A letter from the dean

A letter from Dean and Distinguished Professor Krishnaswami "Hari" Srihari


Dear colleagues,

It is that time of year again when I write to all of you as we are busy preparing for the beginning of a new academic year. I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on the past academic year and all of the accomplishments that have been achieved by you and our Watson team. The last 17 months have been like nothing any one of us could have ever imagined. Having our lives dramatically impacted by a pandemic provided us with an opportunity to serve our students in a different way — a challenge you all rose up to meet. I am extremely proud of the dedication that each of you has shown to the success of our students and college. The generosity that our Watson team showed our students and each other made me extremely proud to be a part of the Watson College. 

Another big milestone for our team: We changed our name to the Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science. From rather humble beginnings and expectations, today's Watson College has over 3,100 students with research expenditures at a per capita amount that is around $200,000 per tenured/tenure-track faculty member (2020-21). Our Computer Science Department is home to over 1,000 students, and SSIE has more than 180 doctoral students. It is noteworthy that the productivity and contributions of the Watson Team (over the past few decades) have allowed us to grow with quality. The transition to a “college” is the logical next step in our growth. It is the Watson team's dedication and diligence that has helped us move forward together, and I look forward to working with you as Watson continues its upward trajectory, now as a college. 

This annual letter also provides me with the opportunity to highlight numerous initiatives and activities that have enabled the Watson College to excel, including diversity initiatives, upgrades to space and equipment, innovative graduate recruitment efforts, research opportunities and new partnerships. The college continues to grow in student enrollments and, therefore, faculty numbers. Watson College has maintained outstanding quality in our first-year students. The fall 2020 (entering) class of engineers had an average SAT score (math and verbal combined) of 1399 and the class of computer scientists had an average SAT score of 1426. 

Watson College continues to work hard to grow student enrollments at the undergraduate and graduate levels, in both quality and quantity. In fall 2020, Watson College’s total enrollment was 3,166, with 2,120 undergraduates and 1,046 graduate students. That is a 25% increase in total student enrollment since fall 2011; a 54% increase in graduate student enrollment. We could not accomplish all that we have without the unwavering support of our campus leadership and partners, including President Stenger, Provost Nieman and all of our campus partners whose support of Watson College has been crucial to our achievements. This support enables us to provide the best opportunities for the students we serve, as we continue to grow strategically and with quality. Watson College is also privileged to have active and dedicated advisory boards that provide invaluable support and guidance. Thank you to all of our Watson Advisory Board members, members of our department advisory boards and our New York City Metro Advisory Board for their service. Your contribution to and advocacy for our college is invaluable.

kaiming ye and guy german

Many in Watson went above and beyond to support the college, our students and faculty in response to challenges faced due to the pandemic — from developing occupancy trackers for our facilities and making spaces available to students to providing online teaching seminars for faculty. I would like to thank everyone for working diligently to keep our students, staff and faculty safe, all while ensuring our students had access to the space and equipment they required to be successful in and out side of the classroom. Some of our faculty and staff also worked on the fabrication of a UV sterilization system and the design and process to manufacture a face shield.

We were constantly focused on our students and how to best support them. The Watson Advising Office conducted surveys of our undergraduate and graduate students to obtain their feedback, which better informed our student services offices, departments and faculty as to the student experience. The Watson IT team also invested in our IT Infrastructure to support instruction and remote students. Thank you to everyone for your hard work during this challenging time!

Our students continue to demonstrate their excellence through participating in various competitions and conferences. Four functioning vehicles were completed this year, a first for SAE and Watson (Formula, Baja two-wheel drive, Baja four-wheel drive, SAE electric go kart). Thank you to Davie Richner and Vince Brady for your constant support and guidance of this group of passionate students. The Watson Combat Robotics League also continued with their plans to hold team-based competitions, even despite limiting restrictions placed on how their events could be held. In addition, the Mars Rover Team continued to work hard on their design and submitted for the competition, although, due to the significant delays they faced, the rover was not as complete as they had hoped.

