This article is published in the November 2006 issue.

Moving Forward Strategically

I want to alert you to a major educational effort we have just announced and update you on continuing progress on the GENI Project.

The pervasive impact of computing technology in our lives and throughout the global economy is indisputable, and it is clear that the U.S. workforce—most especially computing professionals of all types and at all levels—must be prepared to play a leading role in the technology-based economy of the 21st century. At the same time, enrollments are down significantly, full representation of the U.S. population is not reflected in our matriculated students, and our major computing industries are increasingly concerned about the quality of the computing education that we are providing.

This demands significant changes in our approach to computing education in order to be more responsive both to rapid changes in the technology base and to the ever-growing impact of computing in almost all academic disciplines, as well as in the general workforce. Even wholesale replacement of curricula will not really do the job. While some scattered efforts are emerging to address this situation—usually on a local basis and without much support—we believe that a variety of approaches must be explored, evaluated, and disseminated in the next few years. Further, we believe strongly that the ranks of computing education innovators and leaders must be expanded, strengthened, and given due recognition.

We announced in September a new CISE-wide program—CISE Pathways to Revitalized Undergraduate Computing Education, or CPATH in short—aimed at transforming and revitalizing undergraduate computing education on a national scale. We hope to engage the community in alliances and activities that will shape a positive future for undergraduate computing education. In FY 2007, CPATH will support community building, leadership development, the evaluation and extension of promising models, and institutional transformation projects. For more information, read the Call to Action on the CISE website and the program solicitation at: We are planning a multi-year effort, which will be dynamically shaped in response to initial ideas and the developing national environment.

Our goals are ambitious. This program is intended to challenge those who are in the best position to bring about real change. CPATH is structured to stimulate broad conversations about the future of computing education, recognize and develop leaders, support the evaluation of the effectiveness of innovative approaches, and result in the propagation of the best models and practices. CPATH is focused on both the education of computing professionals and on the preparation of a broader professional workforce fully capable of utilizing computing technology in a wide range of application domains.

Whether or not you intend to submit a proposal, I urge you to read the solicitation, talk and work with your colleagues to address these goals, and support those who can submit competitive proposals.

Let me turn now to another strategically important activity in CISE—the Global Environment for Networking Innovations, or GENI. I assume you are at least aware of the GENI initiative, developed to support the research necessary to the development of the Future Internet. The initiative includes a major experimental facility to support a broad range of research. If you are unfamiliar with GENI, please refer to any of my several previous CRN columns and to

The GENI Planning Group, comprising almost 50 people in our research community, is continuing to work strenuously to refine the conceptual design of the GENI Facility in support of the evolving GENI Science Plan. Current information is posted at At the same time, we have expanded the CISE staff, engaging several highly experienced specialists that will allow us to provide appropriate assistance to the community as this project moves forward. In addition, I and other senior staff have been deepening our interactions with industry and with the international community. On all of these fronts (and others) we continue to receive strong community encouragement.

A key part of moving forward on the construction of a project of the size and complexity of the GENI Facility (cost is currently estimated at several hundred million dollars) is the establishment of a professional project management office (outside of NSF). CISE released a solicitation ( in September to establish the GENI Project Office (GPO) to serve this function. As the solicitation makes clear, the organization that will be competitively chosen later this year to serve as the GPO is not expected to do all the work in constructing the facility. Rather, under proper, community-driven guidance, it will provide the management expertise that is essential to the success of a project of this magnitude.

The third part of the GENI picture is to insure that all GENI activities are motivated by the scientific opportunities identified by our research and education community. This task will fall to the newly formed ( Computing Community Consortium (CCC) and GENI Science Council (GSC). Specifically, the GSC is expected to “Lead the development of the GENI Science Plan and accept input from the broad research community.” Under the rubric of the CCC, the GSC is expected to keep the community fully informed on what is happening in this area.

The Computing Community Consortium is chartered with a much broader objective than just leading the scientific development of the GENI Project. Let me quote from the solicitation that led to the specific proposal that we have now funded:

The Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) is calling for the computing research community to unite in the establishment of a Computing Community Consortium (CCC). The CCC will ensure broad community engagement in the identification of compelling research agendas and in the subsequent identification and refinement of related shared use infrastructure requirements.

I have written and spoken about this concept in many venues, and the above excerpt states our objectives clearly. Let me simply note three essential points:

  1. There has never been a better time for our field to move to a higher level of aspiration and vision, thus joining older disciplines;
  2. Developing ideas for and undertaking larger projects does not mean that we have to deemphasize the single investigator for two simple reasons: It is well understood that it is individuals who initially have new ideas, and it is generally only big-vision ideas/projects that capture the attention (and dollars!) of decision-makers; and
  3. Broad cooperation in the community is essential to gain big funding and, ultimately, to insure the scientific success of grand-vision projects.

We believe that the CCC can do this, and we will be working closely with them to help achieve these objectives for the benefit of our entire field. I urge you to participate.

In my September column I indicated that we would have a report in November on funding rates in FY06, but I failed to account for the printing and fiscal year closeout deadlines. So that report will not be available before January. I would note that there is now a major, internal NSF study on funding rates that will be reported to the National Science Board later this year.

Peter Freeman (pfreeman [at] is the Assistant Director of NSF for CISE.

Moving Forward Strategically