At the risk of being one of those Facebook posts … you know, the ones where the “author” brags about the Fiesta Lime Chicken dish they had at Applebees, or laments having dropped tobacco sauce on their new white capris, or highlights how magnanimous they are because they coaxed a kitten away from a possum nest … let me say that my department rocked today.
Aside from our usual Thursday slate of classes, we held three extracurricular events today. At 12:30, our Kappa Mu Epsilon chapter, which is the Mathematics Honors Society, held its first meeting of the year to plan its activities for this semester and to welcome the members who were inducted in April. At 5:00, our student chapter of the Association of Computing Machinery, or ACM, met for the first time this year to welcome new students to the chapter meetings, to tout the benefits of belonging to this international group of computer professionals, and to plan social, service, community, and instructional activities for the coming year. Then, at 6:00, we had a pizza party to welcome our new majors and to give them an opportunity to meet some of our Computer Science Advisory Board members.
The activities ACM will pursue this year incorporate a number of interests and skills. We’ll be helping Dr. Paul Kaiser refurbish old computers for economically disadvantaged communities. We’ll work in conjunction with a Computer Science class to help nursing students learn how to calculate drug dosage levels. And we’ll build an arcade machine based on the amazingly cool Raspberry Pi $35 hobbyist computer. Just being a member of ACM looks really good on a Computer Scientist’s resume; being active in activities like these, however, shows a level of commitment and a desire to learn that will distinguish these students come job-hunt time.
The pizza party we had to welcome our students to a new school year was actually the idea of one of our Advisory Board members. We are really fortunate to have such a supportive and accomplished group of people helping elevate the quality and status of our Computer Science program. Thirteen men and women who hold top positions in their companies, and most of whom are Lewis Computer Science alumni, advise us on how to keep our curriculum current with industry trends; provide money for scholarships, discretionary funds, and our endowment fund; hire our students for internships and full-time jobs; give guest lectures and tutorials and help identify other professionals for doing the same; donate equipment to stock our labs with useful instructional tools; and help promote our programs to prospective students. It turns out they now pay for pizza and pop, too! Suffice it to say no one left hungry tonight.
Events like these help students recognize they are part of something substantial that has a long and impressive history of preparing successful mathematicians and computer professionals. My hope is that this inspires them to continue that legacy. We’re going to be setting up a formal mentorship program in which our Advisory Board members will be matched with three or four students who have similar interests and expertise. This will help the students become more familiar with the specific opportunities available to them in that particular niche of Computer Science. I think it will also drive home the notion that it’s the “family business” to excel as mathematicians and computer scientists.
We welcomed a record number of new Computer Science students this year – 34. That brings our total number of Computer Science students this year to 98, regrettably just two shy of my 2014 goal of 100. (We’ll need to find two more students from lesser majors to convert!) They trust us to cultivate their interests and prepare them well for fruitful and fulfilling careers. Events like the ones we held today help us justify that trust. By providing students lots of opportunities to discover and deepen their interests, and by connecting them with successful people who can help them write their own success story, I think we’re giving them the start they need to identify their goals and reach them.
We didn’t eat at Applebees or even Chili’s today. We didn’t spill tobacco on our white Capris, nor would I be caught dead in them after Labor Day. Heck, I don’t even like kittens, so why would I rescue them from cute little rabid possums? But we did work with students to help them see what their opportunities are and how to seize them. That should be worth at least three Facebook likes and one re-tweet.