SJR Column: Computer Science, November 2014
Just a few days ago, HuffPost Education (an education news website) featured an article by Dr. Linda Rosen, a well-known national leader in STEM education. STEM refers to science, technology, engineering and mathematics and, according to a study cited by Dr. Rosen, students who gain a strong STEM foundation and who pursue college majors in STEM fields face much brighter career prospects today than students in many other professional areas. “Even in a tough economy,” she stated, “STEM is where the opportunities are.”
Those ever-increasing opportunities in STEM fields are certainly evident on the UIS campus , where our Computer Science program has grown from just over 100 students in 1990 to well over 1,000 undergraduate and graduate students today.
The program has earned the prestigious Center for Academic Excellence designation from the U.S. National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security and its online Computer Science degree has been cited as one of the four leading online Computer Science programs in the country (along with MIT, Oregon State and Udacity).
UIS Computer Science professor Svet Braynov was attracted to UIS a decade ago from the University of Buffalo because of the department’s reputation for high quality teaching. “On many campuses, a student can get lost”, he says, “but not here. Our students feel a great atmosphere in the department and both students and faculty grow together.”
“We don’t really recruit students,” adds longtime Department Head Ted Mims. “Our recruiting is done by our own graduates, who tell others about their great experiences in the program.”
A constantly innovating curriculum is another reason that students are attracted to the UIS Computer Science program. Faculty stay in close touch with ever-changing technologies, as well as with major employers of the department’s graduates, and have created courses that include not only foundation classes in programming and networking but also classes like Big Data Analytics, Artificial Intelligence and Digital Forensics. A year ago, the department launched a new major in Information Systems Security – created in response to the high demand for IT security professionals who can design and implement secure technology systems.
Jessica Williams, a Junior from Granite City, Illinois is taking full advantage of the challenges and opportunities offered by the UIS Computer Science program. “The countless hours I’ve devoted to solving a problem or working the bugs out of my program assignment have been some of the most invaluable educational experiences,” Jessica says. “I’ve learned how to solve problems and I can honestly say that is the greatest thing I will take away from this program.” Jessica was selected to participate in a paid internship program at State Farm headquarters last summer where she was part of a team working on real-world security problems. She plans to become a security analyst after graduation in May, 2016.
Daniel Evertz, from Centralia, Illinois, is a Junior Computer Science major who is also an Air Force veteran. Having already experienced a larger university with classes of 400-plus students, stadium-style seating and teaching assistants communicating the class content, Daniel says his friends told him that “this school was different”. “My first class at UIS started with the professor attempting to learn everyone’s name and that experience was mirrored in every one of my other classes that first week.” According to Daniel, the most defining aspect of the program is the “approachability of the faculty and staff”. Daniel is interested in artificial intelligence and software engineering. After completing his undergraduate degree next fall, he plans to pursue his master’s degree at UIS and then a career in software development.
UIS Computer Science students regularly get high-value internships at major technology-related companies. One of our students, for example, will be spending the Spring, 2015 semester interning at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Like many STEM graduates, UIS Computer Science alums are in high demand in a variety of sectors including technology services companies, insurance, finance, banking and health care – to name a few. Wherever they are, they are proud alums of the UIS Computer Science program … and they are recruiting future students who will benefit as much as they did from their UIS experience.
Susan J. Koch, Chancellor of University of Illinois Springfield