2,022 students now declared majors
By Nicole Herzog
In 2011, just 200 students were Computer Science majors. A decade later, the number of students enrolled in the discipline has grown more than ten times—a direct response to significant student interest and industry demand in our increasingly technology-driven society. In the last ten years, the Computer Sciences Department, part of the School of Computer, Data and Information Sciences (CDIS), has seen a meteoric rise in the number of undergraduate major declarations. This spring, the department reached an unprecedented milestone by surpassing 2,000 majors, experiencing an increase of over 800% since 2011.
Not surprisingly, Computer Science is the largest major on campus with 44% more majors than the next largest. If all 2,022 Computer Sciences majors lined up head-to-toe at starting at Camp Randall, they would extend past the Wisconsin State Capitol, a line over two miles long!
As demand for the major grew, the Computer Sciences Department worked hard to increase accessibility in their courses. Efforts have included increasing the number of faculty to teach popular courses, hiring undergraduate peer mentors to provide extra support for students, reserving larger rooms for anticipated numbers of students, adding more discussion sections to courses, and hiring a greater number of teaching assistants for larger class sizes.
A three semester sequence designed specifically for students who had not taken a programming course prior to attending UW-Madison was also added, improving accessibility to the field.
“As student numbers grew, we had a decision to make,” said Michael Swift, Computer Sciences Undergraduate Program Director and Professor. “We saw many peer institutions limit enrollment, but as a state institution, we knew that educating more students would both enable students to pursue their interests and provide needed tech talent for Wisconsin’s economy. We redeveloped our entry level classes and hired many more teaching faculty, advisors, and other support staff to ensure a positive experience for students.”
Another integral aspect of ensuring a positive experience is providing a welcoming environment for students of all backgrounds and identities. In addition to offering many popular clubs and student groups, the department offers several initiatives aimed at increasing diversity including the Wisconsin Emerging Scholars program designed to support students from groups underrepresented in computer science. Additionally, the Computer Sciences Department has partnered with the UW-Madison Multicultural Learning Center to increase access to tutoring across campus. An undergraduate research mentorship program was also launched this year.
By educating as many students as possible, the Computer Sciences Department is fueling the economy in Wisconsin and beyond. According to Leng Tan, Senior Vice President of Engineering at Oracle and UW-Madison Computer Sciences alum, UW-Madison Computer Sciences graduates are often recruited at her company.
“UW CS graduates are very highly sought after by high-tech companies,” Tan said. “That’s because the students receive a great education. In the computer industry, UW Computer Sciences graduates have this awesome reputation of being great engineers and have a good track record to prove it.”
As the Computer Sciences major continues to grow, faculty and staff remain focused on developing a thriving and welcoming learning community while delivering a cutting-edge education to prepare students for a high-tech economy.
“From business, to agriculture, to medicine, computer science now permeates almost every field, and we are working hard to meet student needs and prepare them for an evolving digital economy,” said Computer Sciences Department Chair Remzi Arpaci-Dusseau. “By embracing growth we are building a foundation for the discovery of what’s next.”