The University of Arizona Creates School of Information

By Niamh Wallace
Bryan Heidorn, School of Information Director; Catherine Brooks, School of Information Director of Undergraduate Studies; and Kelland Thomas, School of Information Associate Director.
Bryan Heidorn, School of Information Director; Catherine Brooks, School of Information Director of Undergraduate Studies; and Kelland Thomas, School of Information Associate Director.

The University of Arizona is poised to become a leader in the rapidly growing field of information science with the opening of the new School of Information. Capitalizing on already strong programs in library science, information technology and digital arts, the UA’s newest school will prepare students to tackle the challenges of an information-based society as well as seize opportunities to succeed in emerging industries. The school is applying to join the iSchools Organization, which is a collection of Information Schools dedicated to advancing the information field, which will make it the first iSchool in the Southwest.

“Data and digital technology has revolutionized the globe in a single generation,” said John Paul Jones III, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, where the School of Information is housed. “It has changed how we do business, create culture and communicate identities. It has even changed how we govern, protest and create social transformation. The iSchool plays a role in understanding—and even shaping—these changes.”

The new school has already received the support of technology leaders in the Tucson community who see its potential to attract employers to the region.

“The iSchool is an essential pipeline for the breakthrough research and the top talent that is critical for transforming our regional economy,” said Justin Williams, founder and CEO of Startup Tucson.

The iSchool combines the School of Information Resources and Library Science (SIRLS), located in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS), and the School of Information: Science, Technology, and Arts (SISTA), located in the College of Science. The iSchool will include additional affiliate faculty from the College of SBS and the College of Science, as well as faculty from Fine Arts and the College of Humanities who have research interests in digital arts and humanities.

The iSchool will include all aspects of the information sciences, including artificial intelligence; data management and curation; natural language processing; social networking; computational art and music; eCommerce; eHealth; library sciences; and much more.

Bryan Heidorn, the director of the school and the former director of SIRLS, says the iSchool will also fine-tune its expertise in information matters pertinent to our region, such as those related to climate and the environment, defense, healthcare, optics, border security and mining.

“Information has always been the distinctive purview of humans but the computer and telecommunications revolutions are allowing us to leverage information in ways never before imagined,” said Heidorn. “You no longer need to be a master computer programmer to use information to change a business, our government or our society. The people who understand how digital information works in society and who have the technical skills to manipulate information will have a competitive advantage. The intelligent use of information will help citizens make better decisions in their life and work.”

The creation of the iSchool aligns with the UA’s strategic plan. Students in the school learn skills that prepare them to find work in a burgeoning field. Faculty conduct innovative and interdisciplinary research that targets the world’s grand challenges. The iSchool will also pursue partnerships with technology companies, which will expand economic opportunities for the region.

Based on the experience of iSchools at universities like Washington, Illinois and Syracuse, there is considerable potential in creating academic and corporate alliances. Corporate partnerships mean students and faculty have access to real-world problems that need solving now. Companies can receive a ready supply of faculty expertise and energetic student interns, as well as the first peek at some of the brightest tech minds hitting the job market after graduation.

“The opportunities for collaboration with interns and faculty at the new iSchool at the University of Arizona is a great resource for the technology industry,” said Steve Zylstra, president and CEO of Arizona Tech Council. “Having a crop of bright graduates in our own backyard who are versed in the latest information technology is a definite boon for local companies.”

The iSchool offers three undergraduate degrees. Students can earn a B.A. in Information Science and Arts, where they study topics such as digital aesthetics, information representation and computational art culture. Students pursuing a B.A. in e-Society study issues related to privacy, ethics, information manipulation and the impact of social media on daily life. Students obtaining a B.S. in Information Science and Technology develop expertise in topics such as machine learning, natural language processing and artificial intelligence.

The iSchool offers two graduate degrees with a third in the planning stages. The M.A. in Library and Information Science is accredited by the American Library Association and prepares students for careers in libraries, museums and archives, as well as in government and business information centers. The M.A. includes the Knowledge River Program, which is the foremost graduate program for training librarians and information specialists with a focus on Latino and Native American cultural issues. An M.S. in Information is undergoing university approvals and is expected to be available for classes beginning in the fall.

Students who obtain a Ph.D. in Information learn to develop and apply computational methods to challenges that overlap multiple academic disciplines—from discovering signaling pathways in cells, to understanding musical improvisation, to training digital video cameras to understand what they see— and will be prepared for careers in academia, government and industry.

The iSchool will also offer a variety of certificates, and like most of the degrees, they will be offered face-to-face and online. The DigIn (Digital Information Management) graduate certificate trains professionals to create and manage large, complex digital collections. The certificate in Archival Studies teaches students how archival practices affect the composition and meaning of cultural artifacts and the historical record.

The Legal Information and Scholarly Communication certificate prepares students to serve in various types of libraries, archives, government agencies and businesses where legal information is critical for success. For jobs where a J.D. is required, the school provides a Law Librarianship graduate certificate.

And students who earn a certificate in Medical and Community Health Information will obtain skills in the acquisition and dissemination of quality health information as well as receive training on providing culturally competent health information services.

“These certificates, like many of the curricular programs already running in the School of Information, involve a number of other academic units on campus, so student training will continue to span disciplinary boundaries,” said Heidorn.

Kelland Thomas, a professor in the School of Music and associate director of the School of Information, is excited about the prominent role the arts and humanities play in the new school.
“A growing number of artists are using computational methods, data analysis and visualization to explore what it means to be human in the information age,” said Thomas. “The UA campus already has a thriving digital arts community and curriculum, and the School of Information is poised to be a nationally recognized focal point for exciting developments in computational art and design.”

Contact: Bryan Heidorn, Director of the School of Information, at [email protected] or (520) 621-3565.

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