A Year Like No Other: GT Computing Flourishes in 2020

Sunrise over Atlanta skyline with Georgia Tech College of Computing campus in foreground


Despite having more than its fair share of difficulties, 2020 was a successful year for the College of Computing community. We launched a new school, moved up in the national rankings, welcomed two new chairs, and pushed forward on ethics and equity in computing. We also met head-on the unprecedented challenges brought on by the global pandemic. Linked below are just a few of the big stories that reflect the achievements of GT Computing students, faculty, staff, and alumni in 2020.

Among the biggest stories of 2020 was the announcement of a new school within the College and that encompasses many disciplines and faculty from Computing as well as other Georgia Tech colleges. The School of Cybersecurity and Privacy (SCP) is the first school dedicated to cybersecurity and privacy at a public university.

Georgia Tech School of Cybersecurity and Privacy banner

The addition of SCP brings the number of schools within the College to four. This year, two of the four schools welcomed new chairs. Professor Vivek Sarkar was announced as chair of the School of Computer Science in July, while Professor Haesun Park was named as chair of the School of Computational Science and Engineering in August.

Also making big news in 2020, the College ranked fifth in the first-ever U.S. News and World Report rankings of undergraduate computer science programs and ranked first for cybersecurity education. Other academic stories from the year include a new Computational Media Thread that is the first to cross three colleges at Georgia Tech, and Team emPrize, which bested dozens of international teams to make it to the top 10 semifinals of the IBM AI X-Prize competition.

This year, GT Computing researchers have been at the forefront of fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. Since the pandemic hit the U.S., researchers from the College collaborated on a new data-driven approach to Covid-19 interventions, used deep learning to forecast the pandemic as it spread across the country, and created new natural language processing tools to help others navigate the burgeoning pandemic dataset.

Along with work geared toward helping scientists and other researchers, a number of research efforts in 2020 looked toward a broader audience. Some of this work used machine learning to help fight social media disinformation about the pandemic, investigate the psychological impacts of Covid-19, and predict hate crimes against Asian Americans.

Graph visualization of NSF pandemic forecasting data

Researchers also created an interactive tool to help people visualize the importance of social distancing and a device that uses the latest smartphone technology to help people maintain social distance.

Students and alumni entrepreneurs also stepped up to fight the pandemic. One student team created an easy-to-make DIY hybrid mask that helps prevent disease spread while another team established an entirely new approach to virtual meetings. A group of alumni entrepreneurs launched a new platform to help breweries stay afloat and an alumnus started a one-man campaign to spotlight the theater community’s struggle to survive.     

One of the College’s biggest strategic priorities is to become the top destination for responsible computing. The College took some significant strides in 2020 toward this goal.

The College, in partnership with the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, made news this year with the launch of ETHICx – the Ethics, Technology, and Human Interaction Center at Georgia Tech. The announcement that ML@GT and Facebook had partnered to increase pathways into artificial intelligence for diverse candidates also made headlines.

Logo for DataWorks a Georgia Tech startup

A new startup housed in the College that helps people from disadvantaged communities learn entry-level data science skills kicked off this year as did a virtual computer science professional development summit organized by the Constellations Center for Equity in Computing. Constellations also established a podcast series called VOICES for social justice.

Along with contributions to combating Covid-19, there were several big research stories in 2020 from the College’s research community.

National Science Foundation funding is supporting the development of new artificial intelligence tools to help people with autism spectrum disorder thrive in the workplace. DARPA funding is supporting the creation of deception-resistant machine learning technologies and helping researchers to develop a new approach to automated story generation.

Graphic illustration for facial recognition

Computing researchers this year also identified a new internet congestion problem, determined that facial recognition software should be tested on real people to counter inaccuracies that result in racial bias, and worked to make crime data more accessible to the general public.

Additional research in 2020 included an innovative way to model workplace culture, a new approach to improving communications between robots, and an AI agent that can break down barriers to online learning.  

Alumni are big contributors to the GT Computing community and this year is no exception. School of Computational Science and Engineering alumnus Patrick Flick (Ph.D. CSE 19) was selected for the prestigious ACM SIGHPC Dissertation Award. Alumnus and Pindrop CEO Vijay Balasubramaniyan (Ph.D. CS 11) earned a test of time award from the ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security.

Georgia Tech students painting a makers space in India

Two alums – Renji Bijoy (MS CS 16) and Jarvis Johnson (BS CS 14) – were named to the 2020 Forbes 30 Under 30 list (School of Interactive Computing Assistant Professor Diyi Yang also made the list).

Aditya Vishwanath (BS CS 18), working with Ph.D. student Azra Ismail, established a nonprofit makers space to serve an impoverished community in Mumbai, India.




By Albert Snedeker
College of Computing
Senior Communications Mgr.