Professional Biography

Cliff Shaffer is Associate Department Head for Graduate Studies and Professor of Computer Science at Virginia Tech, where he has been since 1987. He received his PhD from University of Maryland in 1986.

Over his career, Dr. Shaffer's research efforts have spanned three major themes: Data structures and algorithms for spatial applications, integrated problem-solving environments for engineering and science applications (most notably for systems biology), and simulation and visualization for education (including Computer Science, Statistics, and Geography). He has been PI or Co-PI for over $10,000,000 in research funding. Dr. Shaffer has published nearly 200 journal and conference papers.

From 2000-2015, Dr. Shaffer was involved in the JigCell project, a suite of modeling and visualization tools for computational biology. JigCell seeks to support the systems biologist to develop ever more complex chemical reaction models for applications such as the cell cycle. This involves the integration of appropriate model editing, simulation, optimization, and visualization.

Dr. Shaffer's efforts related to simulation and visualization for eduction go back to the early 1990s, when he led Project GeoSim, a series of widely used simulations for introductory Geography courses. This effort grew out of his work in spatial data strutures. In the late '90s he lead a project to develop interactive visualizations for introductory statistics courses, his first effort at developing an interactive eTextbook.

Dr. Shaffer's work related to Algorithm Visualization (AV) dates to the mid-1990s, when he lead development of the SWAN AV system. In 2006 he initiated the AlgoViz project, which cataloged a wide variety of AV systems with the goal to support increased use of AVs by CS educators. This effort lead in turn to the OpenDSA project, an international effort to develop infrastructure and content for creating eTextbooks for Computer Science courses. OpenDSA began in 2011, and is now being used by thousands students per year and growing, at a range of universities in several countries.

Dr. Shaffer has served on numerous conference, Departmental-level, and University-level committees. His most important service role came as chairman of the graduate program in Computer Science. He was successful at transforming a predominantly MS-oriented program into one of the top 30 PhD producing departments in the country. He subsequently served for several years on University-level policy committees for the Virginia Tech graduate school. He returned to a major service role in 2017, becoming Associate Department Head for Graduate Studies in Computer Science.

Dr. Shaffer has taught at all levels of the CS curriculum. He has developed a number of innovative courses over the years, both at the introductory level and the graduate level. Since he publicly posts course notes, assignments, and other support materials, his course curriculum development efforts have influenced many instructors at outside institutions. He published a widely-used textbook on Data Structures and Algorithms that first appeared in 1997, and republished in various editions since that time. It is widely used today in part because Dr. Shaffer made it freely available on the Internet. This textbook forms the basis of the content for the OpenDSA eTextbook project.

Dr. Shaffer has received the Dean's Award for Excellence in Teaching, served a term as the W.S. "Pete" White Professor for Innovation in Engineering Education, and was winner of Virginia Tech's 2017 Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award.


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