by Josiah VanWingerden
Last year, the Computer Science department at Whitworth experienced major turnover, losing two of its four full-time faculty members. However, the amount of interest among students has doubled in the past year, rising from 50 declared majors three years ago to around 100 this year
Although Whitworth faculty is happy to see the growth of the department, it has placed stress on the full-time faculty members, particularly during advising week. Right now, the department only has two full-time faculty members on staff. Even though Whitworth hired two lecturers over the summer to help alleviate the stress, perhaps it is time for Whitworth to implement another possible solution.
For instance, if computer science were made a general education requirement, the demand for full-time faculty members would increase. This designation would help sooth some of the concerns facing the department. The mathematics department, for example, is a general education requirement and has nine full-time faculty members and three lecturers. I would be willing to bet the computer science department would increase as well.
As the department’s search for full-time faculty intensifies, potential professors would be encouraged to look into Whitworth seriously. They would earn a comfortable salary, guarantee themselves a long-term position and be a part of a committed program that wants to prepare students for success in the field. It would benefit the current staff by splitting up the course load and number of advisees, which would allow them to be fully invested and energized.
Students would benefit the most. Funding for the department would naturally rise, enabling Whitworth faculty to add a third computer lab or a fifth faculty member. This increased emphasis would lead to a department that is robust and prepared for the growth it’s experiencing.
This change would not happen overnight. I know that it would take a lot of logistical planning in order to make a computer science course a part of the general education requirements, but it is certainly possible and it makes sense. Technology is rapidly evolving and employers are looking for people who are equipped with basic computer programming skills.
The department chair, Pete Tucker, said that the number of jobs for computer science majors is expected to nearly double in just five years. It is anticipated to have the most job growth of all the other STEM majors.
“I know that parents are paying attention, I know that high school kids are paying attention to where the jobs are going to be, and computer science is where it is,” Tucker said. “I do think that there’s going to be a lot more interest in students as they come in, in computer science.”
Tucker went on further and said that 80 students have indicated computer science as a possible major next year. Even in the unlikely event that all 80 students do not choose to study computer science, it is still clear that interest is growing. This needs to be effectively accommodated.
Tucker said he fully believes that computer science should be a gen. ed. and is most likely on its way to becoming one, the number of professors available is small. There is more money to be made in the industry. He said that professors are out there and he is willing to be patient to find the right fit for Whitworth.
The computer science department has four faculty members in total. There is simply no way for the current faculty to keep track of that many potential students. Tucker himself currently advises 72 students and spoke about the need for more faculty.
“Where it really caused some strain is this week and last, which are advising weeks…” Tucker said. “The number of students that Kent [Jones] and I have to help get through advising week, internship searches, those kinds of things, that number doubled.”
The number of non-majors in computer science courses has risen as they are starting to take notice of the benefits of computer science skills. For example, this spring, Tucker offered a class called “How to Make Darn near Anything” and it was specifically developed to bring majors and non-majors together.
He said he originally thought twelve students would be enough. However, twenty- six students are currently enrolled in the class. Half of them are non-majors. Willingness among students to learn about computers is not lacking and interest will only grow with the prevalence of technology.
Whitworth needs to address the rapid growth of the computer science department and mounting student interest. Requiring computer science courses as a part of Whitworth’s general education requirements would tackle these problems.
It would benefit the students by enabling them to gain practical skills and set them up for success for their careers. It would motivate potential professors by showing them that our university is committed to changing with the times, placing more emphasis on a subject that deserves more respect. Finally, the move would necessitate a rise in number of faculty, leading to a better overall department for all students.
When computers take over the world, Whitworth should be prepared.