The simulation competition teams from the SSIE department had another outstanding year competing virtually against top teams from around the globe and winning the annual IISE modeling and simulation competition — this is the fourth year in a row. In addition, the Binghamton University Girls Who Code organization continued holding virtual classes for middle and high school aged girls interested in technology. Our student organizations and teams could not accomplish what they do without the support of our alumni, friends and donors. There are many ways to support our students, including the Watson Competes! Program; please visit binghamton.edu/watson/giving for more information. 

engineering building

Another big milestone: The Engineering Building renovation was completed in September 2020. One major goal of this renovation was serving our students better — always a top priority for the Watson College. Many offices were impacted by the renovation and we want to say thank you very much for your patience with this process. I believe the outcomes of the renovation are wonderful from the new Fabrication Lab truly embodying Engineering on Display with new equipment for our students’ use to the new Watson Commons — a relaxed gathering space for students, and office space for CS and SSIE graduate students. In addition, the co-location of our student services offices including the Watson Advising Office, the Watson Career and Alumni Connections Office, EngiNet classrooms and the Office of Diversity Programs will enable our students to more easily take advantage of all that these offices have to offer to support them. Thank you to everyone who helped our faculty and staff as they moved back into the renovated building and got them up and running as quickly as possible. 

diversity suite

In January 2021, the Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science was recognized at the Bronze Level by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Diversity Recognition Program. This recognition is based on an application that was submitted in fall 2020 by Assistant Dean Monica Majors Guient. The Bronze Level is the highest level ASEE issued this submission cycle. The Bronze level recognition means that our College is among the nation’s leaders in inclusive excellence. It demonstrates that the unit is committed to the following outcomes:

  • Establishing baseline support for groups underrepresented in engineering.
  • Quantifiably analyzing and assessing unit composition, policies, culture, and climate related to all groups underrepresented in engineering.
  • Implementing programs and initiatives that strengthen the K-12 or community college pipeline. thereby reducing significant barriers related to long-term growth.
  • Developing an action plan focused on continuous improvement. 

Thank you to all of our faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends who support our efforts in diversity and inclusion. Without you, our college could not be making progress in this area — a strategic priority for Watson. As a young college (founded in 1983) when compared to other institutions (with much longer histories and therefore larger resources), this achievement is quite notable. We are in very good company with those who have been awarded this distinction previously — institutions including Arizona State, Michigan Tech, University of Pennsylvania, Penn State, Ohio State, University of Texas at Austin, and Wisconsin Madison. Although we have not reached our goals yet and some may say "have a long way to go," to receive such a recognition is a true honor. I am hopeful that other planned initiatives will assist us as we continue to strive to do better. 

To that end, we launched a major diversity initiative this year: the Watson College Scholars Program. It is designed to provide high-impact interventions and financial support to develop underrepresented minoritized, female, and economically- disadvantaged (e.g. Pell-eligible) students who are strong candidates for graduate study and a professional career in engineering or computer science all while supporting the recruitment, retention and growth of a diverse group of undergraduate students. The first cohort of students will begin in fall 2021. This program is completely funded by resources from external donors, and, for this inaugural class, our academic departments are also providing support at the lead sponsor level. We are excited to kick off this program soon! 

We also launched a donor-funded program called the Diversifying Coding (D-Coding) Program in fall 2020. Funded by Watson College alumnus Jim Bankoski ’91, D-Coding is a program with goals to diversify computer science and computer engineering, as well as to increase computing skill attainment in data-intensive fields. The Diversity and Inclusive Excellence Committee sponsored workshops on implicit bias, microaggressions, and communication styles. They also conducted focus groups on diversity and a Watson College climate survey, in addition to supporting the development of department-level diversity plans and committees and developing questions to guide diversity content on course proposal forms. 

As part of our benchmarking and strategic planning effort, I requested Associate Dean Peter Partell to lead a “Best in Class” undergraduate education initiative with Watson departments and the Watson Undergraduate Studies Committee. Associate Professor Peter Huang (Mechanical Engineering Department) recently submitted a final report to me with recommendations to ensure our students are being challenged in and out of the classroom. We want to provide the best educational experience possible for our students and this effort will help us do that. 

