UAA “Department of Computer Science and Engineering” merges established programs

Big changes are coming to UAA’s computer related programs. A merger between the Computer Science and Computer Systems Engineering programs was recently announced by Provost Mike Driscoll. The changes, proposed entirely by faculty, will create a new department under the School of Engineering known as the “Department of Computer Science and Engineering.”

The move is meant to provide students with a more robust selection of courses and will help to consolidate the expertise contained in both programs. Additionally, the merge will help to eliminate duplicate courses currently offered by both programs.

The merge, proposed by university faculty in early January, will move funding and faculty from the current Computer Science program to the School of Engineering for use with the new department.

According to Kim Peterson, Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, merging the departments also brings the added benefit of accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.

“Students will now see special accreditation of their programs. The computer science program has never had special accreditation from ABET until now. It will grant more prestige to graduates of the program.” said Peterson.

ABET is an international organization that accredits college programs dealing with engineering, computing and applied science. Completion of an ABET certified program can look very appealing to future employers and academic programs.

This decision to combine the programs is a definite change of pace, as Computer Science has been a part of the Mathematical Sciences department for the past 35 years. The newly formed department is intended to strengthen both programs and create new opportunities for students.

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“The two departments were smaller than optimal size, so the move was meant to achieve the most efficiency by combining the two programs.” said Peterson in reference to the merge.

Orson Smith, Interim Dean of Engineering, seemed very excited about the prospect of combining the two programs. Smith was quick to express his hope for the program as well as his pride in the staff involved with the proposal.

“The merger has benefits for students, for UAA, and for Alaska with consolidated faculty talent and program resources. I think it’s remarkable because it is a 100% faculty-initiated endeavor.” Smith explained.

“These specialists acted in the best tradition of faculty governance of curriculum to put the merger before the UAA administration. The benefits of the merger are entirely to their credit.”

Although some concern has been expressed over the merge, the overall response has been positive. Most concerns stem from the fact that the Computer Science program will no longer be a part of the Mathematical Sciences department, a move that can be seen as counter intuitive.

“From my perspective, the only drawback may be that Computer Science may not be as well served in the long run by being a part of the Engineering department,” Peterson acknowledged, “But the short term benefits of the merge far outweigh any long-term potential for harm.”

Students affected by the changes seem to have reacted in a similar fashion to faculty members, with many expressing their approval of the merge.

“I don’t really have an issue with the shift because personally I think that engineering would be a more fitting department for Computer Science to fall under,” explained Evan Riley, current Computer Science student.

“The CS program by itself isn’t that large, I don’t see how it could hurt it to merge with the Computer Systems Engineering program.”

Though the merger may seem drastic, many of the changes will occur fairly gradually. According to Dr. Kanapathi Thiru, Chair of the Mathematical Sciences department, students of the new program will still be able to use computer labs located in the Social Sciences and Mathematical Sciences Building until construction of the new engineering building is completed. Additionally, Computer Science faculty will remain in the Science building until the new engineering building is finished.

The search is currently underway to fill the new positions created by the merge and changes to the department are set to take effect beginning July 1st 2012.