October 13, 2003

Toyota opens new school with $100 million

The Toyota Technological Institute (TTI) opened its new department of computer science on the University campus this fall, supported by a hundred-million-dollar endowment from its parent school in Japan.

As a school renowned for its work in engineering and physical science, the TTI department mainly focuses on artificial intelligence, the theory of computation, and computer systems.

TTI selected the University over other prominent schools like the California Technical Institute (Cal Tech) and Stanford.

"TTI visited many universities and was impressed with Chicago's dedication to the pursuit of scientific research," said David McAllester, a professor and the chief academic officer of TTI Chicago.

The administration at TTI also has personal ties to the University that may have aided in their decision: TTI President Mitsuru Nagasawa completed his postgraduate work in chemistry at the University from 1959 to 1961.

Located on the second floor of the Press building on East 60th Street, TTI is a separate degree-granting institution, offering its own master's and doctorate degrees while maintaining close links with the University's Department of Computer Science.

"There is an agreement between TTI-Chicago and the University of Chicago that supports cross-registration for classes and allows TTI faculty to teach courses in the computer science department," said David MacQueen, chair of the computer science department at the University.

In addition to cross registering, faculty from TTI and the University will participate in collaborative studies and research. MacQueen and John Reppy from the computer science department have already begun working with Matthias Blume, an assistant professor at TTI-Chicago, on a project called "Standard ML of New Jersey," which involves language programming.

McAllester and John Goldsmith, a linguistics professor at the University, are researching and developing natural language computers that can speak English.

Although TTI-Chicago is dedicated to both research and education, it will be several years before it has a graduating class. Currently, there are only two graduates attending the school, both of whom are from Japan.

The Institute's first admission season will be next fall, and McAllester says that the school will grow slowly, accepting only 6 or 8 students next fall and eventually having a student body of 30 within the next 10 years.

Few undergraduate and graduate students in the University's computer science department even know of TTI-Chicago's existence. "We haven't made a big push yet," MacQueen said. "TTI is still growing. However, grad students will be the first to know of any opportunities at TTI."

Although the student body is small, TTI wishes to expand the faculty to 30 members—12 will be tenure positions while the other 18 will be employed under 3 year contracts, allowing the institute to receive new people and fresh ideas.

According to McAllester, faculty members will only be required to teach one course a quarter, giving them plenty of time to do research and pursue their own projects.

The University's Department of Computer Science plans to parallel the growth of TTI-Chicago by increasing its faculty from about 20 to over 35. This increase will bring the total number of computer scientists associated with the University to around 65, a number comparable to the computer science environment at MIT.

The success of TTI-Chicago will depend on its growth and the quality of faculty and students it attracts. But those familiar with the project are optimistic, such as Mayor Daley, who said at the TTI-Chicago's opening on September 19 that he expects TTI to attract "the best graduate students" and "provide a solid, long-term boost to the Chicago economy."