With other class options falling through during the second semester of her freshman year, Lindsay Neubauer (COL ’11) signed up for a computer science class to round out her schedule. Not too long after, she decided to pursue a major in the department.

With little background knowledge from high school, Neubauer came to Georgetown “100 percent positive” she would not be a computer science major. She thought she might take a few more classes, but that was about it.

But then Neubauer found that the department geared toward personal interaction and real-world application was the perfect place for her time at Georgetown.

Neubauer is now one of only two freshmen girls declared in the small computer science department. Although the department has been growing and carving its place in the university since it gained its independence from the mathematics department in 1985, it remains one of the smaller departments in the university. The department currently has approximately 50 undergraduate majors, nine master’s students and seven full-time professors, less than half of many peer institutions.

As the university as a whole has been making a push toward enhancing its science curricula, the department still faces certain challenges in its relatively small size, a lack of a Ph.D. offering and underrepresentation of female students.

“Our department is very small compared to our peer institutions,” said Marcus Maloof, an associate professor in the department, adding that its lack of a Ph.D. offering places it at a disadvantage among other top universities.

aloof said that one persistent challenge for the department is to attract students who have had little to no experience in computer science in high school.

“It’s difficult for us because junior high and high schools don’t teach CS like they teach all other disciplines,” he said. “It would be nice if secondary education was helping us a little more.”

For Neubauer, her high school experiences offered only a limited view into the discipline.

“I loved the [high school] class. It introduced me to a new way of thinking and new kinds of languages,” Neubauer said. “I just didn’t think that I wanted to program for a living.”

Byte Size

The relatively small size of the computer science department has greatly added to its popularity with students within the program.

“I really like the size of it because you can walk into St. Mary’s [third floor] and everyone knows your name, even professors you haven’t had,” Allie Candido (COL ’11) said.

What was once cramped office space has also been alleviated by the recent move to a larger space in St. Mary’s Hall, according to M. Brian Blake, the department’s chair.

Blake said that one distinct advantage of Georgetown’s computer science department over other universities is that it has a core curriculum steeped in Georgetown’s liberal arts education.

“Georgetown students can afford to be well-rounded,” he said. “We encourage students to take dual majors.”

He emphasized that personal attention, small classes capped at 15, but averaging between 8 to 11, and research and teaching assistant opportunities for undergraduates further separate it from others.

While the small size of the department has created a personal environment, there are some difficulties as well.

Expanding the size of the faculty and attracting more majors is vital to maintain competitiveness with other programs nationwide, according to administrators, professors within the department and Blake.

By comparison, Duke University’s program contains approximately 130 undergraduate students, 65 Ph.D. students and 24 full-time faculty members, according to the university Web site. Even larger, The George Washington University’s program boasts 140 undergrads, 240 master’s students, 100 Ph.D. students and 19 faculty members. Villanova University’s program, which is more comparable to Georgetown’s in that it has yet to add a Ph.D. program, contains 150 undergrads, 190 graduates students and 15 full-time faculty members but lacks a Bachelor in Arts degree that Georgetown and most other universities offer.

Blake said he drafted a proposal to add one new faculty member a year in upcoming years. Along with the construction of a new science building, he said the university plans to further bolster the science department by adding 36 new professors in upcoming years, some of which will be computer science professors.

University Provost James O’Donnell said that the university recognizes the need for growth in the university’s science programs across the board.

“We recognize that our natural science departments (biology, physics, chemistry, math, computer science) have not grown at a pace to keep up with our ambitions for them,” O’Donnell said in an e-mail. “And so as we build the new science building and find space like St. Mary’s, we are planning to add a total of 35 faculty positions to the 70 or so we already have in those five departments over the next five to 10 years.”

O’Donnell said that Georgetown can better meet its potential in the sciences when it has the requisite number of faculty to support it.

“I’m optimistic we can tell the story of what our scientists do well when there are too few of them and how much better we can do when there are enough,” he said.

