New Interdisciplinary Majors Combine Computer Science and the Liberal Arts

My freshman year of college was one of indecision. I had committed to major in Electrical Engineering, not because I had any particular interest in it, but because I had done very well in math and physics courses in high school, and my dad was an engineer. My parents also pointed out – correctly – that Electrical Engineering would provide a relatively certain path to a career. I, on the other had, had always wanted to be a writer. I loved writing stories, newspaper articles, speeches, lab reports, instruction manuals – anything involving stringing together words, I wanted to do the stringing. Could I make a living at it? I, of course, didn’t know. I was only seventeen, after all, and all I knew was that I loved to write.

I shared my parents’ practical streak, however, and so I decided that they were right. Choosing between Electrical Engineering and its clear path to a good salary and steady employment and a less certain path that aligned better with my passion, I chose the former.

In retrospect, my parents and I underestimated the opportunities I could have as a writer. We were influenced, to some extent, by the mythology of the starving artist waiting tables at a cafe. I think many of us still fall for such convenient, colorful, and grossly inaccurate pictures of various professions. It is even easier today to rely on such arguments, given the enormous cost of college and the crippling debt graduates face in its wake. I recently built a spreadsheet for to help my son, a senior in high school, estimate expenses and loan payments associated with his various college and major choices. It is hard to ignore the impact of projected starting salary when you look at post-salary expenses and how a student loan essentially amounts to a mortgage payment on an imaginary house. Whether the starving artist actually is, he still has to pay off those loans.

Many of today’s fastest growing professions deal with technology, and they do pay well, including at the start. The idea, however, that the world no longer needs writers, musicians, historians, political scientists, sociologists, psychologists, thespians, theologians, and other scholars of the Arts and Humanities, or that it might still need these people but it doesn’t have to pay them accordingly, denies our identity as humans. Efforts to examine, understand, describe, envision, celebrate, and dream about the human condition are what make life worth living. We will always need people who know how to look at our lives through these lenses, and we cheat ourselves when we allow economic pressures to dissuade students from following these critical paths. We have to provide opportunities for students who are passionate about these fields to study them with confidence.

Starting in Fall 2019, Lewis University will answer this call by launching four programs under the heading CS+X. The CS+X label identifies programs that combine Computer Science with another major in discipline “X”. The four CS+X programs we will launch at the start are CS+Music, CS+History, CS+Theology, and CS+Political Science. We anticipate offering additional CS+X programs in the near future.

Because of its influence, knowledge of Computer Science has become increasingly important in virtually every field. The ability to collect, analyze, and visualize connections and trends within large data sets has enabled scholars in every discipline to gain new insights and raise new questions. Furthermore, every organization has information technology needs that require attention from skilled experts. A Computer Science degree prepares people who can help scholars in other disciplines investigate their data more deeply with the help of technology. Likewise, a Computer Science degree readies people to assume roles in which they will help organizations in virtually every sector solve their information technology challenges. Computer Science provides a clear path to a well-paying and opportunity-rich career, as well as a chance to work with and serve people in virtually every area of human knowledge.

With our new CS+X degrees, we endeavor to enable students to apply their knowledge of Computer Science to complement and extend their deep expertise in another field without sacrificing the career benefits and flexibility Computer Science affords. CS+X students will study all or a large subset of the courses the traditional Bachelor of Arts degree in discipline X requires, so that they may build suitable expertise in that area. They will supplement that with the core coursework from the Bachelor of Science in Computer Science degree, which will teach them how to write software, set up computer networks, understand how operating systems work, explain how computers process instructions. With this knowledge, they will be able to recommend and build tools for performing tasks efficiently and securely, particularly in their chosen Discipline X.

In addition to their Discipline X and Computer Science coursework, CS+X students will study two semesters of a foreign language, which will enable them serve diverse populations in different locales. They will also work an internship for academic credit, which will help them get a jump start on post-graduation career opportunities, as employers always look favorably on applicable prior work experience. We have designed the CS+X programs to provide students an empowering mix of disciplinary depth, practical computing skills, and career-enhancing opportunities that will position them well for rewarding, meaningful, and challenging post-graduation opportunities.

Here are the goals of our four initial CS+X degrees:

CS+History: The goal of this program is to train historians who can design, build, and apply the tools and concepts of Computer Science to convey the lessons of history to diverse audiences. Graduates will be able to build and manage digital archives, apply data and textual analysis techniques to historical texts, and create innovative ways to represent and interpret historical events. They will be able to convey the stories and lessons of history poignantly using technology.

CS+Music: The goals of this program are (1) to prepare students who will develop computer systems that can enhance music composition, performance, recording, production, and analysis; (2) to explore how computing can be better used as a tool for understanding how humans relate to and communicate through music; (3) to give students interested in both music and computing a unique opportunity to combine their passions to acquire and produce creative works.

CS+Political Science:The goals of this program are (1) to prepare students to explore the relationships between technology and political behavior; (2) to explore the impact of data and computation on citizens’ understanding of politics and public policy; and (3) to prepare students who can recommend and implement ways political organizations and governments can leverage computer technology to support the services they provide.

CS+Theology: The goals of this program are (1) to prepare students to explore the relationships between computation and understandings of God; (2) to explore the impact of data and computation on personal faith; and (3) to prepare professionals who can both recommend and implement ways religious organizations can leverage computer technology to support their worshipers and their mission.

Lewis University is proud and excited to offer our new CS+X programs to current and future students. Civilization requires expertise in all areas of the human experience, and computer technology can serve to harness and focus such expertise in ways that enlighten and transform. Rather than have to choose between career and passion, between skills acquisition and interest, our CS+X students will be able to choose both. Society will be better for it.

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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