Our Academic Affairs team has been very busy this year with shepherding new or updated academic program proposals through the SUNY and NY State Ed approval processes. Since June 2020, 17 proposals have been submitted to SUNY, including a proposal for a new master’s in information systems in our Computer Science Department. Several of the proposals that were submitted included designating all of our graduate programs as available in a distance-education format. As we grow, we want to ensure students have the ability to complete our graduate degrees remotely as an on-line student. The MS and PhD programs in systems science were recently the first to be approved so they can be provided in a distance-education format. 

Despite the challenges this year, we continued to work closely with our academic partners globally. Since June 2020, we signed new academic collaboration agreements with Mohammed V. University, Navrachana University, SRM IST and VIT Bhopal and VIT AP (Amaravati). We grew many of our partnerships to expand the way in which we are collaborating, from the Centers of Excellence and close collaboration between faculty members connecting research and academic interests. For example, we are now working with VIT Bhopal and VIT AP (Amaravati), in addition to VIT in Vellore and Chennai. Throughout this year, we conducted close to 100 virtual webinars with our partners in India that spurred additional faculty collaborations and aided in student recruitment and brand awareness. This effort was truly yeoman’s work, and I would like to thank everyone who coordinated and participated in this effort — some of you taught late into the night or in the very early morning hours due to the time difference. We could not do what we do without our Watson team! 

The Watson Advising Office was pleased to welcome Patrick Talvi last August to the team. With the addition of a fourth advisor, they were able to implement a probation program to further support student success along with the Watson Academic Success Course. This course teaches success skills to students on probation in a personalized manner. Advisors have individual meetings with each student learning their challenges and providing the necessary tools and referrals for success. 

The fall and spring semesters were busy with student appointments as the advisors make a point of seeing every new engineering and computer science first year student. Using Zoom, the advising team was able to stay connected with the students — they still conducted their one-on-one meetings with all of the rising seniors and were also able to get every continuing student a fall schedule. Watson Advising was the first to survey their students with a health-check; they wanted to see how the students were really doing remotely. 

As of June 2021, Watson YTD research activity surpassed June 2020 YTD figures in proposals submitted ($99.8M, an increase of 5.8% from the previous year) and expenditures ($19.6M, an increase of 10.6% over previous year); and 254 students were funded as RPAs (July 1, 2020 – May 31, 2021). For FY21, Watson was 42% of university research expenditures. All five of our academic departments are in the top ten on campus for research expenditures, with the SSIE Department in first place. Leading the way on campus, four Watson faculty received NSF CAREER Awards this year: Emrah Aykol (ECE); Jeremy Blackburn (CS); Aravind Prakash (CS); and Mo Sha (CS). This is a big accomplishment — congratulations to the awardees! We continued the Watson-UHS Research Collaboration by offering seed funding for Watson faculty. We are delighted by the success of this collaboration and the opportunity it provides our faculty. I am delighted that our faculty and staff did not allow the pandemic to get in the way of their research mission. They found a way to excel at both teaching and research. 

The graduate recruitment team and all of our departments worked hard to recruit top students this year, despite not being able to travel and the inability to use traditional methods to recruit students. In fall 2020 and spring 2021, all events were held virtually, but well attended — yielding almost 8,000 new prospects. The team also had to pivot to new yield tactics than had been done previously. They continued one-on-one meetings (conducted virtually this year) with over 200 students. A free continuing education course was offered to deposit paid admitted students for spring 2021 and a $1,000 tuition scholarship was offered to students for fall 2021 with a 41% yield of offer to accept. We increased our investment in digital advertising this year and the team implemented a new initiative — monthly newsletters to partners and prospective students. 

From a financial perspective, 2020-21 was a challenging year due to a statewide hiring freeze, as well as a state spending cap. Despite this challenge, Watson College’s prudent budget practices from previous years meant we had reserves to tap into in order to make it through this difficult financial situation. We were able to make investments in our departments’ equipment, via the Labs & Software Committee. Additionally, we invested over $300,000 in Binghamton University Foundation funds to upgrade our computing infrastructure servers and storage. 

