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New Computing Program Bridges Fields

Professor Rob Bryant, director of the Computer Science and Computational Thinking degree program, teaching a class in algorithmic art, a topic at the intersection of mathematics, programming, algorithms, and art. (Gonzaga photo by Rajah Bose.)

Professor Rob Bryant, director of the Computer Science and Computational Thinking degree program, teaching a class in algorithmic art, a topic at the intersection of mathematics, programming, algorithms, and art. (Gonzaga photo by Rajah Bose.)

College of Arts & Sciences Offers Computer
Science and Computational Thinking

By Margaret Maclean
Class of 2017

SPOKANE, Wash. – Anyone with a smart phone intuitively understands the trend toward completely interconnected devices that are always available. This shift – termed pervasive or ubiquitous computing – represents a large and increasing share of our world economy, and Gonzaga University has introduced a new degree that blends highly marketable computer science skills with the intellectual breadth of study in the humanities and social and natural sciences.

Computer science faculty Shawn Bowers, Rob Bryant and Kathie Yerion have collaborated to develop the Computer Science and Computational Thinking degree program now available through the College of Arts and Sciences. With opportunities for computer-literate graduates among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, no one is surprised the bachelor of arts degree program has already attracted 23 majors since it began last fall.

It’s a very promising field, and the job prospects are amazing,” said Bryant, director of the program. Tech giants such as Google and Apple have long hired not only computer scientists but poets, writers and artists to diversify their knowledge base. “By combining computer science with the benefits of liberal arts, the possibilities go through the roof.”

Bryant says all majors will take 21 credits in mathematics and computer science through the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and a 12-credit concentration in the College of Arts and Sciences, choosing from art, biology, communication studies, economics, English, environmental studies, philosophy, sociology or theatre arts. Students will also choose an additional 21 credits in computer science courses, including courses specific to each concentration.

The innovative program bridges schools and disciplines within the University to intentionally provide new pathways for students to learn and advance their careers by combining the power of rigorous computational skills with the traditional benefits of sharp critical-thinking and expression gained through studies in the humanities and liberal arts.

Bryant describes computational thinking as using a computer to solve major problems that are either too complex or too tedious to solve without computers. Increasingly, higher education is recognizing the critical importance of bringing multiple disciplines to bear to more efficiently ask, and answer, vexing questions, he said.

“For example, if you don’t understand computer science you can’t solve climate change. Technical skills alone are not enough to solve the big problems that we face as a society,” Bryant says. “Today’s problems require better questions. I believe Gonzaga and other universities are failing our students if we don’t give them exposure to the capacity of computers.”

The program also fosters inclusiveness by inviting a diversity of students from backgrounds and disciplinary perspectives into the study of computer science – a field in which women and minorities have been underrepresented.

“I don’t want to live in a world run by only computer scientists,” Bryant joked. “We need all types of people to help solve the world’s problems.”

Students in the new program appreciate its balanced and well-rounded approach. Chris Leu, a rising senior CSCT major with an art concentration, likes the fusion of science and the humanities in his Gonzaga education.

“I certainly appreciate the STEM-based foundation of computer science, but I didn’t want my college experience turning into something like a trade school,” Leu says. “I think there is a large benefit from a well-rounded, liberal arts education.”

While he doesn’t consider himself an artist, Leu says the program has provided him with a new appreciation of creating visual art and the history of aesthetics. After graduation, he plans to work in the film industry, an important contemporary intersection between technology and art.

While computing and “big data” hold the promise of dazzling new insights and answers to some of our most difficult problems, Bryant also believes it’s crucial that students more fully understand the implications of our virtual actions. For example, he cites the permissions people unwittingly allow when downloading “free” software programs.

“We see it every day even with the apps that students download. They just click away at the terms and conditions page without understanding what they’re agreeing to. I always tell my students, ‘if it’s free, you’re the product.’”

Visit the following link to find out more about Computer Science and Computational Thinking degree.

  1. Valerian Eshelman
    Posted July 16, 2016 at 7:02 am

    When I attended Gonzaga as a graduate student in the COML program it was with this concept in mind. I’m glad to see the university continuing to build educational programs that are in tune with the changes in our society.