Computer Science majors are better off at large research institutions? Technological know-how should be left to the experts? Women aren’t suited for STEM?
Yeah, well, tell that to the Bryn Mawr Computer Science Department.
The Computer Science Department was launched in 2005, meaning it’s only five years younger than most of Bryn Mawr’s incoming students this fall. Even so, it’s on track to be one of the most popular departments at the College, hitting a record number of major declarations this past year. And while some majors enter with a definite plan for their college career (or their life), many current students have found their way to the major in ways that are much more…unexpected.
Without Bryn Mawr, Madeline Perry ’19 might never have considered computer science.
“Originally I was really into psych,” she laughs, “and I switched over to Cities because I was really interested in the social implications of city planning…I didn’t really think CS at all."
So what changed for her?
Oh, and she picked up a second major in computer science.
“Computer science is a way to do art and design, which I would have given up as just a psych major, and make social change, which I would’ve had less influence over as a Cities major,” Maddy says.
And it’s this attitude—creativity mixed with entrepreneurial spirit mixed with a recognition of technology’s relevance in today’s society—that seems to set Bryn Mawr computer science students apart. One student terms it “global minded and socially conscious,” another “well rounded.” Regardless of descriptors, the sheer number of students who profess interest in the field does seem to speak to the growing relevance and appeal of technological literacy.
At Bryn Mawr, the faculty are fully aware of this interest. A look at recent events hosted by the Computer Science Department provides a variety of ways that the department stays on top of student interests—they’ve done everything from providing puzzles in Park (there are 16 in the department head’s office), to creating a week-long app development course (sponsored by LILAC), to serving sushi at their major hangouts.
But that’s not the only thing pointing towards computer science’s modern appeal at the College. With increased demand comes a need for increased resources, and in a department that’s practically growing too fast for itself (it’s now the 10th most popular major at BMC, according to most recent statistics), it’s students who have taken on new responsibility. In the past few years, there’s been a slew of new initiatives, run by and for students, that offers new takes on the relevance of a computer science major.
One of these is Sudo Hoot, founded in 2014, which bills itself as an “all-inclusive club for hackers, coders, makers, artists, writers, entrepreneurs, and everyone in between.” The group recently hosted a tech internship panel for job-seeking students. Another new program is SisterHacks, a hackathon planned specifically for students from the Sisters colleges, premiering this spring.
“Computer science is very relevant now,” says Computer Science Professor and Department Chair Dianna Xu. “I think it has a lot to do with what’s going on around us—the pervasiveness of big data and how that’s driving the world, how that’s affecting our everyday lives—and Bryn Mawr students who are aware of that are particularly in demand.”
A Smith graduate, Xu describes her interest in computer science as a “lucky accident” – if she hadn’t gone to a women’s college, she says, she might never have explored the field. It’s for this reason that she emphasizes the importance of providing women-centered programs.
“One thing that’s particularly relevant here is that… the nation’s programs are usually much bigger than ours are, but they’re very male-dominated, and they tend not to be nurturing environments for women either," says Xu. "Bryn Mawr has a proud tradition of producing independent and inquisitive women scientists, and I think our majors are highly in demand as a combination of those things.”
Bryn Mawr's Computer Science Program is founded on the belief that computer science should transcend from being a subfield of mathematics and engineering and play a broader role in all forms of human inquiry. The Computer Science Department is supported jointly by faculty at both Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges