Bates College has long been awaiting a proper inclusion of computer science in its academic curriculum. For the past two years, Bates students have received a preliminary feel for this breakthrough through the offering of a short-term class that served as an introductory course to computer science. With great excitement surrounding this course during the past two short-terms, it is evident that the student body here at Bates has a desire for a proper computer science program that fits comprehensibly within the current academic system.
Well, to the delight of many students on campus, some of whom may not already know, there has been a new academic program established recently. It is known as the Digital and Computational Sciences Program, and while this academic program has been responsible for running the last two introductory short-term courses, it is currently in a process of great expansion.
According to information provided by Matthieu Duvall in the Dean of Faculty Office, “the mission of a program and major in Digital and Computational Studies (DCS) is to advance learning and scholarship across multiple disciplines by harnessing current and emerging concepts, methods, and tools in computer science and digital studies.”
The current faculty that comprise the Digital and Computational Sciences Program is made up of professors from a plethora of academic departments here on campus. While all of these professors utilize an interdisciplinary approach to teaching subjects that fall under the umbrella of Digital and Computational Sciences, the program is looking to make a senior hire during this academic year in order to find a chair for the program. More specifically, the intended goals of the Digital and Computer Sciences Program are to “interrogate the values and assumptions of a digitized world, increase understanding of the power and limitations of computer in problem-solving, promote proficiency in the assessment, analysis, and visualization of data, and foster connections across disciplines”, according to Duvall.
The hiring of a department chair is the next step proposed by the current program’s committee in creating an academic program that offers a major. The ultimate goal being a faculty of dedicated professors who teach a curriculum that is exclusive to a Digital and Computer Sciences major. In addition, digital and computational sciences program nationwide are extremely lacking in the amount of women and minority students who choose to complete a major. Paula Schlax, who currently acts as head of the academic program, has expressed that candidates who are being considered for the role of program chair must understand the importance of a liberal arts education, and work to include women and minority students as much as possible in the program.
While many of the classes intended to be offered in a Digital and Computer Sciences department would be intertwined with scholarship in other departments, such as Environmental Studies or Mathematics, there would indeed be a set curriculum that offers four or five required courses as well as several electives. The required courses will most likely explore computer science, statistics, programming, algorithmic problem solving, and research methods. Meanwhile, the electives would provide DCS students the opportunity to explore the relationship between technology and problem-solving, and the relationship between technology and society.
While all of this sounds like the perfect addition to the already impressive academic curriculum at Bates, it is dependent on the success of the search committee in hiring a program chair this year. In order to expand the current academic program to allow students to actually declare a major within Digital and Computational Sciences, there would ultimately need to be a dedicated program chair and two faculty members within the academic program.
Last year many Bates students were thrilled at hearing the news of a generous gift of $10 million dollars to be used for the establishment and expansion of a computer science program at Bates. Bates students will again be assured to hear that that gift is currently being put to use to expand the current academic program, establish an official academic program complete with a major, and, in the interim, expand upon the number of courses being offered in the current Digital and Computational Sciences Program. As of right now, the Digital and Computational Sciences Program hopes to offer two courses this winter, as well as two courses during this year’s short-term.
As the past year and the close future seem to be a time of expansion here at Bates, it is comforting to see that the college is taking major steps to increase the academic opportunities here at Bates, which will in turn continue to bolster the legacy of Bates as a place of academic rigor, freedom, and depth.