Big Data

Building Bridges with the Next Generation of Problem Solvers

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As the Summer Olympic Games in Brazil recently drew to a close, one of the event’s most historic competitions came to mind: the marathon. The long hours, intense training, and laser focus leading up to the race look to be well worth the effort as each runner crossed the finish line and achieved a long-held dream.

The mantra “Life is a marathon, not a sprint,” also applies to the ongoing progress we make with technology. The foresight, dedication, and research of the world’s best and brightest minds has helped fundamentally change the way we work, live, and interact with other people and the world around us.

I was fortunate enough to participate in this progress firsthand during my career at IBM working on projects like the original PC, the first gigahertz chip, and the Blue Gene supercomputer. I continue to see it today at the University of Tennessee where our business and engineering students are laying their own foundations to become the world’s next generation of technology problem solvers.

Given that experience, I was especially proud to participate last week in a ribbon cutting event that brought these two chapters of my professional life together, when the university welcomed IBM’s donation of the “Advanced Analytics Lab, IBM Enabled” for our College of Engineering and the Haslam College of Business.

This new computational lab and education initiative devoted to analytics will provide our students with the infrastructure, system capacity and tools necessary to analyze the large amounts of unstructured data now available on our campus. As the CEO of IBM, Ginni Rometty has said many times that big data is the world’s 21st century natural resource, and the opportunity to cultivate that data and discover transformative technological breakthroughs should not be underestimated.

But aside from the potential innovations that may come from research at this new lab, the most important achievement in my mind is what this donation represents for both technology corporations and higher education.

The partnership between IBM and the University of Tennessee that launched this initiative underscores the continued value of building bridges between these two key areas of our society. Industries from healthcare to financial services to education increasingly rely on Big Data insights to determine what is most important for their stakeholders. In order for American companies like IBM to thrive in the future and address the needs of clients, customers, and communities, a highly skilled workforce is imperative.

Likewise, in today’s hyper-competitive, globalized job market in engineering and business, students with access to this type of real-world technology during their college career will have a distinct advantage when it comes to finding a job and making their own contributions to business and society.

Having worked on the original IBM PC, I can tell you that the technology of yesterday may sometimes seem unrecognizable, and tomorrow’s technology may seem like a glint in our eye. But it’s a marathon, not a sprint. For our new laboratory, the research is just beginning, and may take some time to bear fruit. The beauty of research is in the possibilities, and remembering that this particular marathon has no concrete finish line, yet undoubtedly is the best way to ensure that this joint collaboration continues for many years to come.

Dr. Mark E. Dean

Dr. Mark E. Dean


Dr. Mark E. Dean is a John Fisher Distinguished Professor at the University of Tennessee College of Engineering. His research focus is in advanced computer architecture (beyond Von Neumann systems), data centric computing, cyber-physical systems, and computational sciences.

Prior to joining UT, Dr. Dean was Chief Technology Officer of the Middle East and Africa for IBM and an IBM Fellow.




A John Fisher Distinguished Professor at the University of Tennessee College of Engineering

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