CS Department Connects, Celebrates Alumni

The Department of Computer Science is connecting with alumni, celebrating their achievements and sharing the department’s vision for the future.

CS Chair Luah Nakhleh gives a department update to alumni in San Francisco.

The Department of Computer Science at Rice University arranged a series of five alumni meet-ups, held in Austin, Seattle and San Francisco between September 2017 and May 2018.

The goal was to connect with alumni, celebrate their achievements and share the department’s vision for the future.

Sara Brumfield (CS ’97), a software engineer and partner at Brumfield Labs in Austin, said she enjoyed getting updated on department news.

“It was fun talking about my work and having a chance to talk with CS alumni of other decades about what they’re working on. For those of us who’ve been gone from the department for a while, hearing Luay Nakhleh’s (the J.S. Abercrombie Professor and chair of CS) overview of the department, how large it’s grown, and what their challenges are, was particularly interesting,” she said.

The department turns 35 in 2019, and has a tradition of excellence in computer science. Alumni who attended heard talks with topics ranging from computer graphic developments in the past three decades to the latest CS research.

Carlyn Chatfield, alumni relations specialist, said the gatherings were full of energy.

“What I saw was a great deal of excitement. The alumni came to events that were entirely focused on the things they do. The tech talks, department updates and even the networking are all catered to people who do the same kinds of jobs as they do. They don’t get that same type of connection anywhere else and that’s really novel,” she said.

In the first ten months as the CS alumni specialist, Chatfield located 1,400 of 1,800 CS alumni. The opportunities to reconnect have been welcomed.

“Topics about research and application were well-received. Because the events are focused on tech careers and the advances, there’s a lot of excitement in the room,” Chatfield said.

Rice CS alumni are entrepreneurs, researchers, professionals and professors. Dan Grossman (CS ’97), for instance, is professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Washington. He was among the speakers in the Seattle gathering.

“Having moved to Seattle almost 15 years ago, I knew a few of the older attendees but was delighted to see so many young alumni in the Seattle area. As we all know, Rice is a small school far away from the Pacific Northwest, so it is great to see a critical mass of people here,” Grossman said.

“I know how important it is for a community to maintain strong alumni relations that help both alumni and the school. It is a great way to stay in touch, hear about Rice and network professionally,” he said.

Luay Nakhleh, expressed gratitude to those who volunteered to give tech talks, alumni and organizers.

“We did two trips to Austin and we were hosted by Sandeep Gupta of Calavista Software,” Nakhleh said. “Being hosted by a company started by a CS alumnus adds so much significance to the event itself because it showcases the success story of our alumni.”

Nakhleh hopes alumni will remain active in the Rice CS community. “We are very serious about building such a community. While we are doing our part to travel and meet with alumni, I hope they keep in touch with the department and each other as well,” he said.

Nakhleh is grateful for the administrative staff in the CS department. The success of the outreach trips is due, in part, to their efforts.

“I mentioned to Carlyn about a year ago the idea of traveling to meet with alumni in a casual setting. That’s all I really said. Carlyn took the idea and ran with it. The event’s format, the invited speakers, the venue and much more was all Carlyn’s work. Frankly, I wouldn’t have attempted to do this initiative without someone like Carlyn to work on it,” he said.

Cintia Listenbee is a Communications and Marketing Specialist in Computer Science