and energy devoted to course development likely means less progress in other
teaching and scholarship. Further, student
evaluations for a new course typically
are lower than courses which have been
offered several times (over time, schedules
can be adjusted, details can be refined,
etc.). For established faculty (e.g., tenured
faculty), a focus on new and interdisciplinary initiatives may result in weak personnel
reviews and relatively low salary increases.
For untenured faculty, lowered evaluations
and reduced scholarly productivity may result in contracts not being renewed and in
denials of tenure. Altogether, development
of connections, courses, and programs
takes substantial resources, and such work
may impact faculty careers negatively.
Further, for individual faculty members
who might be interested in expanding
their background to join interdisciplinary
scholarship or to develop new courses,
retraining in companion disciplines is likely
to be time consuming and reduce scholarly production. In the long run, retraining of computing faculty may yield new
opportunities and collaborations, but the
short-term outcomes may not fit well with
the reward system at many colleges and
Weighing opportunities and challenges,
some computing faculties may want to
expand connections with other disciplines
and the wider community—even with
current enrollment pressures. Although
specific ways forward almost surely depend upon local circumstances, here are
some general thoughts.
A natural first step in programmatic evo-
lution and faculty development involves
listening to client programs and under-
standing individual agendas. Perhaps
surprisingly, in my experience with external
program reviews, many computing pro-
grams have little contact with potential
clients and collaborators. What are their
needs, interests, and expectations? Which
individuals might want to collaborate, what
areas might have potential for interdis-
ciplinary projects, and what might other
faculty be able to contribute?
Interestingly, on the national level, some
reports provide insights regarding inter-
disciplinary connections. For example, the
ACM/IEEE-CS Task Force invited a back-
ground report on “The roles of mathemat-
ics in computer science” in its preparation
for CS 2013. Although I am not aware of its
public release, a summary piece appeared
in ACM Inroads [ 1]. More broadly, the Math-
ematical Association of America (MAA)
has a strong track record of identifying
needs and opportunities of client depart-
ments. Thus, the 2015 Curriculum Guide by
the MAA Committee on the Undergraduate
Program includes “Program Reports” that
discuss needs and perspectives of fourteen
client departments (including “Computing
and Computational Science”) [ 2].
Although national reports may provide
insights, my discussions during on-campus
interviews indicate considerable variation
regarding opportunities from one cam-
pus to another. Overall, pursuit of specific
opportunities largely seems dependent
upon serendipity and individual interests.
Although not present on every campus,
reaching out to specific faculty outside
computing can be particularly effective in
the right setting.
INTRODUCTORY LEVEL COURSES
At the introductory level, course offerings
typically need to address three audiences:
students who already have decided to
major in another area, students who have
committed to a computing major, and stu-
dents who are exploring several options as
majors. In practice, interests of undergrad-
uates often evolve over several years, so
students in one of these groups might well
shift their foci as they gain experience.
When a school can offer numerous
introductory courses, separate courses
might be developed for each audience.
Here are three examples.
• A broad non-majors course might provide a high-level view of computing topics (e.g., architecture, operating systems,
networking), highlight applications,
review social and ethical issues, and provide practice with problem solving and
• A discipline-oriented course for majors
in a specific area might combine algorithmic problem solving with coverage
of a programming language and use of
identified software tools.
• A cross-listed course might integrate
introductory topics in both computing and
another discipline—providing students
with academic credit in both disciplines.
Each of these approaches can be very
successful in meeting general educational
needs for an informed citizenry and for
supporting students in other disciplines.
High enrollments in these courses also can
provide strong justification for expanded
computing faculty who not only support
these courses for non-majors but also might
contribute generally to computing programs. However, often, these courses have
little long-term payoff for the computing
programs themselves. The courses require
staffing, but few students in these courses
may progress to later courses in computing.
As an alternative to separate courses
for non-majors, introductory computing
courses might include breadth that may
serve multiple audiences.
• A CS1 course might integrate fundamental algorithms, data structures, and
algorithmic problem solving with strategic examples and enrichment lessons
that may connect with needs from client
• In one case (that eventually yielded my
first two books), in-class discussions
and common readings may cover many
Perhaps surprisingly, in my experience with
external program reviews, many
computing programs have little contact with
potential clients and collaborators.