We reached a milestone in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science today. We now have 100 Computer Science majors. Not bad for a program that had just 39 Computer Science majors at one point four-and-a-half years ago.
That’s impressive growth, and it bodes well for the future of our department and, more importantly, for the future of our students. Why has it occurred, and will it continue? I think it will continue, because the reasons for the growth are sustainable.
First, opportunities for Computer Scientists are exploding. In my blog post yesterday, I wrote about how InformationWeek‘s new list of the eight hottest IT careers is dominated by positions requiring the skills and knowledge of computer scientists. As a species, we’re consuming more data and using more apps. Our appetite for ubiquitous connectivity seems not too different from our appetite for food. It is hard to imagine these trends reversing, because they seem to have become ingrained behaviors. Who will feed this appetite? Of course, we nerds will.
Second, the programs we offer in Computer Science at Lewis are current and of high-quality. We offer concentrations in the hottest areas of the field, including cyber security, mobile computing, and gaming and simulation. These aren’t just attractive buzz-word titles, either. Our courses prepare students not only to use the tools of the trade but also to understand so much about how a sub-discipline’s tools work that they could improve upon them and even create their own tools. In other words, we offer our students the ability to innovate because we make them thinkers first, computer experts second.
Third, we’re a close-knit bunch, even as we’ve grown. There is a family atmosphere in our department that large schools can’t match and that departments without a strong faculty involvement can’t possibly foster. You won’t find a more approachable, more involved, more dedicated faculty than those who teach Mathematics and Computer Science at Lewis. We are so involved in our students’ success, in fact, that I tell prospective students that you have to want to fail not to reach your goals here. That isn’t to say we don’t challenge our students, because I don’t think any one of them would say we’re easy. Instead, we seem to employ the right mix of encouragement, perspective, envelope-pushing, and support. I’m not quite sure how we came up with the right mix, but I’m pretty sure we have it. I just wish we could patent it.
Fourth, we have excellent facilities. Although most of our growth came before we moved into new labs last year, we now can take students on tours of the Computer Science facilities without having to make excuses for dingy, worn furniture and less-than-hospitable rooms. We have a clean, modern, well-organized facility that mixes effective instructional technology with welcoming gathering space. It’s now a showpiece that appeals to students, which makes our job of selling the major a little easier.
Finally, and most importantly, our students are awesome. They aren’t your stereotypical geek-type. They have great personalities, infectious good natures, helpful attitudes, diverse skills and interests, and a salt-of-the-earth way of carrying themselves. There’s no sense of collegiate entitlement here. These are people who know they need to learn, set goals, and then work to achieve them. And they have fun doing it.
Challenges remain for us. I think most people would agree that, given the math requirements, we are still one of the most challenging majors on campus. Furthermore, there is a lot of confusion among some about what type of academic programs prepare students best for jobs in IT, even though I, personally, think it’s pretty darn clear. Regardless, this is a day to celebrate. We have reached a milestone none of us thought possible when today’s seniors started as freshman. Today’s freshmen Computer Science majors will no doubt help build similarly impressive achievements.