From a human resource perspective, the hiring freeze required an added step of following the “exemption process”. We were successful in our requests to hire an assistant dean for academic diversity and inclusive excellence, Miguel Baique; director of Watson Career and Alumni Connections, Kimberly Coleman; an administrative coordinator for WCAC, Kendra Woods; two administrative assistants supporting the Mechanical Engineering Department, Bridget Tiska and Tara Zajack; a graduate recruiter, Emily Breitbart; and an office assistant supporting the Biomedical Engineering Department, Michelle Beavers. We also successfully petitioned for the promotions of Mike Testani to the senior director for external outreach and Matthew  Fedorchak to career development coordinator.

In addition, last fall, the provost allowed us to continue with the offers we had made for eight new faculty starting in fall 2020. We are also welcoming two new senior faculty this fall: Luis Rocha, who will be joining the Systems Science and Industrial Engineering Department as the inaugural George Klir Professor of Systems Science; 
and Mohammad Younis, who will be joining the Mechanical Engineering Department. Both are true scholars in their respective fields, and we are delighted they will be joining Watson College. 

We had a few retirements this year from the Watson College. Rose Williams, a lecturer in the Computer Science Department, and Claudia Martin, an adjunct assistant professor in the Engineering Design Division, both retired. Bob Mess retired in July after serving our campus for over 23 years. In addition, Bob Kaub and Karen Williams, both from the ME Department, retired  this summer after many years in Watson and on our campus. Additionally, our director of development, Alan Greene, retired in June. It is very hard to see colleagues who you have worked with for many years leave Watson, but their contributions to our educational mission have been 
invaluable. We wish them well! 

We owe a congratulations to faculty members Aravind Prakash for being granted tenure and promotion to associate professor; and Seokheun "Sean" Choi for being promoted to professor, effective fall 2021. In addition, congratulations to Mark Poliks and Daryl Santos, who were promoted to SUNY Distinguished Professor and SUNY Distinguished Service Professor, respectively, effective April 2021. As you know, the promotion at the SUNY level to the distinguished distinction is a very big accomplishment and not easily obtained. 

Congratulations also goes to the recipients for the 2021 Watson College Recognition Awards and the 2021 Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence. I am overwhelmed every year at the outstanding work done by these individuals as outlined in their nomination dossiers. Thank you to each and every one of these individuals for the work they do for our college. 

2021 Watson College Recognition Awards

  • Distinguished Educator: Kirill Zaychik, Mechanical Engineering, and Ammar Abdo, Biomedical Engineering 
  • Outstanding Faculty Service: Hiroki Sayama, Systems Science and Industrial Engineering 
  • Outstanding Staff: Tara Brentari, Computer Science 
  • Early Stage Research: Aravind Prakash, Computer Science 

2021 Chancellor's and University Awards for Excellence

  • Chancellor's Awards for Excellence in Teaching: Steven Moore, Computer Science 
  • Chancellor's Awards for Excellence in Faculty Service: Ping Yang, Computer Science 
  • Chancellor's Awards for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities: Sha Jin, Biomedical Engineering; Mohammad Khasawneh, Systems Science and Industrial Engineering 
  • Chancellor's Awards for Excellence in Professional Service: Robert Mess, Watson College IT 
  • University Award for Excellence in International Education: Peter Partell, Watson Dean's Office 

The Office of Industrial Outreach under the leadership of Mike Testani, was able to continue to  grow their programs in 2020-21. SPIR, an initiative of State University of New York (SUNY)  engineering schools, is a vehicle for delivering advanced technical assistance to New York state industries aimed towards developing high-technology regions. Despite severe funding cuts and lab space challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, SPIR supported eight PhD and MS semester-based projects throughout the Southern Tier in 2020-21 and, even considering the COVID-19 crisis, Watson faculty and students delivered real business value to our partner companies. SPIR continues to be a vibrant and impactful program going into its 27th year and currently plans to 
support 20 semester-based projects over the next academic year. 

