Eunice Santos

Natural Path

By Marcia Faye


t does not require an algorithm to uncover the reasons behind Eunice Santos’s career trajectory and her decision to come to Illinois Tech to chair the computer science department. Now the Ron Hochsprung Endowed Chair, chair of the Department of Computer Science, and professor of computer science at Illinois Tech, Santos, the daughter of an electrical engineer and a mathematics professor, recognized her innate capacity for STEM disciplines early in life. She graduated with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science and math before earning her doctoral degree in computer science from the University of California, Berkeley.

Santos served on the faculties of Lehigh University and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and was selected to be a senior research fellow with the United States Department of Defense. She studied and helped to understand the behavior of certain groups implicated in global health and security, was a member of several senior technical advisory boards, and was also named to the Defense Science Study Group. Before coming to Illinois Tech, she served as professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Texas at El Paso, which included her role as director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security National Center for Border Security and Immigration.

“I was attracted to Illinois Tech computer science for its size and its strong history, leadership, and reputation,” she says. “We have a great history of research and innovation in the department. We have more than 1,200 students who are next-generation leaders. Another great strength is our alumni and their leadership in the tech ecosystem—we are 5,000-strong just in Chicago. We are already seeding the tech ecosystem with our research and people. We want to build on that history, enabling even broader and deeper influence.”

Plans include increasing research in cybersecurity, cloud computing, and data science, as well as continuing to strengthen pipeline projects to bring more diversity and first-generation college students into computing, such as the department’s well-established computer discovery camp for middle-school girls. The department also will facilitate the role of computer science to advance research and innovation in other disciplines.

Illinois Tech Trustee Chris Gladwin, founder of the data-storage company Cleversafe, who donated $7.6 million to the university to further strengthen the computer science program, was on the committee that recruited Santos to Mies Campus.

“When I interviewed Eunice, I learned that many of the areas planned for future growth and research in computer science were areas where she was already an established expert,” he says. “When I reflect on my many conversations with her, I realize that she’s right in practically everything she says.”

One of the areas in which Santos is considered an authority is computational modeling, the use of computers to simulate and explore the behavior of complex systems ranging from disease to cybersecurity.

"We are already seeding the tech ecosystem with our research and people. We want to build on that history, enabling even broader and deeper influence.”
—Eunice Santos

“At Illinois Tech we’re looking at how different viewpoints are affecting cybersecurity risks—how people learn to trust and learn to become suspicious in the cyber world versus the real world. People become suspicious with very different markers and trust with very different markers,” Santos explains in a telephone conversation from Washington, D.C., where she was attending a conference. “The dynamics are so very different in the cyber world versus the real world that if we don’t get a handle on this, we won’t truly understand the much more complicated cyber threat issues beyond somebody hacking in and stealing a bunch of credit card numbers.”

Last year Santos was one of four invited experts to provide testimony on “Federal Efforts to Improve Cybersecurity” before the Subcommittee on Information Technology, part of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

She is also using computational modeling to analyze how humans respond, adapt, and react in various scenarios—for example, in pandemic outbreaks—and how organizations can better respond by better understanding the potential behavior of communities in such health crises.

“Human migration patterns will change significantly based on people’s perceptions of the disease and its effects, how likely they are to get it, and whether they think they actually have it,” says Santos. “Groups tend to react and think differently for social and cultural reasons, business dynamics, and the ways that they’re interpreting information. What we’re trying to do is come up with effective ways to model these many moving pieces.”

Santos received the 2010 IEEE Technical Achievement Award for “pioneering contributions to computational social network systems” and was named to the Crain’s Chicago Business “Tech 50” list during her second year at Illinois Tech.

“It’s an exciting time to be in computer science,” she says. “Illinois Tech is a school at the forefront of technology, and the computer science department is building on our strengths to advance innovation in technology and across many fields. We see ourselves as the nexus from which the driving forces of next-generation research in such areas as data science, computational medicine, science, law, and beyond are taking place.”