Computer Science Program Evolves Toward Major

  • Jana Iyengar, assistant professor of computer science, meets with students in CPS 170: Computer Science I live from Japan over the Internet.  

Early on Monday morning, the wheels of the College's computer science program were in motion—all the way from Stager Hall to Japan.

Jing Hu, assistant professor of computer science, popped into the office of Barbara Nimershiem, associate professor of mathematics and chair of the program. The professors worked to iron out the kinks in that morning's class taught by Jana Iyengar, assistant professor of computer science, who was attending an Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) meeting in Hiroshima.

"The IETF really doesn't respect the academic calendar," Nimershiem says with a smile. "Jana is there for a week, but he still needs to teach his classes."

In a fitting scene for a computer science class, Iyengar taught his students over the Internet. The class met through Skype, a software application that allows users to make voice calls through cyberspace.

Iyengar and Hu are key cogs in the ongoing development of the computer science program. The program currently offers a minor, but Nimershiem says it is on track to offer a major within the next several years.

"In 2007, the College made a commitment to having a major in computer science," Nimershiem says. "I've already been in contact with lots of students interested in a major."

Adding a third full-time faculty member will move the program closer to that goal. In the search for another professor, occurring this year, Nimershiem is looking for someone with the same enthusiasm as Iyengar and Hu. "They both have lots of energy, and it's hard to keep up with them," she says. "They're finding ways to include students in their research, which is not always easy to do. They're good and interesting people, and I expect we'll do just as well in our new search."

In addition to an expanding staff, the program now enjoys spacious surroundings. It moved to the second floor of Stager this semester, to the area formerly occupied by the Department of Business, Organizations & Society. As part of the Department of Mathematics, the program benefits from a lab that includes several Macintosh workstations, a professional software development environment and a computer science classroom.

Approximately five students graduate with minors in computer science each year. Students have combined the minor with majors in a variety of disciplines, including physics, earth and environment, chemistry and mathematics—and even theater, dance and film.

"The idea is that the program doesn't just train students in computer science," Nimershiem says. "At a liberal arts college, we want to train students in new ways of thinking."

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