Our History

The story of computing and data sciences at Boston University (BU) — one of the largest private institutions in the U.S., with 37,000+ students,10,000+ faculty and staff, and 17 schools and colleges —  dates back to the 1980s. With early investments in relevant research areas (e.g., in artificial neural networks and high-performance computing) and in cognate degree programs (e.g., in computer science, statistics, computer engineering, information systems, neuroscience, and bioinformatics), BU had the perfect runway to launch its ambitious journey into the world of computational and data-driven discovery and innovation.

A notable milestone came in 2011 with the creation of the Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science and Engineering [Hariri Institute] under the leadership of Azer Bestavros as its founding director. The Hariri Institute was set up as a university-wide incubator to accelerate data-driven research in various disciplines by leveraging BU’s strengths in existing centers and by spearheading the university’s Data Science Initiative (DSI).

By 2017, buoyed by over $100 million in research funding secured through the Hariri Institute, increased interest from across campus in data-driven scholarship, the evident popularity of computing-related experiential learning programs offered through BU Spark!, and explosive enrollments in cognate degree programs, BU made its biggest investment yet by setting out to build its Center for Computing & Data Sciences —  a 19-story, 380,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art iconic facility at the heart of its campus, which acts as an anchor and physical manifestation of BU’s presence in data science.

In tandem with the design and planning for this building, in the summer of 2018, BU assembled a task force to envision the future of data science education and research at the university. A year later, on the recommendation of the task force, BU announced the creation of the Faculty of Computing & Data Sciences (CDS): a university-wide, tenure-home, and degree-granting academic unit, comprising scholars and researchers in core and applied areas of computing, computational, and data-driven inquiry. In December 2019, Bestavros was selected to lead this new academic unit as the inaugural Associate Provost for Computing & Data Sciences. Soon after, CDS appointed a set of thirty “founding faculty members” from across the university to provide governance through the two-year bootstrapping phase of CDS, primarily to oversee faculty recruitment and academic program development.

The model of CDS as a cross-cutting academic unit embedded in the Office of the Provost is unique nationally. CDS is distinct from the existing cognate academic units in the College of Arts & Sciences (CAS) Computer Science/CS and Mathematics and Statistics/Stats) and the College of Engineering (ECE) at BU. CDS augments and complements these departments without transplanting them under a new school or college. This organization recognizes the importance (and preserves the diversity) of the established academic and professional cultures of CS, ECE, and Stats without encumbering CDS with the disciplinary cultures and requirements of these disciplines, allowing CDS to develop from a clean slate.

Key Milestones

  • 1983: Computer Science and the Math departments become two separate units.
  • 1988: Program in Cognitive and Neural Systems launches in BU College of Arts & Sciences
  • 1990: Center for Computational Science is created (now under Hariri Institute)
  • 1995: Program in Computer Engineering launches in Engineering
  • 1999: Intercollegiate Graduate Program in Bioinformatics is created (now under CDS)
  • 2002: Center for Information & Systems Engineering is created (now under Hariri Institute)
  • 2005: Center for Reliable Info Systems & Cyber Security is created (now under Hariri Institute)
  • 2009: Massachusetts Green HPC Center in Holyoke is announced
  • 2011: Hariri Institute for Computing is created as a federation of centers & initiatives
  • 2013: Digital Learning & Innovation (now home to the Shipley Center, Educational Technology, and the Center for Teaching & Learning) is incubated at Hariri Institute
  • 2014: Software & Application Innovation Lab is created at Hariri Institute
  • 2014: Data Science Initiative (DSI) is incubated at Hariri Institute (precursor to CDS)
  • 2015: Provost Data Science Hiring Initiative is launched
  • 2015: MS in Statistical Practice program launches in CAS
  • 2016: BU Spark! incubator and experiential learning lab is created
  • 2017: Computing, Law, and Society Cyber Alliance is launched (now in CDS)
  • 2017: Artificial Intelligence Research (AIR) Initiative launches at Hariri Institute
  • 2018: MS in Artificial Intelligence program launches in CAS
  • 2019: Taskforce to Envision Data Science at BU releases its recommendations
  • 2019: Faculty of Computing & Data Sciences (CDS) is created
  • 2020: PhD in Computing & Data Sciences program launches in CDS
  • 2021: First tenure-track faculty member appointed in CDS
  • 2021: BS in Data Science degree program launches in CDS
  • 2022: Center for Computing & Data Sciences opens its doors
  • 2022: AI Cluster Hiring Initiative launches in CDS
  • 2022: Inaugural CDS Class of 2026 matriculates in CDS (85 majors)
  • 2023: Inaugural CDS Class of 2023 graduates (six majors + three minors)
  • 2023: MS in Data Science program launches in CDS
  • 2023: CDS hosts national ADSA and PIT-UN summits
  • 2024: AI Task Force releases its recommendations
  • 2024: Online MS in Data Science program launches in CDS

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Our Impact and Year of Firsts

Read about the Faculty of Computing & Data Sciences' "Year of Firsts" Impact Report 2023.