Computer Science Department Welcomes Two New Faculty Members to UMass Amherst

AMHERST, Mass. - The computer science department at the University of Massachusetts is welcoming two new tenure-track faculty members this semester: Prashant Shenoy and James Allan. The announcement was made by James Kurose, head of the department.

"We’re thrilled to be adding two new tenure-track faculty to our ranks. Prashant and James each have not only outstanding research programs, but strong commitments to teaching as well," said Kurose.

Shenoy, who received his doctoral degree from the University of Texas at Austin, specializes in operating systems and computer networks, with an emphasis on multimedia ? the use of sounds and images sent over the Internet. He was drawn to multimedia, Shenoy said, "because it’s a technology that’s just emerging, and which poses very challenging issues. The demands that multimedia place on computer systems are a very difficult problem to solve."

A major issue, as anybody familiar with the World Wide Web knows, is speed: audio and visual clips tend to travel over the Internet slowly, creating information bottlenecks that are seen on the monitor as awkward, stop-and-start sequences. Shenoy identifies and evaluates problems in existing systems, and designs new systems which will be able to handle the enormous amounts of data needed to move and use multimedia files.

Shenoy is teaching a graduate seminar this semester on identifying research While doing his graduate work, Shenoy was awarded a Microelectronics and Computer Development graduate fellowship, and did research at AT&T Bell Laboratories (now Lucent Technologies) and Microsoft Research. His dissertation centered on finding ways of storing multimedia files without crashing or crowding computer servers. He earned his undergraduate degree at the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay, where he received the Institute Silver Medal for being the top-ranking graduating student in his class. Shenoy has published in numerous professional journals, and holds a patent on multimedia technology.

"My decision to come to UMass was based on the fact that there is not only a strong computer science department here, but also a very well-respected research group in networking," he said. "I’m looking forward to working collaboratively with my colleagues."

One of Shenoy’s major interests is in finding ways to apply his research to the hot new area of distance learning: "I’d like to use my research to enhance teaching, perhaps to digitize lectures and put them on the Web."

Allan, who received his Ph.D. in 1995 from Cornell University, has focused his research in four primary areas: automatic information organization, the underlying technology behind Web search engines; topic detection and tracking (TDT), an emerging technology for categorizing and searching audio news stories; interactive information retrieval and organization, or how people interact with their systems to retrieve and interpret information; and multimodal retrieval, "combining text and image queries and results in a meaningful fashion." He has been a research associate professor for two years and a postdoctoral researcher in the department at UMass for two years before that, and began this fall as a tenure-track assistant professor.

An assistant director of the Center for Intelligent Information Retrieval (CIIR) research group, Allan is enthusiastic about continuing his work with the department in his new permanent position and about the research independence that his appointment brings. "We’ve been building up a good research program and organization," Allan says. "In my case, my connection with the department has been strong, and I hope that my colleagues see the potential for future excellence in our collaborations."

Allan also plays a critical role in the department’s National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, grant funding that provides the resources to involve undergraduates from the Five Colleges in aspects of research. He characterizes the program as "a difficult and time-consuming commitment," but one that yields hands-on research experience of value to its participants.

"Two of the six participants this year told us point-blank that this experience got them their jobs," he points out. Allan now assumes some new challenges and responsibilities in his tenure-track position, including a shift from his pure research focus to more teaching responsibilities. Allan is teaching Computer Science 445 this fall, a course that covers the fundamental principles governing the operation and use of database management systems.

"It’s wonderful to have James continuing with us as a tenure-track faculty member," said Kurose. He noted the national reputation of the Center for Intelligent Information Retrieval and praised Allan’s contributions to that group. "We also welcome Prashant into our department. Many of us, including me, are looking forward to building research collaborations with him."