August 7, 2022

Computer Studies Made Cool, on Film and Now on Campus

“It’s become very glamorous to become the next Mark Zuckerberg, and everyone likes to think they have some great idea,” said Ms. Fong, a junior, who has since decided to major in Yale’s newly energized computer science program.

Never mind that Mr. Zuckerberg, like other tech titans, did not major in computer science — or even finish college. Enrollment in computer science programs, and degrees from them, are rising after a decade of decreases, despite much handwringing about the decline of American competitiveness in technology and innovation from President Obama on down. And educators and technologists say the inspiration is partly Hollywood’s portrayal of the tech world, as well as celebrity entrepreneurs like Steven P. Jobs of Apple and Mr. Zuckerberg who make products that students use every day.

“It’s a national call, a Sputnik moment,” said Mehran Sahami, associate chairman for computer science education at Stanford, referring to the Soviet satellite launching in 1957 that pushed the United States into the space race. “Students are users of Facebook or Google, and they think about how the people who created it are not that much different than themselves. The realization that I can do this too is a powerful motivator.”

The number of computer science degrees awarded in the United States began rising in 2010, and will reach 11,000 this year, after plummeting each year since the end of the dot-com bubble in 2004, according to the Computing Research Association, which tracks enrollment and degrees. Enrollment in the major peaked around 2000, with the most degrees — 21,000 — awarded four years later. The number of students who are pursuing the degree but have not yet declared their major increased by 50 percent last year.

To capitalize on the growing cachet of the tech industry, colleges nationwide, including Stanford, the University of Washington and the University of Southern California, have recently revamped their computer science curriculums to attract iPhone and Facebook-obsessed students, and to banish the perception of the computer scientist as a geek typing code in a basement.

Even universities not known for computer science or engineering, like Yale, are seizing the moment. The deans of the Ivy League engineering schools recently started meeting to hatch ways to market “the Ivy engineer.”

The new curriculums emphasize the breadth of careers that use computer science, as diverse as finance and linguistics, and the practical results of engineering, like iPhone apps, Pixar films and robots, a world away from the more theory-oriented curriculums of the past.

“The old-fashioned way of computer science is, ‘We’re going to teach you a bunch of stuff that is fundamental and will be long-lasting but we won’t tell you how it’s applied,’ ” said Michael Zyda, director of the University of Southern California’s GamePipe Laboratory, a new games program in the computer science major. With the rejuvenated classes, freshman enrollment in computer science at the university grew to 120 last year, from 25 in 2006.

Still, computer science graduates do not come close to filling the jobs available. Technology is one of the few bright spots in the economy, with jobs growing at double the rate of job growth over all, according to federal statistics. And colleges say they do not have enough resources or professors to teach interested students. Meanwhile, the programs woefully lag in attracting women and many minorities, though the share of computer science degrees granted to women climbed 2.5 percentage points last year to 14 percent.

Vint Cerf, Google’s chief Internet evangelist, said that while mobile devices had fueled interest in building software, the excitement was nowhere near what he and his colleagues felt in the 1960s. “It’s still a problem,” Mr. Cerf said.

But the numbers tell a hopeful story.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=b8805b6ce7abd0f99dda26f23c595447

Speak Your Mind