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New Computing Degree to Provide Innovative Opportunities

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A new degree program from the University of Kansas School of Engineering will expand opportunities for students seeking more specialized instruction in computer science.

Through the new interdisciplinary computing major, set to launch in the fall, students will have the option for an enriched computer science experience, with a focus in one of five fields of study: astronomy, biology, chemistry, geography or physics.

“This puts computing within a context and can attract students interested in interdisciplinary studies,” said Arvin Agah, professor of electrical engineering and computer science. “Studies show offering computing within a context appeals to those who seek real-world relevance in their studies.”

The skills of computer scientists are in high demand. A study from the Kansas Department of Labor shows computer software engineering is one of the 10 fastest growing occupations in the 2006-16 Kansas Occupational Outlook. But Agah said companies encounter a common hurdle when seeking graduates with the specific expertise that’s needed to perform at the highest level as they enter the workforce.

“We see a lot people hiring computer scientists to write code for them to achieve what they want in their area, but then they have to teach them chemistry, physics or astronomy, whatever the specialized area is,” Agah said. “Through this program, a student studying chemistry who has to come up with some models has the computing capabilities to build and run these models — and the chemistry background as well.”

KU is the first university in the Big 12, and one of just a handful in the nation, to offer a degree in interdisciplinary computing.

“This is more than a minor in a different field,” Agah said. “This degree program provides expertise in two fields. It’s computing, plus some other context that a student feels passionate about.”

Although students initially have options to pair with one of five fields of study, other programs can be added as more interdisciplinary partnerships are formed on campus.

“This new degree will position electrical engineering and computer science graduates from the KU School of Engineering to have an immediate impact in a number of professions that have a high demand for skilled workers,” said Dean of Engineering Stuart Bell. “We are proud of the partnerships formed to make this possible and look forward to expanding this degree program in the future to ensure our students are ready to meet the challenges of tomorrow.”

The new degree program is expected to expand the appeal of computer science and draw a broader range of students into the historically male-dominated field.

“The bottom line is, people don’t want to just write code to be writing code,” Agah said. “They want to write code that can have a direct impact in addressing challenges we face in the real world.”

In following a directive from Kansas Board of Regents, no new faculty positions or resources will be needed for the new degree program.

The Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science will administer the new bachelor of science degree in interdisciplinary computing. Professor Dave Petr is the point of contact for incoming freshmen interested in detailed information about the degree program.

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