Prospective students and pre-registration

I’ve heard colleagues describe April as “the month of a thousand nights” because of all the senior recitals, shows, celebrations, and so on. April is also the month of admitted student visits and fall pre-registration. Next year I need to account for all the time in April I’ll spend just  talking with current and prospective students.

Friday March 25. In our first department meeting (yay!), we hammer out our teaching schedule for 2016-17. Over the next week, Andy and I develop special topic proposals for his fall courses, Systems Programming and Artificial Intelligence. On Friday April 1 they go to the Math faculty and the CS Steering Committee. They are approved by Division III via email over the coming week and by Curriculum Committee on April 13, the last meeting before pre-registration.

Monday April 4. The first of five meetings with admitted students. I will have one such meeting each day over the coming week, some scheduled, some not. The questions become predictable.

Friday April 8. The full CS Steering Committee meets for the first and last time in Spring 2016. We nonetheless decide to keep the Committee around for another year:

The charge for the CS Steering Committee for 2016-17 is to advise the CS faculty on starting a new major and department. In addition to reviewing curricular proposals, the Steering Committee will provide diverse perspectives on the annual business of departments and programs. The committee will meet at least three times: Late summer or early fall, mid-fall, and mid-spring. Current committee members will continue for 2016-17, with the addition of new hires Andy Exley and John Stratton.

In the afternoon, the Registrar releases the 2016-17 catalog. All Google search results now link to no-longer-existing pages. Our special topics courses are not in the catalog because they are still making their way through the approval process. I’ve prepared by asking our office of Institutional Research to give me a list of continuing students who’ve taken CS courses. I email these students the descriptions and schedules for Andy’s courses (approval forthcoming). I also invite students to a group advising session.

Sunday April 10. The group advising session is scheduled for 7 pm. About 10 students show up, mostly first-years, all men. I share the schedule of courses for fall and draw the graph of prerequisites on the chalkboard. I spend the rest of the hour answering questions about everything from staffing to major requirements to co-curricular activities to off-campus study. I take notes in a Google Doc as we go along to share with students who aren’t present. By this time next year, most of this information should be formally published; I hope the rest will be passed down from student to student.

During the following week I meet with a few students about course selections and independent studies, but not as many as I remember meeting in the fall. Maybe my group advising session worked.

Tuesday April 12. Today classes are cancelled for the Whitman Undergraduate Conference. In January, I was annoyed about losing a week from my Tuesday-Thursday classes; now I’m relieved to have the break. A team of three students from my fall HCI course present their project. I go to as many of my other students’ talks and posters as I can.

In a conversation at the end of the day, I learn that one of my second-year students has put all his eggs in the CS basket even though there is not yet a CS major. He needs to declare a major by the end of the semester, and he has no idea what to declare in lieu of CS. We brainstorm a bit and finally punt. I just don’t have enough experience advising at Whitman yet. My colleague Albert Schueller comes to our rescue a week later by suggesting the Math-Economics major, which can be completed in just four very full semesters.

Wednesday April 13. Andy’s special topic courses are approved by the curriculum committee. Claire in the Registrar’s office gets them into all of the various systems.

I get so caught up in talking with students in the lab that I miss my 4 pm meeting. Fortunately, this also gets me out of another meeting on Friday. I think I will try not to commit to any extra things in April next year.

Thursday April 14. Having learned that majors and programs throw end-of-year parties, I take a senior out for lunch to get his advice on organizing a CS Celebration. This will be a venue, also, for inducting seniors into the Pledge of the Computing Professional. I send out a Save the Date email for May 15 and learn at least six seniors are interested in taking the Pledge.

Friday April 15. I meet with two more second-year students who want to pursue a computer science major. Each has a unique situation: One is on track to double major in math and CS but has questions about double counting courses. I refer him to my colleague Albert and the Registrar. The other wants to find out if he could do a CS major if he wanted to. We work out that yes, he could switch to a CS major later if he wanted to, and there is an obvious course for him to take in the fall that would constitute progress on both CS and his currently declared major.

