‘Minor’ change to comp sci program

By: Justin Chandler and Michelle McNally

Technology skills are in high demand in the workplace, and Ryerson is offering students a chance to gain that technological edge.

Starting in September, students can enrol in classes for or declare a computer science minor. The new minor will allow more students to learn programming skills, according to Marcus Santos, associate dean of undergraduate science at Ryerson.

“Not everyone needs to know programming detail, but I believe that every student at Ryerson could benefit from some knowledge of how their computer applications work,” Santos told the Ryersonian.

The minor, which was approved at a senate meeting on Nov. 7, consists of two required comp sci courses, which introduce students to abstraction, modelling, algorithms and programming.

The senate proposal listed examples of streams students could take, including software engineering, robotics, data mining, cryptography and artificial intelligence.

Santos said the minor will be a “welcome opportunity” for students to learn more about computer science.

He said even people in fields supposedly unrelated to comp-sci could benefit from learning programming. Santos gave the example of a biology student learning coding to automate an experiment.

Lauren Dunlap Sciacchitano, a first-year medical physics student, is pleased that a computer science minor will be available. The science department already encourages medical students to take computing classes and Dunlap Sciacchitano said she is happy that she can now declare an official minor.

“There’s enough interest that the department has a list of recommended courses ready for anyone who asks, but now I can claim a minor for my interests,” she said.

Dunlap Sciacchitano said the medical field is becoming increasingly digitalized. Hospitals are doing away with paper charts and handwritten prescriptions. Having a grasp of computer science is becoming a requirement in some jobs, such as the medical field.

“Medical imaging, an area that medical physics covers, is extremely reliant on software,” she said. “Being able to manipulate the images and analyze the data produced by the machinery is crucial in diagnosing patients.”

Computer science is a popular program at Ryerson, and the interest is growing.

According to Ryerson statistics for the 2016-17 school year, there were 871 students enrolled in computer science. That’s a 57 per cent increase over where enrolment was five years ago.

Enrolment in the comp sci program has grown more than twice as fast as the general Ryerson undergraduate student population, which grew 24 per cent in the same time period.

Santos attributes that growth to the “huge demand” for people with comp sci skills. He said students enrol in computer science expecting to get good jobs.

Ryerson stats show 96.3 per cent of computer science graduates from 2013 were employed in a field closely or somewhat related to their field of studies two years after graduating. The university average for that figure is 81.3 per cent.

In addition to well-paying jobs, Eric Harley, the associate professor and department chair for the comp sci program, said students have become more interested in learning about computer science as technology has become more mainstream.

“With all of the gadgets that are coming out, self-driving cars and the internet, practically everyone is interested in what computer science can do for them,” he said.

Harley said students have inquired about a computer science minor for some time. Having had a hand in developing the minor, Harley said the program took about a year to piece together.

“It’s something that we should have done years ago, because we knew there was a need for it,” he said. “It came as an initiative as more and more students wanted it.”

Santos said the computer science minor may be a good way to get more female students studying in that field. Last year, 12 per cent of students in the undergraduate computer science program were female.

That’s twice as many as were enrolled in the 2012-13 year.

Santos said Ryerson has seen some success in increasing female enrolment by presenting course content as more applicable to real-world situations.

The school also set up beginner, intermediate and advanced levels of courses, so “students would feel more comfortable in knowing that their peers all share the same expertise.”

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