Department of Computer Science adds specialized majors
Kelly Foss
Computer Science students

The discipline of computer science is a rapidly expanding frontier, and Memorial’s Department of Computer Science is evolving right along with it.

Following an academic program review and consultation, the department has decided to provide the option of more specialized majors in its undergraduate program, starting with the introduction of two new majors this fall.

According to Dr. Minglun Gong, department head, the design of the new majors has spanned over more than three years and was led by Dr. Yuanzhu Chen, former deputy head on undergraduate studies; Dr. Sharene Bungay, current deputy head on undergraduate studies; and Dr. Wolfgang Banzhaf, former department head.

“While the overall objective of the changes is to update the department’s curriculum, the department is also reducing the number of core courses students must take from 36 to 27 credit hours, giving them more flexibility to focus on areas of their own interest,” said Dr. Gong.

Two majors

After polling students, the department ultimately chose to introduce majors in smart systems and visual computing and games first.

Additional majors in the areas of net centric computing, data science, scientific computing and theory of computing are also planned for the future.

“Being able to break a complex problem into smaller modules so it can be absorbed or understood by a computer is a different way of thinking.”— Dr. Yuanzhu Chen

The aim of the smart systems major is to give an overview of the growing body of algorithmic and mathematical techniques that have proven practical in allowing computer systems to deal with the complexities and uncertainties of both human beings and the real world.

The visual computing and games major studies how to use computers to both mimic human visual processing power for things such as object recognition, and to create visual content, like games and movies.

Computer games also offer a great opportunity for computer scientists to learn and apply fundamental concepts of design and creation of interactive experiences and visual content.

Growing trend

Dr. Chen says specialized computer science streams are becoming a trend across Canada, and while Memorial is not leading the way in implementing them here, the university is certainly among the first wave.

He says having specialized programs will bridge the department’s undergraduate program to its graduate program “much better.” He also says specialization will give students a better sense of what research is about, and it will also build a bridge to other programs at other universities in Canada.

“Communicating with computers is very different from human-to-human communication, which can tolerate a lot of errors.”— Dr. Minglun Gong

In addition to its primary role of preparing computer science majors, the department feels it also has a duty to introduce computer literacy to students in other academic units.

“The Faculty of Science, and the university as a whole, can benefit from having programming knowledge,” said Dr. Chen.

“Being able to break a complex problem into smaller modules so it can be absorbed or understood by a computer is a different way of thinking.”

“Computers are not smart,” added Dr. Gong.

“Communicating with computers is very different from human-to-human communication, which can tolerate a lot of errors. When you communicate with computers, you must give very specific and precise commands. That skill is beneficial to all students, not just computer science students.”

Invisible infrastructure

The pair also feel that because computing devices are everywhere and being embedded in more and more every day products and services, there is an increasing demand to understand them and adapt to their presence.

“Computing is becoming an invisible piece of our life,” said Dr. Chen.

“It’s woven into our infrastructure, like electricity or water and because it’s so integrated, sometimes we don’t even notice it. But we, as computer scientists, need to promote that what is seen is just the very tip of the iceberg. Parents and students need to realize just how important this subject is. For example, can you imagine one day without computer power?”

 

Apr 4th, 2017

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