Computer Science: A Flawed Past, A Hopeful Future
There is a common misconception that virtually every student at Yeshiva University will graduate in pursuit of a degree in medicine, law, or business. Contrary to popular opinion, however, there are many students pursuing undergraduate degrees in things like history, music, english and chemistry, with plans to pursue varying and unique career paths. More specifically, one major that seems to have garnered attention recently is Computer Science. For years, the Computer Science major at Yeshiva University has had a reputation of being weak, and recently students have complained about the major’s deficiencies.
According to a fourth-year senior majoring in computer science who wished to remain anonymous, “The main problem with the program is that it only has three professors, two of which do not seem to care about the success of the students.” As the major attracts more and more students in an increasingly technology-based world, student frustration has increased over the lack of choice in professors.
Part of that frustration stems from the limited nature of course offerings in a major staffed by just three professors. These issues, combined with the aggressive rigor of the major itself, deter many Yeshiva students from participating in the major. According to a first year student, who wanted to major in computer science but dropped it, and also requested anonymity, he did so because “With so many hours of extra work and so little in-class guidance I felt like it wasn't worth it for another three years.” In more extreme cases, students were forced to choose between staying at Yeshiva in a major they didn’t see filling their needs, or transferring in pursuit of a computer science education elsewhere.
Thomas Otway, the new chair of the Computer Science Department, has much to say on the matter. According to Otway, the Computer Science major used to be quite small, but very recently “tripled in size at Yeshiva University.” Since this growth is quite recent, the University is responding to the best of its ability, but due to financial constraints, the process will most likely take longer than desired. However, according to Otway, more professors will be added to the faculty as soon as Fall Semester 2016. In addition, there are a number of courses that are currently in the development stage, with plans to implement them as soon as they are classroom-ready. Although there may be some quirks in the system, Professor Otway stressed that this did not deter graduate schools or companies from hiring or accepting Yeshiva graduates. In fact, in the past graduating class, companies such as Google, IBM, AT&T, NASA, and Adobe have extended offers to Yeshiva graduates. In addition, students have been accepted to graduate computer science programs at Yale, Columbia, and University of Pennsylvania.
Professor Otway explained that computer science is truly a discipline of the engineering field, and is therefore considered to be a hard science major, with extremely rigorous courses. “Students have to realize that we are at a small liberal arts college rather than a large university and, accordingly, there will be fewer courses offered.” However, Professor Otway recommended a few different courses of action to mitigate the situation. One way to take advantage of Yeshiva’s unique opportunities is to double major in computer science and the Computer Science track of the Math major, which would give a Yeshiva student the background of someone who graduates with a Bachelor of Science from a large university. Otway further suggested enrolling in the graduate-level courses offered by the department to gain a competitive edge. Additionally, students can enroll in the joint five-year program with Columbia University, in which students spend three years at Yeshiva University and then two at Columbia, earning a BA degree from YU and a BS from Columbia.
Professor Otway acknowledges that there are issues to tackle and is in the midst of doing so. Regardless, he firmly believes that if students truly take advantage of all the opportunities presented at Yeshiva University, they will receive a spectacular education; one that is just as good, if not better, than that of a top-notch, large university. If, however, Computer Science majors stay for three years and take only the required courses, they will most likely not have the same success as those who take advantage of the options available at YU.