YC’s Computer Science Major is on the Rise
“You know that Computer Science department that everyone talks about”? Over the last few years, the Computer Science department has improved tremendously, and it is on the rise in Yeshiva College. According to a recent Commentator article, computer science majors comprised 18.4% of all Yeshiva College students in Fall 2017. This is a heightened number from years past, and it only seems to be rising. So why are more student opting to major in computer science in YC?
This pattern of an increase in computer science students appears to be running parallel with the general increase of interest in the field. According to Professor Van Kelly, co-chair of the Computer Science department, since the 2008 economic recession, there has been a sharp increase in the number of computer science majors in the United States. Professor Kelly explained that, other than finance and engineering majors, there is no field with a better starting salary than computer science. It would seem that many YC students are also interested in this aspect of the field.
While the financial incentive is nice, the rise in computer science major is largely a product of the resurgence of the department in YC. Professor Kelly, along with his co-chair, Professor Judah Diament, are deeply involved in the growth of the department and are are using their experience to create a successful department. Professor Kelly originally started off doing research at Nokia’s Bell Labs, and then spent many years at Motorola working on conserving power for the Android. He joined the Yeshiva College faculty in 2009, and through his time in Yeshiva University, has seen the CS department grow from a small major with 2 professors to a major with specialized tracks.
Professor Diament graduated Yeshiva University in 1996, and then attended NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Science for graduate school, while simultaneously doing Semicha at RIETS. After graduate school, Professor Diament went on to work at Hitachi Data systems, followed by Bell Atlantic, and then spent 13 years doing research at IBM before joining the Yeshiva College faculty in 2016. In an interview with the Commentator last year, Diament noted that one of the reasons why he decided to leave the “business world” and join the “teaching world” was because of his yearn for his students, and his yearn for chesed. There is no doubt that having two mentors who are not only successful professionally and intellectually, but who are deeply devoted to the success of their students, creates a framework for success.
So let's get to the basics. Beginning in 2016 with Professor Diament’s arrival, the Computer Science department consists of two tracks. The first is called Data Science, which deals with Machine Learning and Statistics. The second is called Distributed Systems, which involves Cloud, Parallel Computing, and Coordination. Professor Diament said that the exact requirements for these tracks are not set in stone yet, as this new “layered” program is still in its opening stages. In the Distributed Systems track, students deal with a model where computers send messages and communicate with each other. This side of the Computer Science track is the more technological side that deals with the science of many apps and is influential in many companies such as Google, Amazon, and others.
In the Data Science track, students learn about mathematical models and use them to make largely distributed systems run more efficiently. According to Diament, “the level of skill and knowledge required coming out of college to succeed is much higher than it was 25 years ago. It is for this reason that we moved away from only offering a generic undergraduate C.S. education and created the specialized tracks...Students in these tracks will..go much deeper into a specific area of C.S. which is in high demand such that they can not only be end users of these technologies, but creators of new applications of them.”
Besides for the department’s strong faculty, another equally valuable aspect of its success are the students that major in computer science. Junior Aryeh Klein said,”The Computer Science track is very demanding, and as a result the kids who are most drawn to this department are very dedicated and motivated students who are aware of the demands”. Any student who wants to be a computer science major understands the workload involved, and thus, is prepared to work hard to get it done. Regarding the workload, upper sophomore Ezra Splaver noted ”We basically need to build a code, and that can take up to 5-7 hours a week”. Not only does it require motivated people, but it requires people who are able to comprehend the material. It’s a hard major, and as a result, people who are unable to keep up tend to switch to a different major.
It goes without saying that a large part of a certain department depends on its professors and chairs. But when you have motivated students who are ready to propel their teachers, and think about their codes and their work carefully, that changes the entire atmosphere of the department.
Besides for the in-class work, there are a lot of out of class opportunities that are available to further enhance the learning of computer science students. Throughout this year there have been speakers and networking events organized by the department several times a month that attract a large portion of the computer science students. This is a part of the department that is being worked on as the department continues to expand, but has certainly had an impact on its students thus far. Many students who attend these events noted that the events provide them with a greater picture of what they are learning by showing that it can also has applications out of the classroom. These events are also great networking opportunities for students to meet professionals who have truly succeeded in their field.
In addition to the efforts of the faculty in expanding the learning experience for computer science students, there has been a student-led push to do the same. The ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) is a club that began this year, run by Junior Aaron Shakibpanah that has provided workshops that teach important skills to students that they otherwise would not be able to get in the classroom. The club is yet another way in which a dedicated computer science student can work towards building up his foundation during his undergraduate career.
However, as with many newly developing things, there are some things in the department that the students aren’t so happy with. For example, one student noted a disconnect that he feels between students and teachers due to the impersonal lecture style of some of the classes, and that as a result, class time lacks real value.
Although the future looks very bright and there are many aspects of the department that show great promise, there is much more work to be done. Increasing the number of professors and having more networking events can certainly help facilitate that. But as a student in the university, my message to everyone is that we should maximize the opportunities that are given to us at our university and inspire ourselves to work hard and use the devotion of our faculty as a springboard for our success. The teacher's role is less than half the battle- most of the battle is our mindset, dedication and attitude to hard work and success. The rising computer science department provides yet another great avenue towards our success. But it's all up to us.