What happens when you use data mining techniques for medical research or apply game theory with a social science experiment on a developing nation’s voting habits? The answer is quite a bit. The tools in the CS toolbox have powerful applications to affect change and provide solutions to anything in our modern society from arts and entertainment to finance and space exploration.

In response to this growing need, the Department of Computer Science has developed a new course, CS 100, Principles of Computing. The course, which fulfills the Mason IT core requirement, has been developed for non-CS students as a foundation class to introduce students to the power of technology. Additionally, students explore privacy and ethics as it relates to technology and how technology can power big ideas and solve problems.

Professor Chris Kaufman is teaching the inaugural class and says, “We once wanted students to be computer literate, essentially know how to use software. We’ve moved beyond that. Today it’s important for students to understand how computers and technology can solve problems. We aren’t asking these students to become programmers per se. But we do want them to know that many of the problems they will encounter professionally can be given to a computer scientist to solve. They need to speak the language of CS.”

Associate Chair Pearl Wang has been instrumental in developing this new course along with Kaufman and Professor Dana Richards who will teach in the spring. She has shepherded it through the approval process and feels the timing is perfect. She explains that in 2016, there will be a new advanced placement (AP) exam for something similar to the computing principles class. “If we are going to accept college credit for a course of study, we need to ofer an equivalent class.”

Kaufman has been working to make the concepts relevant to students of all disciplines and for this first batch of 44 students, which includes business, theatre, English, and computer science majors. “I want them to think more about the technology around them. We’ve discussed Google search, drones, and the idea of self-driving cars.”

“The future of CS is interdisciplinary,” says Wang. “We also hope this class encourages more students to consider studying CS.” As a bonus, enrollment is about 35% women, a nice development for a discipline working hard to bring in more under represented groups., 

This article appeared in the CS department's newsletter Computing News (Fall 2014).