The computer science department at University of Richmond has seen significant growth in its number of majors in the past three years, which reflects a national trend.
There was a 42 percent increase in declared computer science majors at Richmond between last year and this year, and a 30 percent overall increase at schools nationwide, according to William Ross, chairman of the department of math and computer science.
There has also been a large increase in the number of students taking computer science classes. During the 2010-2011 school year, 210 students were enrolled in these classes, and last year, 308 had registered for them, Ross said.
Ross said the trend of increasing populations of computer science students was occurring because of the technological atmosphere of this decade. “It’s the Google and Facebook effect that’s happening here and everywhere,” he said. “The companies are really exciting to work for.”
Ross said five Richmond alumni in recent years had worked or interned with Google after graduation. He also said that more women were starting careers in computer science.
Kelly Shaw, professor of computer science, said that in past years, “it wasn’t uncommon to have one female graduate in CS a year.” This year, of the 37 Richmond students who are currently declared computer science majors, 10 are women.
Shaw and other faculty have recently focused on leading more minority and underrepresented students to the field of computer science. This includes Latino, African American, Native American and female students, she said.
One way that the department encourages women in the field is by sending faculty and students to the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. This year, the conference will be held Oct. 2-5 in Minneapolis, and Richmond is sending two female students and one faculty member, Shaw said.
Shaw said that the big companies represented at Grace Hopper, including Amazon, Microsoft, Yahoo and Twitter, were interested in hiring more diverse workforces. By doing this, “You get diversity of ideas, as to what products and features should be created, and you get diversity of solutions,” Shaw said.
Marie Fernandez, a freshman at Richmond who intends to major in computer science, said she had noticed the imbalance of men and women in her introductory computer science class. But she said she believed that recently, women have been pressured to enter scientific fields, and in the coming decade, the ratio will continue to become more balanced.
Fernandez said her interest in computer science had begun in high school, when she took an online programming class. She is currently taking Introduction to Computing, taught by Art Charlesworth, she said.
“Dr. Charlesworth makes everything incredibly clear,” Fernandez said. “I haven’t really had an issue understanding any concept yet. The amount of time he puts into preparing for classes and labs also impresses me.”
Ross said that because of the department’s expansion, it would be necessary to hire more faculty to teach both computer science and math courses.
“Computing is used in everything,” he said, “not just the basic knowledge of using a computer—it’s gone beyond that.”
Contact staff writer Catherine Sinclair at firstname.lastname@example.org