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Space Needle

Our Vice-Chancellor and Warden, Professor Karen O’Brien has been consistent in her vision to meet as many of our alumni and supporter communities as possible. The latest chapter of this plan took her to the USA recently to meet alumni, friends and colleagues at receptions in San Francisco, Seattle and New York.

First stop was the west coast of America, home to the headquarters of many of the world's largest high-tech corporations as well as thousands of technology startups. The two west coast evening receptions were held in great locations; The City Club in San Francisco and Space Needle in Seattle. Both evenings were informal and provided the perfect opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones. The reception was attended by senior University colleagues and in both locations the evening began with an update from the Vice-Chancellor as she shared her perspective on recent initiatives at Durham and some insights on our strategy going forward. Following her welcome address, Professor O’Brien introduced Glen Whitehead, who joined the University in February from Cambridge University, as our Director of Development and Alumni Relations.   

Next to speak was Professor Gordon Love who shared his views on the future of Computer Science at Durham. Professor Love has been Head of Department for Computer Science for the last five years, during which time the department has tripled in size – in the number of staff, in degree programmes, in number of research groups, and, of course, the number of students. This growth has been supported by an external advisory board containing quite a number of influential alumni who have helped and advised along the way.  

At Durham we pride ourselves on our research work having global impact, and Computer Science is no exception;  

“Just to mention a couple of research highlights: firstly, we have a big team working on Computer Vision related to security and I’m really pleased to say that work done by Durham scientists is now in use at many UK airports for security scanning. And secondly, in theoretical computer science we are working on an application whose algorithm can match up a patient with a potential kidney donor” Professor Gordon Love.  

Alongside the excellence in teaching within Computer Science, there are two areas where the University can be particularly proud over the last few years. The first is the ethos to help students develop their entrepreneurial skills alongside their academic ones. The Maths and Computer Science building is home to the Hazan Venture Lab, named after alumnus Jonathan Hazan. Here, in the Venture Lab, there is a programme built around the UN sustainable development goals which takes students through the whole process of starting a new venture. An invaluable part of the programme is to visit the West Coast and meet founders, alumni and entrepreneurs. It would be difficult to imagine anything more inspiring for our students, the experience is priceless. 

The second is the increase the ratio of female students. The ratio is steadily improving with the objective of equipping young women with the skills, confidence and ambition to take leading positions in Computer Science. We now have several cohorts of the Anne Marie Imafidon Scholarship as ambassadors for Women in Tech – this was all made possible by alumni support. 

The future for the department is bright – further growth in numbers, plans to support even more students from different backgrounds and embracing the challenge of the AI revolution. Research and teaching continue to be pivotal, and the whole Durham experience continues to be enhanced by the invaluable contribution from our alumni community.  

The final reception on the trip was an evening reception at the Yale Club in New York, where Professor O’Brien was joined by our Campaign Chair, Guy Wheldon.   

The evening closed with a special treat – Durham student a-cappella group, Northern Lights gave a fabulous vocal performance on the eve of competing in the International Finals of the ICCA (International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella), held in New York on the following day.