On Saturday, February 25, 160 past and present faculty, alumni, and students gathered on the UC Berkeley campus to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Master of Information Management and Systems (MIMS) program. Attendees came from all over the world, with the furthest hailing from Barcelona, and from different class years — including five from the inaugural class of 1999.
The festivities began at South Hall, where attendees marveled at the familiar brick facade and wooden banister lining the central hallway. Many were excited to see many of their favorite spots in the building and one alumna was especially delighted to know that the student lounge still stood since her graduation in 2001.
Professor Morgan Ames (’06), who has the unique opportunity to be both alumna and faculty, remarked, “It’s so wonderful to see people I follow on Facebook, Twitter, on social media, and have the chance to catch up and talk about our kids...It’s like a homecoming!”
Upstairs, guests attended alumni panels on Information Visualization, Search, and Information Architecture; Entrepreneurship; Privacy, Security, Ethics, Policy, and Government; and Product Management. In the entrepreneurship discussion, alumna Holly Liu (’03), who co-founded mobile gaming company Kabam, shared: “[The I School] taught me how to talk to users…and that was incredibly helpful. Interdisciplinary skills and being able to work with one another mimicked what you need [in the real world].”
Professor and Head of School Marti Hearst noted, “This event underscored what we already know: that the I School and the MIMS program attract a unique kind of person with a particular interdisciplinary profile. MIMS students learn both how to create technology, and how to question and challenge its context of use; [they] learn the effects of technology for individual people, as well as in the larger context of society, and you do all this while working successfully in interdisciplinary, diverse teams.
Following the events at South Hall, guests met at the UC Berkeley International House for a reception and dinner.
Professor John Chuang, former professor Pam Samuelson, inaugural dean Hal Varian, and Marti Hearst took the stage to discuss the founding of the I School and the MIMS program. When Varian became the dean in 1995, he hired Professor Samuelson as the first faculty member, followed by Professor Hearst and Professor Chuang.
“When we started,” Hal Varian said, “we had a very small number of people that were interested in a small number of topics, and now we have a great number of people interested in almost everything.” In fact, less than a dozen people graduated from the first-ever cohort for the MIMS program, which has since grown to over 74 students in the class of 2023 and 65 in the class of 2024. Varian expressed his appreciation and admiration for the School’s growth and thanked the faculty for their efforts.
Pam Samuelson shared why she decided to join in the early years: “I saw potential in [the I School] to empower the students to be more than they could be if they were stuck in one discipline. Making people feel empowered to participate in information law and policy issues was something I was really passionate about…and I think even those that didn’t go into the policy field feel more connected to society and to societal impacts of technology.”
John Chuang echoed her sentiment and added, “I love it every morning when I can come into work where I have colleagues and students who come from so many disciplinary backgrounds…I am so happy to have gotten this opportunity to be part of this program from the beginning; it’s not just my colleagues but also my students that make it a special place.”
At the end of their discussion, the four addressed the topic of the future. Hal Varian and Marti Hearst noted that while they aren’t sure which direction the I School might go, they are sure that “as the times change, our research agendas will change and what we teach will change” and that “we will adapt to the change in the world or change the world.”
Next, alum Joe Hall (MIMS ’05, Ph.D. ’08) and Professor AnnaLee (Anno) Saxenian engaged in a conversation about the flourishing of information studies and the I School in more recent years. Saxenian, who served as dean from 2004 to 2019, witnessed the exponential growth of the various I School degree programs such as the online Master of Information and Cybersecurity and Master of Information and Data Science. “We’ve become much more visible not only on the Berkeley campus, but outside [as well],” she said.
Hall also reflected on his experience entering the I School after pivoting from astrophysics, mentioning Saxenian’s class as the first he attended. There, he began thinking critically about the intersections between information, privacy, security, and policy, which jump started his career. After graduation, he became chief technologist at the Washington D.C.-based Center for Democracy & Technology and then senior vice president at the non-profit organization Internet Society.
As the event neared its end, attendees expressed their interest in future reunion events and rushed to get one last photo taken at the photo booth. “Tonight’s event became a reflective point in my career to look back…and think about my future,” said alumna Sophie Park (‘18), and “one lesson I took away was ‘do good.’”
The event not only celebrated the quadranscentennial anniversary of a unique and exceptional degree program, but the friends and community established along the way.