College students tend to define themselves by their majors, but they need to realize that what they study isn’t a binding contract spelling out what skills they can and cannot develop before graduation.
For instance, despite the clear value of computer science as a field of study, coding and programming are often viewed as incomprehensible skills that are reserved for tech wizards. But knowing code is an asset that can be applied to any field of study: As a journalist, you may need to code an online media site. As a linguist, you may want to build a game to help children learn languages. The list goes on and on.
So why doesn’t the University realize that it may serve students best by equipping them with coding and programming skills through the core curriculum?
The UT computer science department does offer a program called Elements in Computing, designed to give non-majors basic literacy and competency in the subject. Students can either take a few courses individually or work toward either a 12-hour certificate awarded by the department of computer sciences or an 18-hour certificate awarded by the University that are recognized on their official transcripts — the latter of which would be, notably, visible to employers and thus potentially helpful in a job search.
Bill Young, a computer science professor who teaches Elements of Navigating Cyberspace, one of the courses that counts toward the certificate, said that some students who received the certificates have gone on to jobs in computer science.
“It seems to me that one key is making students aware that computing is so ubiquitous that it is needed and helpful for nearly every career path these days,” Young said. “Our Elements program attempts to do that.”
Collaborations between the department of computer science and other departments and schools also exist.
In the School of Journalism, a class called Mobile News App Design was first introduced last semester to bring journalism and computer science students together and allow them to share knowledge about their respective fields. The ultimate goal of that class is to develop a mobile news app that is good enough to be accepted to the Apple app store by the end of the semester.
Next spring, the computer science, fine arts and radio-television-film department are also providing an interdisciplinary program through the Game Development Capstone: 3D Games.
Chandrajit Bajaj, a professor of computer science at UT and director of the Computational Visualization Center, said that interdisciplinary courses widely prevalent in graduate curriculum are starting to become increasingly available in undergraduate education, bringing together subjects such as computational mathematics, biology, chemistry, engineering and architecture.
“Computer science today is at the hub of the wheel, with spokes to all the other sciences and engineering and arts majors,” Bajaj said.
Nevertheless, despite these attempts by the department of computer science to reach out and integrate non-majors, the efforts may be not be widespread enough to give all students the basic computer science tool kit which is currently only an “advantage” in the job market but may soon be a requirement.
Not everyone has the space in his or her degree plan to participate in the Elements of Computing program, and the number of students who do enroll in this program is small. Compared to the vastly more popular Business Foundations Program, which gives out approximately 1,100 certificates a year, only 19 students received a certificate from the Elements in Computing program last year. Additionally, acceptance into the journalism and RTF classes can be competitive.
Given the low number of non-computer science majors that are actually learning these skills, UT should consider lobbying the Texas Higher Education Coordinating board to include computer science in the state-mandated core curriculum, or else include it in the University-mandated core curriculum.
Bajaj, for one, said that he strongly supports the addition of basic computer science to the core curriculum.
Amid a busy schedule, the personal motivation isn’t there, despite the clear value of learning to code before entering the job market. Required coding classes would become a part of a student’s schedule, creating an immediate incentive with a big payback: being able to graduate.
It’s true that under the current UT core curriculum, students may take a computer science class to count toward a science and technology requirement. However, making computer science classes compulsory is an idea worth consideration.
UT’s 42-hour core curriculum is, admittedly, decided in large part by the notoriously-slow moving Texas Higher Education Coordinating board and, consequently, is unlikely to change anytime soon. But hopefully, the growing realization that technological skills provide huge benefits for students will inspire the inclusion of classes that teach basic coding skills into the core curriculum in the years to come.