SOCORRO, N.M., March 22, 2001 -- A new interdisciplinary research organization at New Mexico Tech is creating an alliance among academia, government, and private businesses -- a collaborative partnership which promises to solve problems and develop new technologies in the burgeoning fields of critical systems management, information networks, and large-scale infrastructures.
The state-supported research university is now home to the Institute for Complex Additive Systems Analysis (iCASA), which is tasked with conducting basic and applied research, as well as
training and education, in complex additive systems such as computer-linked information networks, international financial markets, and national power grids and other infrastructures.
In accordance with iCASA's strategic goals, as well as with the university's own strategic plan, New Mexico Tech also has begun developing an undergraduate degree program in information technology (IT), with specific emphases available in systems and network security, multimedia, telecommunications, and information economics.
"I'm genuinely excited about the opportunities being made available for students here at Tech with the university's participation in this latest research project," says Peter Gerity, Tech's vice president for academic affairs. "In addition to allowing us to introduce the IT curriculum and begin developing the IT degree program, iCASA will also provide opportunities for Tech students to work on real-world problems. . . . It's an excellent fit here at Tech.
"The new IT program -- courses are being offered this coming fall semester -- will broaden our base of offerings and will be complementary to other areas of study here at Tech," Gerity adds.
With the establishment of its IT program, New Mexico Tech will join the ranks of an elite group of universities offering a curriculum which deals specifically with the protection and surety of intricately complex layers of computer-driven systems and networks, some of which, like the Internet, reside in cyberspace.
"Although there are hundreds of so-called IT programs currently available, there are only about half a dozen throughout the country that are like this one," Gerity says. "There are some colleges and universities offering IT programs that run the gamut from journalism to biotechnology to computer design, but our program is not one of those. . . . In fact, we're hoping New Mexico Tech's IT program will soon become officially recognized by the federal government as a member of that elite cluster of prestigious institutions offering this type of specific IT curriculum."
Under the iCASA research umbrella, the departments of computer science, engineering, and management at New Mexico Tech have pooled their resources--faculty, classes, and research facilities--to form the core curriculum of Tech's IT program.
"In addition to developing leadin g-edge research and applications, iCASA will provide several internship opportunities for Tech students, especially IT majors," says Andrew H. Sung, Chairman of the Tech computer science department and one of the two Coordinators assigned to head the IT program.
"Right now, we already have an ongoing project, which was made available through iCASA, that recently hired two of our graduate students to participate in its research," Sung relates, "and the IT program hasn't yet officially started.
"As iCASA attracts more partners and customers, we expect more internship and cooperative employment opportunities will develop for our students, particularly in the private sector and with federal agencies," he adds.
Both Sung and Gerity point out that the new IT program will broaden New Mexico Tech's overall curricula offerings, benefitting not only computer science, engineering, and management majors at the university, but offering something for all Tech students.
"Another possible effect adding the IT program might have on the Tech campus is the potential for an influx of more female students," Gerity says. "National surveys show that IT curricula attract a high proportion of female students."
New Mexico Tech's vice president for academic affairs also points out that iCASA stands to augment the university's financial and human resources--particularly by providing additional research opportunities for prospective faculty members and researchers.
"iCASA is a tremendous resource at New Mexico Tech," Gerity says. "The added lure of working on projects in cutting-edge disciplines allows us to more easily recruit researchers for our other research programs and much-needed faculty for our academic departments."
"What we're doing here with our IT program is adopting a more general approach to IT education, and that fits in really well with what we're doing in the management department," says Peter Anselmo, Associate Professor of Management at New Mexico Tech and the other coordinator of Tech's IT program.
"Although most of the IT program's core curriculum is derived from computer science-based classes, the social systems and human-computer interface modeling components are cutting-edge
topics in management these days," Anselmo notes.
"What this interdisciplinary collaboration with iCASA means for our IT students is that once they graduate they'll be able to do more than just write slick programs," Anselmo adds. "They'll
graduate with an insider's view of systems management and will have a firmer grasp of the overall organization involved with these types of systems. . . . They'll be able to clearly see the bigger picture; and that will give our graduates a competitive advantage in the marketplace."
In addition to the beneficial contributions to research and education at New Mexico Tech that iCASA brings, having established the research organization on the university's campus is certain to provide economic benefits to Socorro, as well as the State of New Mexico, Anselmo asserts.
"In the short term, we're hoping to at least see spin-off companies locate in Tech's Research Park and throughout Socorro County and the rest of the state because of iCASA," he says.
iCASA is intended to eventually evolve into a national security asset, as well, one which will work to protect the U.S.A.'s critical information infrastructures and to educate and train members of the private and public sector workforce.
"Through Tech's IT program, we can develop a college- educated, technically competent workforce," Anselmo adds. "And, if we have the workforce and the capabilities in place, businesses will come to New Mexico, not because of tax breaks, but because of the people who are here."
"Information security and information assurance affect our lives in every way," Sung relates, "from the highest levels of our national security, to corporations that are safeguarding proprietary information, even down to giving out your credit card number to purchase airline tickets on the Internet, or sending out a secure e-mail message. Therefore, we are all very fortunate to be a part of iCASA and this new IT program. It's really a fantastic opportunity and exciting time for all of us to work together toward a common goal."
The formation of iCASA was initiated by the Tech Board of Regents and a $350,000 appropriation from a bill enacted by the New Mexico State Legislature. A $5 million appropriation recently was secured by U. S. Senator Pete Domenici and U. S. Representative Joe Skeen for iCASA in the Fiscal Year 2001 Defense Appropriations Act.
Besides New Mexico Tech, so far, the collaborative research effort also involves New Mexico State University, Carnegie Mellon University, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Technical Design, Inc. from Los Alamos, the U. S. Department of Defense, Science Applications International Corporation, and Laguna Pueblo. New Mexico Tech administers iCASA under a contract with the Department of Defense.