New Computer Science Department Takes Shape

Sara Platnick

Whitman College made new additions this year to its computer science department, welcoming new professor Janet Davis and remodeled classrooms in Olin Hall.

This year is the first year that Whitman will offer computer science as a minor to students. While the college has administered classes in computer science in the past, the department has expanded its course offering to include a Human-Computer Interaction class and 400 level Special Topics courses that will be determined in the future.

The department saw its biggest addition with the hiring of Janet Davis, a professor of Computer Science. Davis previously taught Computer Science at Grinnell College, a liberal arts college in Iowa.

“I think there is a lot of student demand for computer science and that is really exciting,” said Davis. “It’s remarkable that Whitman has been without a computer science major for so long given that we’re in the land of Microsoft and Intel and other tech companies.”

I think there is a lot of student demand for computer science and that is really exciting

— Janet Davis, professor of Computer Science

One major addition to the Computer Science department is the planned hiring of two additional tenure-track professors, along with Davis, to head the Computer Science Department. Davis hopes that in bringing on two additional professors, they can diversify the department.

“Who we hire will have a big influence on what direction the program takes. I want to make sure that [with all the professors] we hire, we can teach all of the core courses in the computer sciences, but [then] what we teach beyond that will depend a lot on who we bring in,” said Davis.

The Computer Science Department expansion also saw the remodeling of two classrooms, Olin 165 and Olin 224. The first floor classroom features remodeled wiring, computers and an added office, which houses Math and Computer Science Technology Specialist Dustin Palmer.

Palmer was brought on to the Whitman College Tech Services in July of this year to help facilitate the technological transitions of the Math and Computer Science department. His primary role in the department is to ensure that the classrooms are functional and to implement any changes to the classrooms that the department may request. But Palmer also takes on a more personal role with the students in the computer science classes.

“It’s a bit more of a teacher’s assistant mentality behind it. I work with individuals to sort out all of the work that needs to be done around here and help the students with some of the more complex issues that may come up,” said Palmer.

Underclassmen will benefit most from the new addition, as the minor is difficult for to seniors to obtain without taking classes outside of Whitman.

“I get to take a class that normally wouldn’t be offered, so that’s cool,” said senior mathematics major, Casey Schafer. “But I wish they have more of a selection that I could take and I wish they had it earlier so I could have the chance to take more classes.”

While not personally able to complete the minor, Schafer appreciates the ability for Whitman students to take computer science courses that provide real-world, in-demand skills after college.

“I think it’s good for underclassmen who have something that’s really popular in the real world that they can minor in now. I’m happy that Whitman’s getting it, but I’m disappointed from my standpoint that I can’t do it” said Schafer.

Davis acknowledges that some students may feel uncertain about taking a computer science class, but she advises students to be open to the opportunity.

“I would say just try it. You never know, you might love it… It might be unlike anything else you’ve ever done,” said Davis. “I love having students in my courses who’ve never programmed before or who have never done any computer science before because the joy of discovery is just so wonderful to see. Don’t be afraid, it’s fun.”