UA Launches School of Information
Students in "iSchool" will be prepared to tackle the challenges presented by an information-based society in emerging industries.

By Lori Harwood, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
April 17, 2015

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 and seize opportunities to succeed in emerging industries.

The school is applying to join the iSchools Organization, a collection of information schools dedicated to advancing the information field, which would 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 UA's 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," Jones said. "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 iSchool combines the School of Information Resources and Library Science, or SIRLS, located in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and the School of Information: Science, Technology, and Arts, or SISTA, located in the College of Science.

The iSchool will include additional affiliate faculty from the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the College of Science, as well as faculty from College of Fine Arts and the College of Humanities who have research interests in digital arts and humanities.

The new school already has 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 will include all aspects of the information sciences, including artificial intelligence; data management and curation; natural language processing; social networking; computational art and music; e-commerce; e-health; and library sciences.

Bryan Heidorn, the director of the school and the former director of SIRLS, says the iSchool also will fine-tune its expertise in information matters pertinent to the region, such as those related to climate and the environment, defense, health care, 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," Heidorn said.

"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 Never Settle strategic plan.

Based on the experience of iSchools at universities such as Washington, Illinois and Syracuse, there is considerable potential in creating academic and corporate alliances. Corporate partnerships will give students and faculty access to real-world problems that need solving. Companies will 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: 

  • In the Bachelor of Arts in information science and arts program, students will study topics such as digital aesthetics, information representation and computational art culture.
  • Students in the Bachelor of Arts in e-Society program will study issues related to privacy, ethics, information manipulation and the impact of social media on daily life.
  • Bachelor of Science in information science and technology students will develop expertise in topics such as machine learning, natural language processing and artificial intelligence.

The school also offers two graduate degrees, with a third in the planning stages. The Master of Arts 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 degree 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.

Students in the doctoral program 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.

A Master of Science in information is undergoing university approvals and is expected to be available for classes beginning in the fall.

The iSchool also will offer a variety of certificates. Like most of the degrees, they will be offered face-to-face and online. They are:

  • The DigIn (Digital Information Management) graduate certificate, which trains professionals to create and manage large, complex digital collections.
  • The certificate in archival studies, which teaches students how archival practices affect the composition and meaning of cultural artifacts and the historical record.
  • The legal information and scholarly communication certificate, which 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 Juris Doctorate is required, the school provides a law lLibrarianship graduate certificate.
  • The certificate in medical and community health information, which will involve skills in the acquisition and dissemination of quality health information as well as 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," Heidorn said, "so student training will continue to span disciplinary boundaries."

Extra info

The School of Information is offering summer courses on topics that include social media, digital storytelling, new media, digital commerce, ethics in the digital world, and other topics. Registration is available through UAccess. For more information, call 520-621-3565.


Resources for the media

Bryan Heidorn

UA School of Information