Southeast Computer Science Focus Pays Off for Students


Students receive high scores, are offered increased educational diversity

Recent scores earned by Southeast’s computer science graduates on the MFAT (Major Field Achievement Test) exam demonstrate the extent of knowledge available to students in the University’s computer science program.

The fall 2003 graduating class scored at the 71st percentile nationally on the exam.

“This level of performance is impressive,” said Dr. Anthony Duben, professor of computer science and department chair. “It puts our students above 71 percent of computer science students from schools in the national sample,” he said.

The MFAT exam is a nationally standardized test designed to assess a student’s knowledge and skills in their major area of study. All graduating seniors in Southeast’s Department of Computer Science take the exam, which is based on the GRE (Graduate Record Examination). Test assessment is based on three indicators: programming fundamentals; computer organization, architecture and operating systems; and algorithms, theory and computer mathematics.

Southeast offers two computer science degrees.

“The bachelor of science in computer science degree is oriented toward the science, mathematics and engineering aspects of the field,” Duben said. “The bachelor of science in applied computer science degree is more flexible, allowing students to become application developers in any area from accounting to zoology.”

The students taking the MFAT exam were almost evenly divided between the two degrees, according to Duben.

“The students’ high level of performance is evidence of their learning, since many other schools taking the examination offer only the scientific and engineering oriented degree,” he said.

The quality and innovative character of Southeast’s computer science program also has been recognized by IT Careers (http://www.itcareers.com). The information technology recruitment advertising company recently featured Southeast in an editorial preface to their career advertising in three industry publications: Computerworld, InfoWorld and Network World.

“Southeast was featured along with universities such as Carnegie-Mellon University, which many regard as the premier institution for computer science in the United States; Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, which has a nationally recognized program in software engineering; the University of Alabama-Huntsville and Southern Methodist University,” Duben said.

The programs were noted in connection with the new approach many computer science educators and professionals are taking with an increased focus on diversity in coursework and in areas of specialization.

In keeping with this line of thought, Southeast is looking ahead and encouraging computer science students to consider more nontraditional combinations of coursework, according to Duben. The two degrees offered by the department have been revised and now offer students more flexibility to tailor their degree to fit specific niches in the marketplace.

“The bachelor of science in computer science degree will now allow a student to study any science offered at Southeast, including biology, chemistry, geoscience, physics and engineering physics,” Duben said. “This will help prepare students for graduate school or for interdisciplinary work in scientific informatics, such as bioinformatics or cheminformatics,” he said. “Students earning a bachelor of science in applied computer science are required to elect a minor or a second major in a field in which they can develop expertise in order to develop computer applications in that area or to pursue graduate studies in that field,” he said.

Students can choose a minor or second major from any discipline offered by the University.

“The revised bachelor of science in applied computer science offers the greatest scope of options for the students,” added Duben.

“One of the major problems confronting the computer science field is the outsourcing of work to foreign countries,” Duben said. “Programmers in India cost only 25 percent of what their counterparts in the United States cost. Many of the jobs being exported are from large companies doing conventional business-oriented software development,” he noted. “The Department of Computer Science recognizes this problem, and we have structured our degrees to help students make choices that might provide opportunities that they could otherwise not take advantage of.

“Our emphasis on interdisciplinary work, the pursuit of advanced study and the possibility of applying computational skills in application areas that might seem unconventional will help students find opportunities that others may miss. Although the department still expects many students to elect minors in traditional areas like business or computer networking, there are many opportunities in agriculture, geology, environmental science, biology and the humanities,” Duben said. “For example, students who aspire to become technical writers can minor in English, or those who wish to work in the entertainment industry could minor in art, music, theater, dance or mass communication.

“There are too many possibilities to enumerate,” Duben stresses, “especially if the student plans to apply computing techniques in the pursuit of an interdisciplinary graduate degree. If you consider the facts, you’ll realize that the possibilities are endless and full of variety,” he said. “For example, the reconstruction of the Dead Sea Scrolls was an application of computer pattern recognition, bioinformatics is used daily in the study of the genome and in drug discovery, geophysical exploration is a computer intensive application in geology, and modern dance and ballet choreographers use a software system originally developed by a woman who was both a computer scientist and a dancer.”