Sep 14, 2016 By Victoria Grdina
As the Silicon Prairie becomes a hot spot for tech jobs, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln is recognizing an increasingly high demand for graduates with computing degrees and software experience. The Department of Computer Science and Engineering is keeping pace with the introduction of software engineering as a new major this year.
This is the first semester that the university will offer the major to students. Nebraska is now one of about 40 universities in the U.S. to offer a software engineering program at the undergraduate level—the only one in the Big Ten. This makes the major an attractive option on its own, but the unique structure of the program may even make it one-of-a-kind.
“What sets our program apart from all of the other programs is that we’re introducing the students to software engineering from the very beginning,” said Suzette Person, Director of Software Engineering. “This is a really unique approach…there are no other programs that we know of in the U.S. that teach software engineering like this.”
Person also explained that many other programs require students to take standard computer science courses in their first two years and then take several software engineering courses during their junior and senior years. At Nebraska, students dive into software engineering in their first semester and continue to build on concepts in later courses.
The software engineering courses will be part of a brand new curriculum set to roll out in phases, beginning with freshman courses this year, freshman and sophomore courses next year, and varying advanced courses every year. Person noted that not only will students be learning pertinent skills in each course, but they’ll also be learning from some of the best in the field.
“When you look at the other schools that are offering undergraduate programs in software engineering, they do not have the mass that we have in software engineering researchers,” Person said. “The students are really fortunate in that they’ll be taking courses from some of the world’s most renowned software engineering researchers.”
The program will open up a new avenue of specialization for many computer science students already interested in software engineering, and some students who haven’t yet declared a major may be unsure of which route to choose. Software Engineering I teaching assistant Will Preachuk said students can expect to study much of the same material in both, but from different perspectives.
“I don’t really see them as two separate majors; I see them as two different approaches,” Preachuk said. “Computer science being more traditional, more code based, more theory, and I see software engineering as being more practice based.”
That practice-based approach is another distinguishing facet of the program. Students will be required to complete at least one internship and two Capstone courses before graduating. This provides them with three different experiences working on real-world projects and triple the preparation for their careers.
And there’s one more interesting graduation requirement: Students must also enroll in a one-credit hour leadership and mentoring course that takes them back into the classroom to mentor students currently enrolled in one of the first core courses.
“We don’t write software by ourselves. There are a lot of interpersonal skills people need when they go out and get their jobs or get their internships,” Person said. “What we’re trying to do is help them acquire those skills and get the chance to practice those skills.”
Freshman Michael Ford said the incorporation of those other communication skills into the curriculum is important to him and the main reason he chose to enroll in the program.
“Looking at the different kind of jobs that you get trained to do, it seems like computer science is more about computer research, developing AIs and things like that,” said Ford. “While I think that’s cool, what I want to do is be in that interpersonal part—developing software for companies and interacting with everybody.”
Both Ford and Person agreed that even though the semester is only a few weeks underway, students are already receiving a solid foundation for their future—and an engaging one.
“It has been a lot of fun. I think the students are really enjoying it,” Person said. “I think they’re getting anxious to write code, but that has to wait a couple more weeks.”
More details at: http://cse.unl.edu/se