Students at Occidental College in 2018 share their projects at a show and tell held by the school’s new computer science department. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
Brentwood School

Opinion: The rise of computer science

All across the country, computer science has become one of the most sought after majors amongst major universities.

According to an article inThe New York Times,” over 37% of the incoming freshman class at the University of Texas at Austin in 2018 chose computer science as their first choice of major, more than double the number who did in 2014. In fact, this surge of interest has made the department increasingly more competitive.

Aafia Ahmad, a sophomore computer science major, intended to take an elective course in computer security, but during early registration, she could not sign up for the course because it was already full; she had to be 79th on a waiting list for the course.

Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College, a school that prides itself on being a model for diversity in computer science weighs in on this problem, according to The New York Times.

“When you put any kind of barrier in place in terms of access to computer science majors, it tends to reduce the number of women and students of color in the program,” Klawe said. 

This same attraction in computer science is also present on Brentwood’s campus. Computer Science Department Chair Joon Kim has pioneered the department since its inception over 30 years ago and simultaneously woven the subject into the rest of the Brentwood curriculum. 

“Every single other field has been revolutionized by technology and is connected to computer science, but people don’t think of them as computer science, like the fields of medicine, entertainment, history or language,” Kim said.

The foundation in computer science is often misunderstood as it is much more than merely programming and coding; artificial intelligence, machine learning, and networking are all additional branches as well.

These ideas mirror our Brentwood course guide. Kim teaches a variety of classes from “Honors Advanced Topics in Computer Science,” to “Honors Programming & Software Design.”

As of now, Kim is the only computer science teacher at Brentwood. He teaches five courses this semester, some with upwards of 20 students. As the demand for computer science courses increases, the department may need to expand.

The Flyer surveyed 43 students about their experience with computer science. The survey found that 41% of students fully understand computer science and 20% of students do not understand it at all.  In addition, 33% of students have had a very positive experience while taking computer science.

In addition to what is happening inside the classroom, Brentwood students have taken their passion to the next level. Brentwood houses many types of student-run activities such as the Girls and Boys Robotics Team, Girls Who Code, and The Tech Club.

“As a co-president of the after school Tech Club at the lower school, I really enjoy being able to share my love for computer science with younger students. It is so rewarding to see little 5th graders get so excited about the activities and curriculum we’ve brought to them,” Brentwood senior Harper said.

Computer science is now an elective course. However, up until about 12 years ago, it used to be a one-semester requirement, it was called “Computer Literacy.” 

Kim’s new class “Exploring Computer Science” uses many of the foundational principles from “Computer Literacy,” proving the material is still relevant. In the past couple of years Kim, along with the administrative team, has had discussions about bringing this requirement back to Brentwood.

“Yes, I do think it should be a requirement. Since we use computers so much in our everyday lives I feel like everyone should have a basic understanding,” senior Aleksandr said.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that from 2018 to 2028 employment of computer and information research scientists will grow 16 percent, which is much faster than the average for other occupations. In addition, Loyola University of Chicago reports computer systems design and related services to be one of the top three most sought after professions, along with Management, scientific and technical consulting services and home health care services.

51% of Brentwood students interviewed plan to pursue a major or career in computer science.

Lastly, over the course of his time at Brentwood, Kim has made a conscious effort to create a more diverse classroom setting with an increase in female and minority students. Eight years ago, Kim attended a number of workshops about widening the representation in computer science, and he has been able to continue increasing diversity. Although in the past Kim taught classes without any female students, in the last two years the ratio of boys to girls has reached almost 50/50 in some classes. 

“I am working to make sure that students know that everyone is welcome in computer science,” Kim said. “You don’t have to look a particular way or think a particular way; you just need to be interested in the material.”