Look Who is Changing!

wekosh-quote-the-secret-of-change-is-to-focus-all-of-your-energyWhile I do intend to write about post-baccalaureate degrees I am using this weeks post to address the ACM Computer Science Curriculum 2013 and the impact it has had on the University of Mary Washington’s Computer Science degree. Starting in the fall semester of 2015 our department has reverted back to one track in traditional computer science from three tracks in computer science, computer information systems and geographic information systems. Our reason for creating these different tracks was to entice more students to major in computer science and I am happy to say it did work. However, with our University now having minors and the new changes in ACM CS 2013 we believe it is no longer necessary to split our focus in three different directions. Instead, students can accomplish the intent of three concentrations by majoring in Computer Science and minoring in a concentration (math, business or GIS).


Another change our department made was that all required core courses are four credits. Our core classes include Introduction to Programming, Object Oriented Analysis & Design, Data Structures & Algorithms, Database and Applications, Computer Architecture, Operating Systems, Software Engineering, Discrete Structures and Theory of Computation. Discrete Structures/Mathematics is no longer a hidden pre-requisite; it is actually part of the major requirements.


A major change to our program was to remove the lengthy series of mathematics classes needed to complete coursework in our CS degree.  We have noticed just as ACM CS 2013 that the antiquated requirements of Calculus I, Calculus 2, Linear Algebra and Differential equations do not directly relate to what we teach in our core classes.  We have followed the recommendation of CS2013 to include the mathematical requirements that are directly relevant for the large majority of our CS undergraduates.  While we understand the need for mathematical maturity we believe that teaching two 4-credit courses in Introduction to Discrete Math and Theory of Computation in combination with Data Structures and Algorithms provide this maturity. The three courses that address the CS mathematical requirements cover all the Core-Tier1 and Core-Tier 2 mathematics requirements discussed in ACM CS 2013.


We still feel that it is important for students going onto computer science graduate school to invest in the “mathematical maturity” classes and possibly even minoring in one the UMW math minors. We further recommend that students considering a career with the federal government should be aware that the US Department of Operations and Personnel Management standards require a minimum of 15 credit hours of mathematics in order for employees to be classified as a “Computer Scientist.”   These students are also encouraged to invest in specific math classes or a math minor. These minors include a standard math minor, an applied math minor or an actuarial science.


Another change that we made based on ACM CS 2013 was topics in parallel and distributed computing were added to our core courses. ACM CS 2013 suggested that five tier-1 hours and ten tier-2 hours are invested in parallel and distributed computing.   These topics were already included in our junior/senior level operating systems but not to level suggested in ACM CS 2013. In addition to beefing up the topics covered in Computer Architecture and Operating Systems we are now introducing parallelism to our Object Oriented Analysis and Design course, which is the second course in our sequence. This now exposes all computer science majors and minors earlier in curriculum and majors will build on this in computer architecture and operating systems.

STEM Education not so Dangerous

shutterstock_129715637Recently I have read several articles about how our country is going to the crapper because everyone is pushing STEM education and not the humanities.   I am here to say that I don’t think the problem is STEM education. I honestly believe that STEM is what is needed for the future, however, you must combine that with a well rounded education in all fields. Students who graduate from the University of Mary Washington Computer Science Department constantly get praised for their speaking and writing skills in addition to their technical skills. Throughout their academic career our students practice not just technical skills but everyday skills they need to succeed in their post-graduate careers. They do not only practice those skills in CPSC courses but in a variety of courses in most disciplines, including humanities.

Now while my students practice a variety of skills in multiple disciplines, including the humanities, I see so many humanities majors avoid any kind of STEM classes and in fact they can graduate with a minimum of 12 credits in these classes. If these students expect to get a good paying job and survive in an ever-changing technology world I find them to be living in the “I deserve” fantasy world.

While STEM students need the humanities, humanities need STEM. Students need to be technologically savvy and have a solid understanding of some of the STEM principles. Now, many of my colleagues may be screaming that how dare I say this but I see students who graduate with certain degrees either not finding a job because they are not qualified or have no specific skillset that makes them stand out. Or these students work at jobs that I believe are below their potential and they do too!

Over the last five years I have rented multiple cars from car rental companies to travel to conferences for work. 95% of the time when I go to get the car the person behind the counter has told me they graduated from UMW in major XYZ (Not STEM).  Yes, after the first two times going and finding UMW graduates working there I started to keep an excel spreadsheet of prior UMW students working there and what there majors were.

These students were good students, they have said this was the only job they could get and they believed they would have more opportunity upon graduating. I don’t think they have to be STEM majors but I did talk to them about what STEM classes they took. Each said minimal, for a variety of reasons many being “they were not good at Math, Science, CPSC or something close to that”  and they believed that a college education (any kind) was enough to get a good paying job. Eighty-percent of the post-graduates I have talked with a non-STEM degree are back taking STEM related classes and learning specific skills that will move them, hopefully, in a new career direction, because as one person said “this is not a career, this is a job.”

Once again if people are going to bash STEM maybe they need to look at the other side of the coin.  I am not saying everyone has to major in STEM but to ignore them is just as dangerous as ignoring the humanities.

Next Up—–The Post Baccalaureate and Why so many people come back for CPSC.