Letter to the Editor: Whitman sees increased interest in computer science

Yesterday the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin printed my first letter to the editor. I read an article about demand for computer science in the Sunday newspaper, and was disappointed that there was no local angle on the story. Wednesday morning I got to work early and wrote this letter. Thanks to Gina Ohnstad, Manager of Media and Public Relations, for her feedback and assistance.

On May 1, the Union-Bulletin published a Seattle Times article headlined “Computer science demand on the rise.” It’s a trend we know well at Whitman College as we develop our new computer science program.


In 2015-16, Whitman offered an expanded curriculum in computer science, supported by two new faculty positions.


New upper-level courses in Human-Computer Interaction, Elements of Computer Systems, and Algorithm Design and Analysis filled to capacity. From fall to spring, enrollments in our intermediate level Data Structures course nearly doubled.


Most exciting: Unprecedented demand for Introduction to Programming led us to add a second course section, which also filled to capacity.


Looking forward to 2017-18, enrollments in intermediate-level courses remain strong. Dean of Admission & Financial Aid Tony Cabasco reports 47 admitted students indicated computer science as their primary academic interest.*


Starting this fall, Whitman’s computer science program will be fully staffed with a faculty of three as we continue to expand our course offerings.


Whitman will graduate its first computer science minor this spring. I hope to propose a new major in computer science during the 2017-18 academic year.


As the program grows, I look forward to engaging with the Walla Walla community, for example, through educational outreach in collaboration with local schools or through software development for local nonprofit organizations.


The Seattle Times article concludes with the story of Jacob Shafer, who fell in love with computer science when he took an introductory course during his sophomore year.


Shafer’s experience is familiar to me. In my previous role at Grinnell College, a liberal arts college similar to Whitman, many of my best students started college with no intention to ever study computer science. In their introduction to computer science, they learned, contrary to stereotypes, programming is creative and collaborative.


Thoughtfully applied, computing is a powerful tool for solving problems and improving lives.


At UW, admission to the computer science major is highly competitive, and it seems preparation to apply for the major often begins in high school. It’s no wonder students like Shafer worry they can’t compete.


By contrast, Whitman College emphasizes exploration of different fields and does not restrict admission to particular majors. I look forward to building a program that embraces students with diverse interests and backgrounds, including those who discover computer science during their college careers.**


Janet Davis
Associate Professor of Computer Science
Whitman College

* More recently, I learned from Tony that a total of 55 students had Computer Science as their primary academic interest and 16 enrolled. 14 of the 16 are men. As I expected, we have our work cut out for us to recruit women to the major.

** I have the utmost respect for my colleagues at UW CSE, and I have no doubt they are making efforts to include diverse students in their undergraduate programs. But liberal arts colleges do have certain structural advantages.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *