Many students are interested in pursuing studies in Computer Science in college. We on the computer science faculty are often asked the following questions, and we hope this document will help to answer them.
Let’s start by clarifying what Computer Science is not:
- Computer Science is not “the study of how to use a computer.” You may have taken a class in high school called Computer Science in which you learned to use computer applications software such as word processors, spreadsheets, and databases. That’s not what Computer Science is really about, any more than the study of Automobile Engineering is about the study of learning to drive a car.
- Computer Science is not “the study of how to build a computer.” Some students want to learn how to build computers, and to a certain extent, that’s the study of Computer Engineering. Computer Science is different.
- Computer Science is not “the study of how to fix computers.” That topic is Computer Maintenance and we don’t deal with it at all in the program.
At a fundamental level, computers are basically machines that manipulate symbols by following well-defined sequences of instructions. When you study computer science, you will learn the capabilities and limitations of computing primarily by learning to construct the instructions that computers follow.
You bet! Our graduates are employed in a variety of computing jobs, from programming to network administration to computer support. Many of them have probably forgotten most of the “scientific” things we tried to teach them, but we believe that scientific training makes them more effective in their work than those who haven’t had it.
We do have a strong “hands-on” philosophy in our courses; we expect our students not only to learn computer science concepts, but to be able to apply those concepts on real computers to solve real problems. This means our students graduate with the skills needed to build solutions for their employers from day 1 on the job. The employers in our area know this, and our graduates are in considerable demand. In fact, even though we don’t have a formal internship program, many of our students work for businesses in the community while they are in school because employers are eager to grab them before they graduate!
Many of our graduates are also actively involved in helping meet the computing needs of churches, Christian schools, and missionaries around the world. The same skills that make them employable in industry enable them to assist pastors and Christian workers with their information needs.
Obviously, it doesn’t take a four-year degree in Computer Science to learn to design and run a web site. There are lots of people writing software who never had a formal programming class. However, consider this: there is a lot of poorly designed, hard-to-use, buggy software out there. If you plan to make a living designing and building systems for others to use, don’t you think you owe it to your future clients to get the best possible training?
Technical schools teach you to use today’s technology so you can get a job now. Period. That’s their purpose.
Unfortunately, today’s technology is tomorrow’s trash! This is especially true when it comes to Computer Science. When you choose a career in the field of computers, you make a commitment to lifelong learning. That means you have to do more than learn how to build software systems using today’s tools: you have to learn how to adapt, so that you can continue to be an effective computing professional in twenty years. A liberal arts degree in computer science will give you the perspective and foundation you need to be able to react to changes in technology, analyze trends, and determine what tools you should invest the time and effort to learn in order to construct good solutions both now and in the future.
Don’t worry, we do. You’ll learn to write traditional GUI applications using Object-Oriented techniques in Java, C++, and Visual Basic/VBA, as well as web-based applications in Java and ASP. You’ll do database applications in Microsoft Access. You’ll work with the Windows and Linux operating systems, and will learn a smattering of “exotic” languages like Smalltalk and Scheme. Of course, all of this is subject to change without notice, because that’s the way technology goes, but we want you to know that we work very hard to keep our curriculum current (in fact, sometimes our students wish we kept a bit further back from the “bleeding edge” — we wish that ourselves when we get sliced up by bugs in the latest tool releases!).
If you are interested in learning about how computers work, you want to know how to write software, and you don’t run screaming when the word “math class” is mentioned, the Computer Science major is probably for you. By its very nature, this is a highly technical study that demands a strong mathematical aptitude. If you major in Computer Science, you will study subjects like assembly language, digital electronics, microprocessor architecture, programming languages, and operating system design -- you become intimately acquainted with “what makes a computer tick.” This major gives you the understanding you need to successfully tackle demanding problems in many different fields of computing.
Information Systems Management is similar in many ways to the Computer Science major. Both majors start with the same foundational sequence of courses designed to teach you how to build software, and there is a strong emphasis on software engineering throughout both curricula. The difference between the programs lies in the kinds of software systems that students study and build. While a Computer Science student studies operating systems and microprocessor operation, the Information Systems Management student learns to analyze the needs of a business or organization, and create solutions to meet those needs. The mathematical requirements are not as rigorous, and tend to focus on areas that apply to business computing.
If you aren’t interested in learning to create software, consider the Information Technology major. Many students want to learn how to use computer technology to help others, not how to produce software. If math is definitely not your thing, and you are interested in a career as a network administrator, help desk technician, or a systems analyst, this is probably the option you should consider.
If you don’t know which one to choose, and you don’t mind a bit of math, start out in Computer Science. The Computer Science major gives you a broad exposure to many different subject areas in computing, and thus tends to provide the widest range of employment and ministry options. You can easily change from Computer Science to Information Systems Management anytime your first two years without fear of lengthening your stay.
Take all the math you can. In order to enroll in our first computer science class, you must demonstrate a certain level of mathematical proficiency. Students with weak math backgrounds must make up math deficiencies before they can enroll in their first computer science course. And we tend to find that students who have not taken their math studies seriously in high school simply haven’t developed their logical thought processes to the point where they are capable of successfully completing even the introductory programming class.
You also should take every opportunity you can to become proficient at using computers. Remember: Computer Science is not the study of using a computer, it’s the study of teaching a computer to solve problems! We assume that students coming in to the major are comfortable using computers to do basic tasks like word processing, managing files, and so on.
Finally, if you can, take an introductory course in computer programming while in high school. More than anything else, this will help you to know if Computer Science is something you want to invest four years of your life studying.
New students in the Department of Computer Science are required to own a personal laptop. The laptop should have Windows XP or Vista (Home Premium or higher), 2 GB RAM, Ethernet port, 802.11 a/b wireless access, and Microsoft Office (97 or higher). Macintosh laptops are also acceptable. The software you need for your classes is, in most cases, free or comes with your textbook. Ask your admission counselor for more details.
You might also want to read this computer network information, if you are interested in connecting to the campus network from your residence hall room.
Feel free to contact any of the Computer Science faculty. We are happy to hear from prospective students and to answer your questions.