organizing and analyzing the data of two local non-profit organizations. Peter Timmons, who graduated in April, helped to plan Quasi-con, an “un-conference” on the future of libraries, while Lydia Muwanga and her colleagues of the student organization SI Create conceived and presented the first Business Model Competition at Michigan, raising over $5,000 in prize money to spur entrepreneurial spirit on campus.

This emphasis on public engagement is a hallmark of what we teach and practice at UMSI. Our faculty are equally engaged in research that will help people to live healthier, happier, richer, and more balanced lives. Yan Chen and Qiaozhu Mei are studying what motivates people to make microloans to strangers in the developing world and investigating possible applications in the Detroit metro area. Paul Resnick is developing wellness programs and better ways to achieve a balanced news diet, leveraging the power of social networks. Julia Adler-Milstein is improving the meaningful benefits of electronic health records for patients. Tiffany Veinot’s research is improving information access for families coping with serious chronic diseases such as diabetes and AIDS.

These are just a few examples of the social commitment and people-focused research that characterize and distinguish our school and make it unique among iSchools. The upcoming year holds even greater promise, marked by new initiatives and an exceptional incoming class.

In a few weeks, we will be welcoming over 200 new master’s degree students to the School of Information, a record-breaking number that has us excited for many reasons, not only because of its unprecedented size. Like the current students and recent graduates called out above, we expect these new students will have a profound impact on both our school and their profession.

Among them are a Fulbright scholar from Spain with an interest in technology for record management and policy; a first-generation college graduate with an interest in connecting information analysis and retrieval to corporate knowledge management; a new media strategist from the Pulitzer Center seeking additional information tools to strengthen our democracy; and a Michigan Community Scholars graduate inspired to enter the program after taking the late Bob Frost’s undergraduate class in information studies. We have enrolled the largest number ever of international students, a testimony to our growing global reputation as the place for continuing studies in the information field.

The 13 new Ph.D. students entering North Quad this fall are likewise an accomplished group. Eight of them already have publications to their credit and eight have at least one graduate degree, including a lawyer and a pharmacist. Three are recent graduates of UMSI.

Especially gratifying, after literally years of planning we have our first cohort of students pursuing the new master’s degree in health informatics. Offered jointly with the School of Public Health, this is the first degree in the nation to emphasize consumer health support. It draws extensively on our depth of expertise in social computing as a key component of the program. As with our MSI degree, we find a wide range of backgrounds and demographic diversity in this first class of 20, including individuals from the medical profession, marketing and public relations, public health, and the university’s own health system. They will be preparing for leadership roles at the dynamic intersection of information, technology, and healthcare.

With the largest-ever entering master’s degree class, with new faculty members and a new master’s degree in health informatics, and our first undergraduate degree in the planning stages, we anticipate an amazing year ahead.

Stay tuned.