Sweet Briar’s new computer science program receives SACSCOC approval

May 17, 2017 | Jennifer McManamay
Computer science class

Sweet Briar is launching a new computer science major in fall 2017. Here, professor of mathematics Steve Wassell teaches the spring Intro to Computer Science class.

Last October, Sweet Briar College announced it was launching a new computer science major “pending approval” from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. Now, in plenty of time for the start of the 2017-2018 academic year, SACSCOC — as the regional accrediting body for higher education institutions in the South is known — has notified the College’s administration that the new program is approved.

The approval means the computer science degree is included in the scope of the College’s current accreditation.

The computer science major will complement the school’s strong science, technology, engineering and mathematics offerings, including the B.S. in engineering science. Sweet Briar is one of two women’s colleges in the country to offer an ABET-accredited engineering program. The College also is known for innovations in biomathematics and boasts faculty who have been recognized by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia for excellence in teaching.

SACSCOC’s approval comes on the heels of a successful search for a full-time computer science professor, says mathematics professor Steve Wassell, who spearheaded the program’s development. He never doubted accreditation, but finding a highly qualified candidate proved challenging in the current job market, he says.

“We were able to accomplish that as well. I am happy to say that we are all set for the fall semester.”

In a previously released statement, the College noted that it began working early in 2016 with Harvey Mudd College — a leader in STEM education among liberal arts colleges — and Silicon Valley companies to develop a focused curriculum that will provide Sweet Briar graduates with a competitive edge in the workplace. Computer science majors will take two semesters of Python, one semester of Java and one semester using C/C++ and Linux. Sweet Briar continues to explore collaborative opportunities with Google, and in February, hosted a National Engineers Week dinner with a presentation by one of the company’s lead software engineers.

According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), women made up only 25 percent of the professional computing workforce in 2015. Building a program that is attractive to women from the first class has been a priority, says Wassell.

Electives include the use of Swift, the new and upcoming language developed at Apple, as well as R. Upper-level electives include computer security, computer vision and data science.

First-year courses for computer science majors include engineering design, which features some Arduino programming and a team-based approach to problem solving, as well as calculus and statistics. Majors will complete a two-semester capstone project in their senior year.

Although the computer science major requires 47 credits, students will have the opportunity to take a broad array of liberal arts courses, the hallmark of a Sweet Briar College education, Wassell said when the program was announced.

“Employers need skilled programmers who can also write well, communicate their ideas coherently, and think about the larger issues for their company and society.

“This is a lean and mean major. Our students and eventual employers want practical coursework. Practical is the program we are building — because job growth in this field is strong and only getting stronger.”

 

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