The Watson Continuing Professional Development program continued to grow and offered over 50 courses and more than 100 course offerings in 2020-21 (online, on-campus and private offerings) reaching over 1,600 course participants. A very successful live virtual three-day data science and artificial intelligence workshop was delivered in January this year in collaboration with IBM and included our BU faculty with 200 registrants joining from 16 countries around the world. The online Lean Six Sigma offerings continued to be successful with semi-annual White Belt, Yellow Belt, Green Belt, Green Belt Healthcare and annual Black Belt courses and delivered 
to over 600 learners. Several new online courses were developed this last year, such as Introduction to Machine Learning, Advanced Machine Learning, Introduction to CAD, Leadership Essentials and Emotional Intelligence. In the pipeline are Design of Experiments, Multivariable Data Analytics, Leadership Essentials, Effective Presentation Skills, Industry 4.0, Internet of Things and more. Since the Watson’s micro-credential program started (the first at the University) in spring 2018, we have issued 2,422 badges, with 971 digital badges to learners in the 2020-21 academic year. Also, new to this year is our collaboration with NSBE (National Society for Black Engineers) and their Energy Special Interest Group to serve their student and professional members.

The Watson Career and Alumni Connections Office (WCAC) welcomed two new staff members this year: Kimberly Coleman as director and Kendra Woods as administrative coordinator. They continued to serve students virtually through one-on-one appointments, professional development workshops, classroom presentations and alumni career panels. In 2020-21, they served over 700 unique students through appointments and many more with over 50 virtual events. The WCAC team also led the coordination and execution of Engineers Week 2021 in February. Once again, we hosted our annual Alumni and Friends Networking Night with Bob Kump ‘83, deputy CEO and president of AVANGRID Inc., who provided the keynote address. in addition, our annual Community Day Celebration, hosted virtually this year, included 21 Watson student organizations hosting virtual STEM activities and 172 children taking part in these activities. 

The development program at Watson College has had one of its best years ever as far as raising support from private sources. Donations and pledges from our alumni, faculty/staff, friends, and corporations are projected to surpass the $850,000 mark for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. Philanthropy has made possible a solid footing for the Watson College Scholars Program by securing lead sponsorships from IBM, Bloomberg, Raymond Corp., Lockheed Martin and Subhachandra Chandra, MS ’95 and Nandita Dukkipati. We have also received sponsorship support from Syska Hennessey, and several of our alumni and friends. Thanks to the Dean’s Advisory Boards, we were able to leverage our relationships to secure this critical funding. 
Watson also had three major initiatives taking place that have all met or surpassed their goals; the Goldblatt Challenge, the tile campaign, and the Krishnaswami Srihari Scholarship in Graduate Excellence. The fourth and final year of the Goldblatt challenge had a very ambitious goal of reaching a 40% participation rate, we hit 42%, thanks to the dedicated faculty and staff within Watson and alumnus,Ken Goldblatt ’87.

The tile campaign was a success as we had 34 donors all contribute to name a tile. The Srihari Scholarship was a grassroots initiative by Watson alumni and friends to raise enough money to endow a graduate level scholarship to benefit an 
international PhD level student studying industrial and systems engineering, with a preference for a female student. The effort raised enough to provide scholarship support to a student in perpetuity.

gary kunis

Our largest gift was from Gary Kunis ’73, LHD ’02 in naming the Gary Kunis and Connie Wong Scholarship for Women in Technology, which will support five students incoming first-year undergraduate students in the Watson College majoring in engineering or computer science, with a preference for a female student. 

As always, our Watson Team continues to exceed expectations through its diligence, dedication, innovative approach, entrepreneurial spirit and ambitious drive. We remain focused on providing the highest quality educational opportunities to our principal customer — our student. It is indeed an honor to be a part of this superb and accomplished team. I would certainly be remiss if I did not thank each member of the Watson team for all that you have done and continue to do for our Watson School. I look forward to a phenomenal 2021-22 as we welcome everyone back to campus!