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Thursday, June 20, 2024
The Observer

Faculty discusses new Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science degree

At the beginning of March, the College of Arts and Letters announced that it would be introducing a Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science (BACS), distinct from the Bachelors of Computer Science (BCS) already offered through the College of Engineering.

Dr. Aaron Striegel, a professor in the College of Engineering and the first director of the new BACS, said the program is an attempt to allow students with interests in computer science and the humanities study both fields and still graduate in four years.

“The Bachelor of Arts sort of arose out of the fact that we had a fair amount of students who wanted to double major,” Striegel said. “And because of how heavily structured the BS and CS is, [it] was often fairly difficult unless you had a fairly significant amount of advanced placement, but even then, it was still a pretty heavy lift.”

Though the program was announced just last month, Striegel says the program has been in the works for the last few years.

“This had been in the works or under consideration for a fair amount of time, [and] I think the the reason why this had happened now is that sort of things aligned appropriately and we'd seen sort of as a department continued interest in the digital humanities,” Striegel said. "This was kind of a culmination of multiple years of work all coming together into this program: the data science, new CDT program, all kind of helped pave the way in terms of some of the partnerships that had gone on.”

BACS programs are becoming more popular around the country, Dr. Patrick Flynn, the chair of the College of Computer Science and Engineering, said. Flynn said Notre Dame looked at other schools as a guideline for implementing the program.

“We certainly did a lot of background reading about how BA programs are executed at other universities and certainly our BACS program has a lot in common with a national movement,” Flynn said. “...There are some universities that really emphasize the other discipline sciences. We and a number of schools are focusing more on the arts and humanities. The idea of combining computer science with some other discipline has been looked at in a lot of different ways and the initial collaboration that makes the most sense to us is the one with Arts and Letters.”

The new program, though housed in the college of Arts and Letters, will still feature College of Engineering computer courses and does not have any plans to have exclusive classes from the rest of the computer science program.

“Right now we don't envision any particular classes [that] are only for BACS students,” Striegel said. “We’ll probably have some programs or speakers that might be targeted at the BACS students, but those will be open to all students to attend,so we don't envision restricting anything along the way or having degree-specific coursework.”

BACS students being required to take some of the same classes as the current BCS students paired with the current number of faculty is creating a bottleneck limiting the number of students who can participate in the program, Flynn said. This in turn may limit future interdisciplinary programs with the other colleges.

“We'll probably be working with other colleges down the line, [but] it's going to depend on having the ability to identify resources so that we can meet the courses and teach the students that enroll in them, with the faculty that we have or grow the faculty to accommodate more students,” Flynn said. “The major constraint on the program right now is that our courses are quite full, and so we have to create new sections of existing courses of required courses that are required of the BS in computer science, the BS in computer engineering and the BA in computer science. There are 11 classes like that, so if we can get the staffing, we can definitely grow our capacity to teach and that means we can offer more interdisciplinary programs down the road.”

Due to the constraints on the program, there are only a limited number of slots available to those who apply, making the application process competitive, Striegal said.

“It involves writing a fairly short essay of why do you want to do the BACS, [and] what you want to bring from Arts and Letters together with computer science; basically, why does this degree make sense for you, coupled with your past coursework that you had done in the freshmen of your fall year and any programming experience that you might have as well,” Striegel said. “For both the the class of 2023 and the class of 2024, we're envisioning somewhere on the order of 10 to 15 slots, and then the class of 2025, we’ll probably evaluate what the sizing might be, probably next spring.”

The program made decisions on who the first batch of BACS students will be as of the first week of April. The class of 2024 will be able to apply for the program in the spring of next year.