Saturday April 16. Admitted Students Day. I already made plans to go to Portland with Brooks to look at house things and see family. I get an email asking to meet with a visiting student. I reply the next day saying sorry I was out of town and I’d be happy to talk on the phone. He replies on Monday saying he’s already chosen another school. C’est la vie.

Monday April 18. Dinner with the Math faculty and spouses at the home of our chair, Pat Keef.

Wednesday April 20. A fun dinner out with eight of the ten students who met with CS faculty candidates. We talk about everything from our hometowns to the Intro textbook to (yes) next fall’s courses.

Thursday April 21. A meeting with the Provost clarifies that the operating budget for CS is drawn from a separate endowment, not the College’s general operating budget. This could be both a challenge and an opportunity. I meet with the Controller to learn the current state of the CS endowment and request a forecast of future payouts.

Tony Cabasco, VP for Admissions, tells me there are 47 admitted students primarily interested in computer science, versus 32 interested in math. I am scared.

Friday April 22. This evening rising seniors will pre-register for Fall 2016. I have already consented in a few students who absolutely need to take particular CS courses to be on track for the 3-2 program. First-year students are once again confused by the gradual release of seats reserved for particular class years over the three days of pre-registration. No, the course doesn’t really have an enrollment cap of 6.

The assigned time slots are between 4:30 and 8:00 p.m. I watch the enrollments anxiously in between grading Intro programs. By 6:00, all of the 10 seats in Intro reserved for seniors have been filled. This makes me slightly nervous, but I leave for dinner anyway. At 7:00, I get an email from Claire in the Registrar’s office pointing out that no students have the pre-requisite for two of our new upper-level classes. I remind her that my special topic course this spring is the first offering of the pre-requisite course and we agree I can consent students in on that basis. Then I have a sinking feeling. When I get home to my computer, I discover that 12 of the 20 students enrolled in that course are seniors. I send a mea culpa email to my colleagues before catching the last half hour of the 90th Annual Whitman Chorale Contest. Luckily, I still get to see several of my students perform.

Saturday April 23. On the way back from a leisurely breakfast downtown, I encounter one of my students waiting outside the athletic center for the regional bouldering competition and learn about it form him. I spend most of the afternoon at Whitman’s annual Renaissance Faire (set in the fictional town of Shallotshire) and the rest of the afternoon grading more programs for Intro. I hear from both John and Andy on the topic of the ill-fated prerequisite: Andy is willing to let it go for this fall, and John wants to talk it through. After a hasty dinner of leftovers and the spring Whitman Chorale and Chamber Singers concert, I stay far too late at a party hosted by another new faculty member.

Today, Sunday April 24. I finish grading the homework assignment I started yesterday and chat with John about his fall course. I send the following note to our students:

Because few students have the CS 210 prerequisite, we will waive this prerequisite for this fall’s offerings of Software Performance Optimization (CS 317) and Systems Programming (CS 401). If you have already taken CS 270, then you are eligible to take these courses in addition to Artificial Intelligence (CS 402).

Please add yourself to the waitlist for the course(s) you want to take, noting that you have taken CS 270, and you will be granted consent.

I immediately get one response…but only one. We have nine seniors on the waiting list for Andy’s section of Intro at 10, but, blessedly, none on the waiting list for my section at 8 or for Data Structures at 9. I guess seniors like to sleep in.

I send an email to Claire with the following feature requests for the online registration system:

  1.  As a department chair, it would be very, very helpful to be able to see all rosters and waitlists for my department, without having to be listed as an instructor on the courses. This would save my esteemed colleagues a lot of unnecessary pestering.
  2. It would also be helpful to be able to email an entire waitlist with a click of one button, e.g., to ask them to provide particular information in their comments or to encourage them to add themselves to the waitlist for a different course section.

Will Whitman CS be overwhelmed by students in Fall 2016, underwhelmed, or both at the same time? Stay tuned.

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