Southeast’s Department of Computer Science Celebrating Half Century as Tech Industry Evolves

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This year, Southeast Missouri State University’s Department of Computer Science is celebrating more than 50 years of processing and computing courses, degrees and graduates as it evolves to meet today’s trends in the computing industry.

The program first launched as an associate’s degree in 1966 and was among the earliest computer science programs to first appear in U.S. universities. Today, it has grown to offer three bachelor’s degrees — Computer Science, Computer Information Systems and Cybersecurity — and one graduate program — Applied Computer Science. Today’s students are adept at using technology to process data at speeds a million times faster than those from the department’s humble beginnings and on devices a fraction of the size of their 1960s’ counterparts.

The program has evolved substantially from its early years to today’s rapidly changing digital age. It continues to attract high-quality students and is meeting the needs and demands of the local, regional and national industry.

A significant number of faculty members offer industry experience to better educate students, and remain competitive by revising traditional courses, offering new courses and expanding degree programs to meet current industry and technology changes and standards.

As a discipline, computer science continues to integrate into almost every aspect of life, and the job market is exploding for graduates with computer science-related degrees, said Dr. Sumanth Yenduri, chair of the department.

“There isn’t a discipline or job that doesn’t need computer science,” he said.

Southeast student operates the IBM 370 computer located in Southeast’s Computer-Data Processing Center on the first floor of Academic Hall in 1974.

Evolution of a Department

The ability of Southeast graduates to use computers for job-related skills first appeared on the Southeast campus in the early 1960s.

“Courses in computer programming and numerical analysis provided mathematics students with a working knowledge of the operation of high speed computers now becoming indispensable to industrial progress,” according to the 1963 Sagamore yearbook. In those days, data processing and operating punch card machines were important skills for business majors in the analytical strategies and techniques of real-world corporate situations.

An Associate of Applied Science in computer science was first available in 1966, and an Associate of Arts in data processing was added in 1968.

In 1973, a Department of Computer Programming was created, and a Bachelor of Science in computer science allowed students to move from learning how to operate computers and program them with instructions to the more advanced skills of designing the systems that make computers work. These qualifications allowed graduates to be qualified for high-level entry careers.

Southeast’s computing capabilities were also having an impact on the local and regional community.

IBM 370 computers located in Southeast’s Computer-Data Processing Center on the first floor of Academic Hall not only were used by classes and for student-employee training sessions, but also for the University’s administrative processes, including payroll, inventory, billing and directory lists, and for scheduling services (for the University and nearly 30 public schools in the southeast Missouri region).

Over the next three decades, the Department of Computer Science continued to flourish and grow, with the addition of a Bachelor of Science in Applied Computer Science, now known as Computer Information Systems.

“Our students knew how to do more than just theorize,” said Dr. Bill Weber, retired chair of the Department of Computer Science, who served in that capacity from 1981-1996.  “We had tremendous students, and it was my goal and the faculty’s goal to make sure they knew how to do the work.”

The program and its graduates became known for that reliable reputation, said Weber. His students could always find jobs, and many had multiple offers before graduation.

By 1997, evidence of comprehensive and dynamic courses was clearly visible. Graduates accepted jobs with national corporations including Edward Jones and System Service Enterprises Inc.

Southeast student in Southeast’s Computer-Data Processing Center on the first floor of Academic Hall in 1984.

The program continued to recognize the ever growing uses and needs for computer science skills and knowledge over multiple disciplines, not just academically but within all aspects of industry. Students were encouraged to not only pursue advanced study, but also to consider opportunities in unconventional areas, including agriculture, environmental science, biology and the humanities.

Quality Education

The computer science program earned accreditation from the Computing Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board of Engineering Technology (ABET) Inc. in fall 2010. Receiving ABET accreditation demonstrated the University’s commitment to providing a quality education and marked an important step in the University’s continuing efforts to attract academically strong students to the program.

One of the key elements of ABET accreditation is the requirement that programs continuously improve the quality of education provided. As part of this continuous improvement requirement, programs set specific, measurable goals for their students and graduates, assess their success at reaching those goals, and improve their programs based on the result of their assessment.

Many students are now choosing computer science because the digital age needs more computer scientists, Yenduri said.

Computer scientists design, analyze, and develop software for the computer systems and networks that power today’s world. Software applications range from personal computing to entertainment systems to life-critical applications such as medical and flight systems. Developing such software requires a high degree of specialization. Computer scientists are the individuals with the critical expertise to do this.

