President Bollinger Names Microsoft Research Head Jeannette Wing to Lead Columbia’s Data Science Institute

May 01, 2017
Dr. Jeannette Wing

Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger today announced that Jeannette Wing, currently corporate vice president of Microsoft Research, will become the Avanessians Director of Columbia’s Data Science Institute and Professor of Computer Science.

“Jeannette Wing is a pioneering figure in the world of computer science research and education. Her addition to the University’s academic leadership team reflects the continuing expansion of our work in this field,” said Bollinger. “Our Data Science Institute is indispensable to virtually every scholarly initiative at the University dedicated to addressing a societal problem. The benefits to be derived from Jeannette’s leadership and her presence here will be immense.”

Wing spent the last four years leading a global network of research labs extending from Boston to Bangalore as a corporate vice president of Microsoft Research. A longtime advocate of interdisciplinary and collaborative research, she will continue to expand the Data Science Institute’s impact on research and education, from precision medicine and public policy to the humanities and the professions. She will take the reins of this Columbia-wide initiative, reporting directly to President Bollinger, in early July.

“I am thrilled to be joining Columbia and returning to my academic roots, working with colleagues to help the University fulfill its commitment to solving major challenges in our world,” Wing said. “Through rapid advances in computer science, statistics and operations research, we are just beginning to explore the power of data-driven discovery and decision-making. At the same time, the automated collection and analysis of personal data raise important new ethical concerns. Columbia is ideally positioned to lead this exploration.”

Launched in 2012, the Data Science Institute has grown from its base at Columbia Engineering to include more than 200 affiliated researchers across the University. Under its founding director, Kathleen McKeown, and associate director, Patricia Culligan, the institute has emerged as a leader in both the foundational and interdisciplinary applications of data science. Columbia is one of the first universities to offer a master’s degree in data science and to develop specific courses in data science that are now offered University-wide.

President Bollinger and Columbia Engineering Dean Mary Boyce saluted McKeown and Culligan for their outstanding leadership. McKeown, the Henry and Gertrude Rothschild Professor of Computer Science, and Culligan, the Robert A.W. and Christine S. Carleton Professor of Civil Engineering, will return to their full-time teaching and research positions at the School and to their innovative interdisciplinary work.

“So many of us across the University are indebted to Kathy and Trish for their profound contributions to the initial conception and formative development of the Data Science Institute,” Bollinger said. “They and their many dedicated colleagues are responsible for creating the foundation on which we continue to build."

Before joining Microsoft in 2013, Wing held leadership positions at Carnegie Mellon University and the National Science Foundation. From 2007 to 2010, she oversaw the National Science Foundation’s computer and information science and engineering directorate, developing programs and setting funding priorities for research and education in academia. One of her initiatives, Expeditions in Computing, invited researchers to pursue big, risky bets and served as a model for a similar program she launched at Microsoft. Also during her time at NSF, she promoted an effort to design an advanced placement course focusing on computational thinking for the College Board, which later became a model for the nation’s high schools.

Wing led Carnegie Mellon’s Computer Science Department before and after her time at NSF, and served for five years as Carnegie Mellon’s associate dean for Academic Affairs, overseeing educational programs offered by the university’s School of Computer Science. She received her undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Her areas of research expertise are in security and privacy, formal methods, programming languages, and distributed and concurrent systems. She is best known for defining mathematical logics and models to reason about correctness properties of computing systems. Through her research, Wing invents ways to ensure that the computing systems we use daily are reliable, safe, and secure.

Anticipating the rise of “Big Data,” Wing was an early advocate for the influence of computer science research and education and the need to inform other disciplines with this learning. In the wake of the dot-com bust and falling enrollments in computer science departments, her influential 2006 essay, “Computational Thinking,” helped reinvigorate computer science research and teaching.

Wing is on the board of the Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics at UCLA and on the steering committee for DARPA’s Information Science and Technology Board. She has served as chair or member of dozens of academic, industry, government and international advisory and scholarly journal boards. Her work at NSF, and in promoting the value of computational thinking, has been recognized with distinguished service awards from the Computing Research Association and Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science, ACM and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers.

She will lead a Columbia Data Science Institute that, since its founding with seed funding from New York City’s Applied Sciences NYC initiative, has worked to foster innovation and collaboration. The Institute works in areas where the rise of powerful algorithms and massive data has opened new opportunities and threats in fields including cybersecurity, journalism, smart cities, finance and medicine. Through its growing Industry Affiliates program, the Institute has helped launch successful start-ups and partnered with the nation’s leading technology companies. While national and global in scope, the Institute has worked to deepen and extend Columbia’s role in ongoing efforts to develop New York City as a thriving center of the tech-driven innovation economy.