A Comprehensive Computer Science Education

The field of Computer Science has gotten extremely broad. Long gone are the days when “Computer Science” meant simply “programming”. Programming is an essential tool for any computer scientist, regardless of their focus within the field, but it isn’t the central daily task for many computer professionals. Computer Science is much more than programming. Computer Science education has expanded to keep up.

Computer Science programs must give their students the essential skills they will need to do their jobs. This includes programming: all computer professionals should know how to code, because their eventual jobs will require and benefit from it. But a viable Computer Science core curriculum also includes courses in networking, file systems, computer architecture, databases, and cybersecurity. These are the skills and concepts in which all Computer Scientists must demonstrate expertise. This core must be supplemented by additional specialized coursework that will enable students to study the corners of the field that most interest them. All of these corners offer rich career opportunities, so which focus a student chooses should depend mostly, if not entirely, on what inspires them.

Comprehensive Computer Science programs are able to offer pathways to whatever aspect of the field a student may want to study. That is quite a challenge, one that proves particularly challenging for programs where the enrollment hasn’t yet grown to levels where courses in all these areas can be offered regularly. Once a program reaches a certain size, however, it must then focus on offering coursework in all the various areas a student might wish to pursue.

At Lewis University, we have experienced tremendous enrollment growth in our computing science program. Since 2009, enrollment in our Computer Science undergraduate program has grown from 35 students to today’s level of about 260. We’ve also added two graduate programs during that time. Today, our three Master of Science programs together serve 250 students at the graduate level. Our undergraduate students benefit from these, as they can pursue fast-track programs that enable them to earn a graduate degree with just one additional year of study. And that inspires additional students to attend Lewis to study Computer Science.

We have been extremely successful on the enrollment front, and that has provided a positive feedback loop: the more students we have, the more we can offer them. Whether you run a Computer Science department or some other educational enterprise, you want to get to the point where positive outcomes yield other positive outcomes. Our enrollment growth, properly managed by commensurate new faculty hires, have enabled us to offer programs that attract and serve additional populations of students. Provided you continue to allocate the necessary resources to sustain these positive, reinforcing outcomes, the cycle continues. That has been our experience.

Although education is not / should not be about enrollment growth and is, instead, fundamentally about quality educational outcomes. the two are not mutually exclusive. Provided a program is able to hire enough quality faculty to keep pace with that growth – and we have, with seventeen new faculty hired in the Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences since 2009 – the additional enrollment means that the program can offer a greater variety of educational opportunities. As our enrollments have grown, the program has expanded to offer educational concentrations that prepare students for every niche within the computing industry. Students have benefited immensely from this increased variety, and so has the University.

With formal concentrations in cybersecurity, data science, software engineering, video game development, networking, digital forensics, and computational theory, with intriguing interdisciplinary programs that merge computer science with fields in the arts and humanities, with a new undergraduate program in data science, and with hardware-focused programs in computer engineering and now electrical engineering, Lewis University’s Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences is on a roll. We provide a high-quality education in every field of computing that might interest a student. We’ve been able to get to this point because we grew. Then, instead of stagnating, we took steps to leverage that growth to increase the range of what we offer without skimping on faculty and other resources. This same well-managed positive feedback loop could serve any academic program well. The trick is to capitalize on and manage the growth.

About Ray Klump

Professor and chair of Mathematics and Computer Science Director, Master of Science in Information Security Lewis University http://online.lewisu.edu/ms-information-security.asp, http://online.lewisu.edu/resource/engineering-technology/articles.asp, http://cs.lewisu.edu. You can find him on Google+.

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