In the Computer Information Systems program students learn everything they need to design, develop, and deploy a wide range of integrated, end-to-end applications and services to assist small, medium and large businesses become more connected with customers, employees, partners and suppliers. Students use products and technologies to build solutions that connect people to each other and to the business processes. Students will learn how to integrate applications and processes, how to facilitate communication, and how to develop comprehensive and reliable solutions.

Many students are now choosing computer science because the digital age needs more computer scientists.

The department and Computer Science and Computer Information Systems programs support hands-on and experiential learning, providing students the opportunity to work on projects in collaboration within the industry.

Students have developed mobile applications, web-based applications, modules and programs for local and regional sponsors and businesses as part of their capstone experiences, including Southeast’s Admissions Office and College of Education; Procter & Gamble and Vintage Software, LLC, both of Jackson, Missouri; Big River Telephone Company, MedAssets, Element 74, River City Biologicals Inc. and Impress Career, all of Cape Girardeau; and WW Wood Products Inc. of Dexter, Missouri.

The caliber of computer science students’ skills is also seen in their published works and performances at regional and national competitions. In 2017, a team of computer science students took third place at MegaMinerAI, a 24-hour artificial intelligence (AI) programming competition hosted by the Missouri S&T Association for Computing Machinery’s (ACM) Special Interest Group (SIG)-Game. Their third-place finish is especially noteworthy considering their competitors of 30 plus teams, including professionals with years of experience from Google, Garmin and others.

Because of the comprehensive and dynamic experiences student receive, many high-profile companies continue to recruit Southeast computer science graduates, including Boeing, Garmin, Microsoft, AT&T, Edward Jones, Maritz, Big River Telephone, Element 74, Vintage Software, MedAssets, NASA, NISC, Centena, Google and many more. They also continue to support the program and its students by providing internship opportunities and capstone experience projects.

“They have a high probability of being employed before graduating or within six months of graduating,” Yenduri said. “They are, also, highly paid and needed in every type of industry.”

Additionally, many graduate schools have recognized the quality of Southeast’s computer science and computer information system students who have been accepted at the University of Missouri, Auburn University, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Rice University, University of Arizona and many others.

In 2011, Southeast launched a new Bachelor of Science in cybersecurity to meet society’s growing need for security of computer networks and systems that store digital personal, financial, health and governmental records. Originally housed in Southeast’s Department of Polytechnic Studies, but supported by the Department of Computer Science, Southeast’s cybersecurity program was one of its kind in Missouri and one of less than 50 in the country to offer a degree when students enrolled for the first time in the fall 2011 semester.

Dr. Vijay Anand (center), director of Southeast’s cybersecurity program, helps the cybersecurity team student captains prepare for the state and regional cyber defense competitions.

The program would quickly prove relevant at preparing Southeast graduates for lucrative positions in national and international industries and private and public-sector companies, which increasingly have become the target of stolen information.

“Southeast has become a preferred university for recruiting among top-level companies,” said Dr. Vijay Anand, director of Southeast’s cybersecurity program, faculty advisor to Southeast’s cybersecurity team and associate professor of computer science. “These types of companies always visit Ivy League universities, but our cybersecurity students are that good.”

Companies such as Dell Secure Works, AIG, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ameren have hired Southeast student interns and graduates, Anand said.

Southeast cyber defense students are consistently showcasing their top-notch talent and skills, and have finished in first place six consecutive years since 2013 at the Missouri Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition.

The continued interest in cybersecurity across all disciplines and industries prompted the creation of a new minor in 2015 in cybersecurity in business systems. The minor allows students with majors outside of traditional science, technology, engineering and mathematics a chance to enhance their resume, broaden their skill set and meet rapidly changing workforce demands for tech-savvy graduates.

In 2017, the cybersecurity program was organizationally moved to the Department of Computer Science.

Bright Future

The job market is exploding for computer science majors, locally, regionally and globally, said Yenduri.

“Computer science is all encompassing across all disciplines,” he said. “We have to prepare our students for the future and for the workforce. The curriculum we are planning is looking at not just what is needed now, but also what will be needed in the future.”

The department received re-accreditation of its computer science degree following new ABET approved criteria. Only a handful of computer science programs in the world have applied and received this distinction, said Dr. Xuesong Zhang, professor of computer science.

“The faculty members worked extremely hard in getting the ABET accreditation seven years ago and renewed it in fall 2018 without any deficiency or major concern,” he said. “The faculty went above and beyond to achieve this success.”

Dr. Ziping Liu (right), professor of computer science, guides her student through the best practices and skills needed to become a well-rounded computer science graduate.

The department is also working on preparing its computer information systems degree for accreditation in the near future.