Besides the plans for the entire science department, Blake said he also hopes to expand the computer science department and eventually develop a Ph.D. program at Georgetown.

When developing a new curriculum, Maloof said it is important to have students complete basic prerequisites in order to progress to more advanced courses.

“[Computer science] as a discipline is something we need to develop a little bit more here, and that’s something I see, and that’s why it’s so exciting to be on the edge of this decade of science,” Maloof said. “Having a full complement of science programs, not just [computer science], is important for GU to remain competitive.”

Looking to the Future

Devoid of a Ph.D. offering, the computer science department operates at somewhat of a disadvantage in career planning, according to one expert.

Eric Grimson, an executive board member of the Computing Research Association and professor of medical engineering at MIT, said that having a Ph.D. is an important factor in the hiring process. The CRA is an association uniting over 200 North American university computer science departments and related fields, including the department of computer science at Georgetown.

“It can be hard to attract top-quality [computer science] faculty if there is not a doctoral program for graduate students, as this makes it very hard to obtain research funding and conduct research,” he said.

However, Daniel Reed, the chair of CRA and Microsoft’s scalable and multicore computing director, said a Ph.D. is not necessary for a successful career in the industry.

“Microsoft looks for people at all levels, from a B.S. to a Ph.D.,” he said. “We look for people with innovative ideas, great technical skills and the ability to explain those ideas clearly and thoughtfully.”

According to Candido, computer science majors are not limited in their career options.

“People don’t understand that graduating with a computer science major doesn’t mean you’re going to be sitting in a basement writing code all day,” she said.

aloof, too, affirmed that graduates are pursuing innovative and non-traditional careers.

“One measure of the quality of a program is where students go afterwards. We’ve had students doing both traditional and non-traditional computer science work,” he said.

According to Maloof, computer science graduates have gone on to work at YouTube and Apple, attended top-flight law and graduate schools and worked in and outside of the computer industry in a variety of capacities.

“When you look at where our students go, we feel like we’re doing something right,” he said.

Blake also said one step in further engaging students in the field lies in the chartering of an undergraduate student chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery at Georgetown. According to its Web site, “[ACM] delivers resources that advance computing as a science and a profession.” Membership includes access to an online digital library of resources and publications, as well as offers career networking opportunities, speakers and other symposiums and workshops.

It Takes Two

Along with its relatively small size, the computer science department has a disproportionately low number of female majors, reflecting a larger national trend.

According to statistics from the National Science Foundation, the number of female scientists is disproportionately low in the computer science industry. Twenty-eight percent of computer science bachelor degrees in 2003 went to women, a 10 percent decrease from a 38 percent mark 23 years ago.

“I will say that computer science is the only science with a declining female enrollment,” said Lisa Singh, an assistant professor in the department.

Blake echoed the concern of female underrepresentation in the department.

“Nationwide, females and other minorities are poorly represented in computer science,” he said.

This year, the computer science department welcomed seven new freshmen, two of which were female. With the high demand of females in the computer science industry, Singh said many computer science major graduates have moved on to positions at top companies.

“The women who have graduated are doing wonderful things. Some are working for companies like Lockheed Martin, the Washington Post, Accenture, Booz Allen, GE and a number of not-for-profits and the Pentagon,” she said.

Singh said she thinks the department does a good job of retaining female computer science majors because of a support group promoting the success of women in this field.

“Four years ago, we graduated a class with no computer science women majors. That was when I decided to start a Women in Computer Science group,” Singh said. “We meet once a semester to share experiences, discuss opportunities and in general, support each other. Since the creation of the group, we have only lost one female major.”

Support of the females within Georgetown’s program has been a definite advantage according to Candido and Neubauer.

“We get a lot of support and we’re in high demand,” Neubauer said. “So it’s almost easier for us.”

As the technology industry becomes more global, Singh said that the industry should look toward creating a diverse pool of talented leaders.

“With technology becoming more central to our global market, it is important that a diverse population participate in the advancement of technology,” she said.

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