Concordia College has officially announced that they are bringing back a computer science major. The major has concentrations in computing and data analytics. Students can begin declaring the major this fall.

Concordia has not offered a major in computer science since the program was pulled in 2011.

“We’ve spent the last five years trying to convince them to bring it back,” said Dr. Douglas Anderson.

There were a few key factors that helped push these efforts to fruition this year, he said. Dr. John Reber in data analytics and Dr. Ahmed Kamel in computing were all strong advocates, as well as new Offut School of Business dean, Dr. Brewer Doran.

But there is also an activity in the tech startup world here in Fargo-Moorhead that is hard to ignore, Anderson said.

“There is a local economy that supports high tech and health professions particularly in Fargo,” Anderson said. “That really helps that the local economy really focuses on tech and startups.”

The announcement comes right on the heels of Concordia’s decision to cut nine other majors and one concentration. The decision was made based off of declining enrollment and low numbers of students choosing those majors.

“People are sensitive to the fact that we are adding a degree program at the same time as we have closed a couple of others,” Doran said. “But … we need to be a college for our future students.”

Gearing for the future.

And future students are showing an interest in computer science, Anderson said. In the time since they launched a minor in data analytics last fall, the minor has 19 students signed up, putting it in the top 15 most popular minors, he said. Not to mention Concordia’s data anlytics team won a regional competition this year for the third time in a row.

The announcement of the new major has been well-received by students as well, particularly those who were present at the time the major was pulled.

“As a computer science alum who was in school when the announcement was made to cut the program, it’s awesome to see that this program is coming back,” said Jake Kohl, class of 2012. ‘The updated curriculum plan…should breathe new life into the program.”

A curriculum for this major has been in the works since last year. Dr. Doran spent time speaking with local tech companies, including Microsoft, to hear how they can craft the program to best equip students for the workplace.

When it came time to present the final draft to the faculty senate, the room was filled not just with faculty but with students who wanted to show their support, Doran said.

“When it finally went to faculty senate the response was very good. Even in the liberal arts – digital humanities rely very much on computer science and analytics,” Doran said. “Across campus there is a need for this degree program.”

Anderson said they are projecting the need for a full computer science faculty, split evenly between computing and data analytics. This could mean bringing some professors on to tenure, but at the time they are not hiring anyone.

What it looks like:

The major is split into two focuses:

Computing: This concentration will include some features from the older computer science major but includes a lot of new content, Anderson said. Students will start with intro courses in Java, and learn basic principles of programming. They will also offer courses in web development and design, computer security, and higher level software engineering.

There is a required interdisciplinary elective, such as graphic design, GIS, environmental studies, or something in the realm of digital humanities.

Data Analytics: This concentration delves into the world of data, and will include courses in data mining, forecasting, and data literacy. All students, from both concentrations, will be required to take a new course called Data 200.

Dr. Reber, professor of data analytics, said he has been hoping to launch a program like this since he was hired in 2008.

“Because of the ease of acquiring data both locally and globally, at our fingertips – it’s becoming a useful tool for people who need information and need to make decisions,” he said. “We see these numbers thrown around out there, whether it’s public policy or business — its things we need to understand.”

All students will also finish the course with a new initiative called PEAK projects: “Pivotal Experiences and Applied Knowledge.” This project, which will replace Concordia’s Capstone program, focuses on throwing students out into the real world to get hands on experience.

“We want students to get out of the classroom and wrestle with real data, real problems. Not just textbook problems,” Anderson said. “It’s meant to be real, challenging, frustrating – just like what a real job is. Not just a simulation, but to be an actual experience.”

The PEAK project further aims to connect the students with the tech startup community in Concordia’s backyard, Anderson said.

“We want to serve the community and if a growing part of our community is tech-based then we should participate in that,” Anderson said. “There’s no reason to sit on the sidelines there.”


Feature photo by Dan Francis Photography.

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Marisa Jackels