The cybersecurity program was recently selected to participate in a piloted accreditation process by ABET for a new cybersecurity accreditation. Southeast is only one of four institutions nationally, said Yenduri. It’s an honor that the department looks forward to completing this summer.

Developing new undergraduate certificates and expanding the graduate degree options are also ways Southeast can continue to meet student and industry needs, added Yenduri. This includes expanding the course and classroom experiences to Southeast Online, where more and more students and working professionals are exploring non-traditional ways to earn their degrees.

With the diligent effort of faculty in the department, a new Master of Science in Applied Computer Science has been approved to begin in fall 2018.This program is expected to attract both national and international students, Yenduri said. Southeast undergraduate students may also complete it in a year if they enroll in the accelerated program.

One of the most recent and exciting additions is the creation of the department’s own cyber stadium in Dempster Hall, a virtual world and private cloud that can be programmed for limitless purposes, from hosting cyber defense competitions to renting out the digital space to companies for data storage and use. The stadium can also support student and faculty research, as well as department or University projects. Plans are underway to expand and relocate the stadium in Dempster Hall.

Enrichment outside of the classroom is important as well. The department houses five student organizations — Association for Computing Machinery, Association for Computing Machinery – Women, Association for Computing Machinery- Artificial Intelligence, Computer Science Club and the Cyber Defense Club — to foster the various interests and fields in computer technology. The student-led groups have hosted seminars and presentations, hands-on workshops and hackathons. The level of commitment shown by the students to develop their skills and expand their knowledge outside the required coursework is extraordinary, said Dr. Suhair Amer, professor of computer science.

“To see the excitement on student faces, particularly when they fix a bug and their programs run successfully, is a proud moment for me as their teacher,” she said. “They never give up and continue to move forward each time they fail. They are patient and stay calm even when deadlines are approaching and have never ending requirement changes.”

Today’s students are encouraged to find success wherever their interest or heart is. In the age of side-hustles, students can put their entrepreneurship skills to use to create the next big business or company, said Yenduri. This spring, the department is partnering with the Douglas C. Greene Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Catapult Creative House to launch a computing station space to help students who dream of creating the next greatest app, website or tech start-up move their entrepreneurial concepts to reality.

As industries continue to demand computer science knowledge, Southeast’s Department of Computer Science will undoubtedly evolve to cultivate students and graduates prepared to address today’s needs with the confidence to predict and solve tomorrow’s challenges.

“In my 18 years at Southeast, the Department of Computer Science is at the best it’s ever been,” Zhang said. “The faculty members have instilled more energy, and overall there is a high morale and excitement among the faculty and our students. They are the main force to make more good things happen, and we are poised for an amazing future.”

Meet the Department of Computer Science Faculty

Dr. Sumanth Yenduri, chair of the Department of Computer Science and professor of computer science, joined the department in 2017. His research interests include software engineering and process development, software metrics/systems/modeling/simulation, wireless sensor networks and big data.

Dr. Suhair Amer, professor of computer science, joined the department in 2008. She has taught many courses and supervised several research projects involving undergraduate students. Her research interests include computer and distance education, programming image processing/compression, biologically inspired computer/security solutions, computer simulation experiments and human-computer interaction.

Dr. Vijay Anand is an associate professor of computer science, director of Southeast’s cybersecurity program, and faculty advisor to Southeast’s Cyber Defense team. Anand has been a faculty member since 2011 and joined the department in 2016. His research interests include adaptable embedded architectures guaranteeing secure executions for evolving threats to preserve security and privacy of cyber assets and entities, real-time adaptability of trusted platform modules for cryptographic primitives, certificate reevocation and operation, human cyber interaction for usable security, security processes for risk-based decision-based systems, privacy in secure commerce and jGlobus, a Java based Globus® toolkit, an open source software toolkit provided by a non-profit business within the University of Chicago.

Dr. Ziping Liu, professor of computer science, joined the department in 2001. Her research interests include wireless ad-hoc network/sensor network’s secured and QoS cross-layer communication protocols, computing model for underwater acoustic sensor networks, data broadcast scheduling with multiple channels, multifaceted assay on cybersecurity, design of fault-tolerant and high performance algorithms for distributed computing, video game development, and algorithms.

Carole Pfeiffer is an instructor of computer science, and joined the department in 2000. She teaches computer information systems-related courses.

Dr. Xianping Wang, assistant professor of computer science, joined the department in 2017. His research interests include cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, machine learning, machine vision, signal processing, control theory, intelligent transportation, Internet of Things, Stochastic Modeling, modeling and simulation.

Dr. Xuesong Zhang, professor of computer science, joined the department in 2000. His research interests are in artificial intelligence, operating systems, algorithms, computer architectures and computer education.