iSchool welcomes inaugural class of MS/IM students

The first cohort of students in the iSchool's new MS in information management (MS/IM) degree program started classes this fall. More than forty strong, the group is nearly evenly split in terms of gender and includes a large number of international students.

The inaugural class of MS/IM students with Dean Allen Renear (left front); Professor Mike Twidale, director of the MS/IM program (back right); and Kirstin Phelps, a doctoral student assisting with the program (far right).

Coming from a variety of backgrounds in engineering, business, science, and social science, these students were attracted to the MS/IM in large part because of the flexible nature of the program. With only three required courses—and a programming course, if needed—the MS/IM curriculum can be customized to specific career pathways, including: data science and analytics; privacy, trust, security, and ethics; information architecture and design; and knowledge management and information consulting. Below are profiles of four MS/IM students.

Yingjun Guan came to Illinois from China, where he received his bachelor's and master's degrees in civil engineering. Guan was drawn to the MS/IM program because of his experiences working with engineering data. "I noticed that there are countless experiments and data records generated every day. However, only a few are sufficiently or properly analyzed," he said. In addition, the data Guan encountered came in different formats and was of varying quality, which made it less useful for research purposes. "The problem is no longer about obtaining the information but better managing the information," Guan explained. At the iSchool, he plans to focus on data science and analytics. He enjoys the atmosphere of the School, where "the faculty and staff are always ready and willing to help." After he receives his degree, Guan will either continue his studies or find a job, taking advantage of the career services offered by the iSchool.

Mark McCarthy received his bachelor's degree in East Asian Languages and Cultures from the University of Illinois and minored in informatics and Asian American studies. "Upon hearing about the new degree from Professor Gasser, my instructor for LIS 202, I decided it would be a good fit," he said. He likes the combination of humanities, social sciences, and engineering, and is enjoying his MS/IM classes. "It's something totally different from anything I've ever learned before, but I love the challenge of it!" After completing his degree, he would like to work in the areas of digital equity and inclusion. "There's a deluge of information in society today with lots of knowledge and resources available, but so much of it is not accessible—either physically accessible to those who need it in different formats or a lack of an access point for certain communities," McCarthy said.

Swathi Namburi came to the University of Illinois from Hyderabad, "The City of Pearls," in southern India. After earning a bachelor's degree in electronics and communication engineering in India, Namburi chose the MS/IM program at Illinois because of the program's multiple pathways. "I am especially interested in the sociotechnical approach intermixed with the information system aspects of this program," she said. "The University has a welcoming environment with approachable faculty and amazing students from diverse cultures." Namburi is keeping busy with coursework, the MS/IM seminar series, and job fairs. After graduation, she would like to work for a top-tier company.

Sandra Franco studied linguistics at the University of Illinois before entering the MS/IM degree program. "My background in linguistics is surprisingly helpful in grasping the principles of information systems and applying them to my understanding of language technologies," she said. As an undergraduate, she received funding from the Illinois Informatics Institute to work for Assistant Professor Jana Diesner. The experience helped her become acquainted with natural language processing tools, text mining, and sentiment analysis. "Such early exposure to the iSchool allowed me to gauge its unique culture, top-notch faculty, and countless avenues for learning. When I caught wind of the new MS/IM, applying was a no-brainer," Franco said. Once she finishes her degree, she wants to join a research team at the forefront of natural language processing and discovery, "equipping intelligent systems with enhanced knowledge representation and semantically-driven features."

"We are delighted with our first cohort of students," said Professor Michael Twidale, program director. "They are true pioneers, willing to join us on the adventure of crafting a new degree that builds on our established experience in teaching and research. We are determined to ensure that they have a great time at Illinois, not just in the innovative courses that we offer but in the additional opportunities that we provide—to visit labs, hear about and get involved in professors' research, gain experience with startups and established companies in the University of Illinois Research Park, and interact with our distinguished alumni."

The School plans to expand MS/IM degree program to online enrollments beginning in the spring. The application deadline for Spring 2017 admission is November 1.

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