|November 7, 2007|
Union awarded NSF grants to revitalize computing education
Union is among a number of schools who are working to rejuvenate computing education in the U.S., thanks to a major grant from the National Science Foundation.
The College joins some 50 institutions who were awarded grants totaling $13 million from the NSF’s Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) and its program, “CISE Pathways to Revitalized Undergraduate Computing Education (CPATH).”
Computer Science Chair Valerie Barr
CPATH awarded $1.15 million to Union and Lafayette colleges for the joint five-year “Campus Wide Computation Initiative – A New Model for Computing Education.”
With a steep decline – 60 percent – in undergraduate computing enrollments in recent years, “it’s important to figure out how to get these kids back in as majors, or at least to learn about computing,” said Computer Science Chair Valerie Barr.
Barr prepared the grant application a year ago and is leading the project with Lafayette’s department chair, Chun Wai Liew. Their work, along with the work of other grant recipients, is aimed at ensuring the talent needed to address computing challenges of the 21st century workplace.
With the push to capture students’ interest in computer science early, the NSF grant dovetails with other changes to that effect already under way in Union’s CS Department.
There are now five introductory courses that focus on a range of areas, including computational science, artificial intelligence, robotics, game development and media computation.
“Our goal is to get more students involved by creating a curriculum that works across disciplines. Students in various fields, from biology to psychology, would take a computation course and go back to their home departments prepared to do discipline-specific, computationally intensive work.”
Barr noted that Union has interdisciplinary majors who are pairing Computer Science with Visual Arts, Music, Philosophy, Psychology, Economics, Biology and Math. This focus on making connections between and across disciplinary boundaries corresponds with key academic components of the Strategic Plan.
Barr, who came to Union in 2004 after nine years at Hofstra University, holds a Ph.D. from Rutgers University. She helps coordinate Union’s Digital Arts Program, which includes a new introductory CS course, several Visual Arts courses, and classes in gaming and Web programming.
In addition to funding course and module development, the NSF CPATH grant will help support faculty travel to conferences and supervision of summer research. Other schools that received grants include Trinity College; Ohio State, Wake Forest, Penn State, Washington and Purdue universities; and the University of California at Berkeley.
Social robotics grant
The Union-Lafayette collaboration follows on the heels of another CPATH grant aimed at studying and revitalizing undergraduate computer science education.
The College has joined with researchers from the University at Albany, RPI, Schenectady County Community College and the Schenectady Museum & Suits-Bueche Planetarium to study the field using interactive social robots. A social robotics curriculum typically incorporates elements of design, psychology, cognitive science, communication and philosophy in addition teaching to key computer science and engineering principles.
Through workshops for academics, students, industry leaders and others, the group will create a multi-disciplinary program in social robotics that would appeal to non-traditional computer science and engineering majors.
Union’s share of the two-year $330,000 grant is $40,000.
“We are going to lay the foundation for social robotics to help bring more students into the computer science field,” Barr said.