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Something’s Gotta Give: Computer Science at YU

When I first registered for introduction to computer science, I had no idea what it was beyond the fact that, unlike statistics or calculus, it was not a math class, but still fulfilled the requirement. That desire to avoid a math class literally changed my life.

It was not until after the first few classes that I had any real understanding of what the field of computer science was, which as it turns out, is essentially the programming and the creation or implementation of software. As the semester carried on, I soon found myself more and more intrigued with the subject matter. The professor, Dr. Kelly, had just returned to teaching after working the industry for several decades (If you have ever heard of the Motorola Droid or Droid II, then you have heard of a small portion of his work). I plied him with many questions about what it meant to work in that field, and before the semester had ended I had declared my major as computer science.

The field of computer science is growing, which is evidenced by more than just statistical data. Thinking of the many smartphones one sees being advertised today, how many businesses have websites and how many non-tech companies are producing apps, one understands that computer science is the field which grows when humans are replaced by software automation. Unlike the vast majority of Yeshiva College bachelor degrees, an undergraduate degree in computer science is qualification enough to get a great job and start a real career. My reasons for picking the major also included the salary, which starts at $20k, more than that of the average college graduate, but it was so much more than that.

I did not do any real investigation into the YC major before I declared. In a case of extreme irony, I realized I was then required to take math. The computer science department is part of the math department, which is not overly unusual;  it is not a department of its own, possibly because it would be hard to justify calling two professors teaching a subject a department. Yes, two professors. One half of the department is Dr. Michael Breban, who has been at Yeshiva University for a long time and whose specialty is in the academic side of the field, including areas like theoretical computer science. The other half is Dr. Van Kelly, who has come to YC within the past three years, and whose specialty is the software industry itself, a field in which he has worked for over 40 years. Virtually every requirement that is not a math course is taught by these two professors, and only one major at YC has more required courses than the computer science major.

To their credit, both professors are talented, however, they cannot prevent the many difficulties of majoring in computer science at Yeshiva University. The main issue lies with the fact that the head of the department is the head of math department, so math takes priority over computer science. This is true of the class schedule as well, which is made to cater to the math majors, so they have as few overlapping courses as possible; computer science students do not get the same consideration. I had a semester where all three courses I needed overlapped, forcing me to register for only one of the three courses I needed. This situation often causes a forseeable problem to arise.The core requirements are offered in a very specific sequence, and are not repeated. I had picked the wrong course, meaning that I was not able to take the advanced course offered the next semester, and the advanced course I was now able to take would not be offered until next year. In short, picking one wrong course resulted in an entire year being added to my time in college.

Despite these difficulties, graduates of the YC computer science program do very well, as 100% of the 2012 graduates who majored in computer science are employed; three work for Goldman Sachs, two for J.P Morgan Chase and one for Bank of America (with salaries between 60-80k). Yet, YU has not advertised this fact, or even built up the department. The first reason for this is the University’s current financial situation. The second, is the alleged lack of demand, which I believe is the result of a vicious cycle: since YU does not have a noteworthy department, it does not draw students, and since it doesn’t draw students, the department remains as it is.  Academic advisors do not make a great effort to make students aware of the major, which is odd, considering the growth of the field, the opportunities it opens, and the potential for high salaries. Thus, students who plan to major in computer science in high school are unlikely to make YU their college of choice and YU students deciding on a major are unlikely to hear about it. This result is the miniscule department at YC and the removal of the major in Stern College for Women.

The first step that could be taken to improve the situation would be to bring back the option as a major to SCW. The next, would be to make the computer science department its own individual department, in more than just name, by expanding the staff; even two professors would make a huge difference. Sharing the department between YC and Stern (offering more of the Stern classes in the morning for example), would ease the financial burden. The final step would be to improve the University infrastructure for computer science students.  The Career Development Center does not have experience in preparing a computer science major’s resume or preparing him for an interview. One student was actually told to do a Google search for the non-personality part of the interview.

The greatest single reason for expanding the computer science major, is that expanding the department would be greatly in YU’s advantage.  If the department was expanded (even by just two professors) and marketed, it would make YU an attractive option to a new demographic, a demographic for which going to YU currently would represent a sacrifice.  There is little doubt that, if properly done, returning the major to Stern would be great for not only enrollment, but the school’s image as well. Right now women are woefully underrepresented in the field, and Stern could strive to be a leader in combating that trend. Additionally, many YU students are interested in aliyah. Israel is a world leader in the field, with the highest concentration of tech companies outside of Silicon Valley.

In the past few years YU has made clear that they understand the importance of technology;  from their new mobile app to what you see when you look into the University President’s eyes. President Joel, right now you might be reading this article through Google Glass, a device on the cutting edge of technology. With the right steps, you could be using apps made by Yeshiva University students. Computer science is the way of the future, please don’t let YU get left behind.