October 16, 2004
Building named for '68 alumnus, wife
New computer science building to touch entire Purdue campus
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. Purdue University today (Saturday, Oct. 16) announced it will name its new computer science building for alumnus H. Richard Lawson and his wife Patricia A. Lawson, whose $4.7 million donation will help students and faculty make continued use of one of the world's most ubiquitous and useful tools.
The Lawsons' gift forms the largest single private contribution to the $20 million facility, to be built beginning this fall at the corner of Third and University streets. The university raised $7 million in private funds from 430 donors to leverage an additional $13 million from the state of Indiana to fund the 100,000-square-foot building, which is scheduled to open in time for classes in fall 2006.
Purdue President Martin C. Jischke said the building's impact will be felt across campus.
"Regardless of academic major, regardless of professional specialty, you have to know computing if you are going to succeed in today's world," Jischke said. "There was a time when computers were the province only of the programmer, the code writer, the technical expert. That time is past. Whether you work with images, sounds, words or numbers, computers are the tool that can best help you reach other people with your work."
The naming of the building is subject to approval by Purdue's Board of Trustees.
Richard Lawson, a key executive in the software industry who received his master's degree in computer science from Purdue in 1968, said he hopes the facility will prepare students for any number of careers.
"Computers and information technology have permeated all of our lives and will continue to do so, especially as we enter the 'global' world,'" he said. "From entertainment to business to maintaining relationships, the knowledge of computers and information technology is critical. I hope the new building will attract students to study computer science by creating an appealing environment for study."
The announcement was made at 2:30 p.m. on the main stage at the Purdue Mall during Homecoming celebrations. The Lawsons received a Purdue Pinnacle Award, among the university's highest honors, in recognition of their philanthropic gifts to the university. The event is part of a 10-day celebration that focuses on ways Purdue is improving education and helping the state of Indiana as part of its strategic plan and $1.3 billion fund-raising campaign.
"Preeminence in discovery as well as learning is a big part of what this building represents," said computer scientist Jeffrey S. Vitter, the Frederick L. Hovde Dean of the School of Science, of which computer science is one of seven departments. "It's fitting that our Department of Computer Science, the first such department in the nation, will be home to state-of-the-art facilities where students and faculty will make fundamental advances so important for society dealing with information security and privacy preservation, graphics and visualization, networking, and high-impact computing. Computing is ubiquitous, and the key to maximizing its potential is to continue groundbreaking research."
The new building will be home to four classrooms, five instructional laboratories, four research laboratories, meeting rooms and space for 45 faculty, 55 teaching assistants and 70 research assistants. The facility will play a major role in augmenting the research in many computer-related fields, such as network security.
"One of the prime activities this new building will support is continued research in computer security, which continues to grow in importance as society shares more and more of its confidential information over computer networks," Vitter said. "Purdue's Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security (CERIAS) is one of the country's preeminent centers for work in this field, and computer scientists in the new building will be contributing to the center's work."
Other major computing-based research initiatives at Purdue include the Envision Center for Data Perceptualization, which features computers with three-dimensional graphics and output that can be felt as well as seen and heard.
"The Envision Center's facilities can help researchers do everything from visualizing large molecules in 3-D to collaborating with far-flung laboratories," Vitter said. "The center is being driven in large part by graphics and visualization research from the Department of Computer Science."
Sorin Matei, an assistant professor in the communications department, embraces computer technology. His work deals in part with the ways that wireless Internet connections are changing society and how they could influence the way you get information even when walking down the street far from home.
"Let's say you're stuck overnight in an unfamiliar town, and you'd like to know what there is to do within walking distance," Matei said. "Your personal digital assistant could conceivably be set to search out all the entertainment options within a 10-block radius, regardless of where you are standing. It's what we call 'site-specific searching' like an Internet search, but one in which the information is filtered by location, rather than by search engine."
Matei's vision could become reality in short order, as wireless Internet connections have increased 250 percent in the past 12 months. But there must be effective collaboration between computer scientists and communications specialists for such possibilities to take off.
"You need both people who can make devices and people who can make devices relevant," he said. "There needs to be better connection between both groups, and the more familiarity we as communications professionals can have with the world of computers, the better off we will be at communicating by means of digital technology."
Mohan Dutta-Bergman, who specializes in health communication, agreed.
"More than 70 percent of consumers use computers to get health information at some point," said Dutta-Bergman, an assistant professor in the communications department. "Health communications is a young field, and the potential for growth is amazing."
But one key to reaching consumers who are increasingly bombarded by a blizzard of information, he said, will be to tailor messages to those consumers' individual needs.
"A health-care company has records of its patients' health history, and those records could be used, for example, to send messages about diet control to all of its diabetic patients," he said. "But to filter those messages out to the right audience, a health communicator will need to be skilled in the creation and management of computer databases."
For that matter, database users in other fields would benefit from a better understanding of how programming relates to the performance of search engines, said Purdue's Jennifer Sharkey.
"Knowing the structure of the program used to create a database can help you retrieve information from it. Not all students make that connection," said Sharkey, assistant professor of library science in the Purdue Libraries. "Information in databases is stored in fields for example, the title or subject of a source. Because no two programmers code alike, all databases are unique in some ways, and familiarity with how a programmer thought when organizing the database can directly influence how well your search will work."
The Purdue Libraries subscribe to more than 330 databases, and Sharkey said that integration of computer science with the skill of critical thinking, which is a traditionally recognized cornerstone of a basic science education, would be necessary.
"Information is increasingly stored in electronic form people now have more options for accessing it, specifically via the Web," she said. "But there is still a need for people to be aware that all information sources are not created equal. Learning to use computers should go hand in hand with learning about the quality of the information you can find with them."
Susanne Hambrusch, head of the computer science department, said virtually every degree program at Purdue is affected by computer science and that "computer literacy" is no longer enough students must be fluent with computer and information technology to be successful.
"In this fast-changing field, students also must learn problem solving and reasoning skills, the management of complex systems, and higher level thinking processes in addition to the existing computer literacy skills," she said. "The computing field will continue to change as computer scientists develop new scalable ubiquitous computing systems, build software systems of greater security and reliability, develop quantum computers and other non-classical computing systems, conquer system complexity, and understand how to augment human intelligence."
The new building should help Purdue students do just that, Hambrusch said.
"This facility will allow the Department of Computer Science to concentrate its classrooms, faculty offices and laboratories into two buildings rather than the five currently used," she said. "It will allow us to expose even more students from across campus to the benefits of computer science. Purdue is second to none in the number of information technology specialists it graduates, and the new building will allow students and faculty to continue with groundbreaking research in computer science, leading to many of the world's most useful tools and systems."
H. Richard Lawson was born and raised in Wichita, Kan., and graduated from Oklahoma Christian College (now Oklahoma Christian University) in 1966 with a degree in mathematics. Patricia Ann (Davidson) Lawson graduated from the same institution in 1967 with a degree in primary education. They were married in 1967 while Richard was pursuing his computer science master's degree at Purdue. In 1975 he was a founder of Lawson Software in St. Paul, Minn., and the company began marketing "enterprise resource planning" software packages programs that automate such back-room operations as billing and materials management to small and midsize companies. Lawson Software now has more than 2,000 employees and 3,000 client firms, drawn largely from the health care, retail and professional services industries.
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