First Friday Hackathon

Lou Manglass (right), a computer analyst for Athens Clarke-County, talks with Todd Hollett, an information technology specialist for the Athens Clarke-County School District during the First Friday Hackathon hosted by The Hatch Athens Makerspace at The News Building in Athens, Ga., on Friday, April 4, 2014. Hollett said that he hopes to form a partnership between the school district and Hatch. People meet for four hours on the first Friday of each month to make something from scratch. Some people design computer and mobile phone applications while others design mechanical objects like motorized skateboards. (photo/David C Bristow, www.dcbristowphoto.com)

In April, frustrated with the limited availability of upper-level computer sciences classes at the University of Georgia, computer science major Heather Huynh started a petition on Change.org calling for increased funding and resources to sustain the growing department. As of press time, the petition has received over 1,000 signatures.

At the time, Alan Dorsey, dean of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, said the college was working to resolve the issue and was in the process of hiring more professors for the Department of Computer Science. 

“In the spring, we hired about seven new faculty; two assistant professors, four lecturers, and one instructor,” said Dr. Thiab Taha, department head for the computer science department. “They will be able to teach a good number of classes.”

Taha said each lecturer and instructor will teach three courses per semester, while the assistant professors will teach one course each for their first semester. All seven professors will begin teaching in the fall semester.

According to an open records request, the department received $533,000 in increased funding to hire the faculty members, with the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences providing $339,000 and the Office of the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost providing $194,000 through the Presidential Informatics Hiring Initiative and the smaller class size initiative.

Taha also said the department opened five new sections for the fall semester, “so now everyone will probably want to get into these courses.”

However, while the new faculty allow for more class options, some courses may still see crowding, he said.

”It depends on what course [whether the number of students in each course goes up],” Taha said. “We would like to see the number of students in each course below a certain number.”

The issue of overcrowding comes as the Department of Computer Science continues to grow year to year, seeing a 20 percent increase in undergraduate and graduate enrollment, from 742 in 2014 to 892 in 2015, and a 147 percent increase since 2009, when the department had only 360 total enrollments, according to the department’s Spring 2016 newsletter. The department also has “close to 137 minors,” according to the newsletter.

With the graduate enrollment holding steady across the seven years, the majority of the program growth has come from a tripling of undergraduate enrollment. Computer science now ranks at the fourth most popular major at UGA, according to the 2015 UGA Factbook, behind biology, psychology and finance.

The increase in program enrollment mirrors the increase in job opportunities for those with a degree in computer science. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, software developers, computer and information research scientists, computer and information systems managers and computer hardware engineers see median yearly salaries of over $100,000, with increasing 2014-2024 job outlooks, most of which are listed as “faster than average” or “much faster than average.” 

With a healthy and growing marketplace for computer science majors, Taha said it is hard to predict the future growth of UGA’s computer science department.

“It looks like there will be an increase. How much, I don't know. This is a national trend,” he said. “Georgia State is having the same issue, and Georgia Tech, though maybe not to the same magnitude. But this isn't just in Georgia. It's a national trend because there are so many jobs available for graduates of computer science.” 

Taha said the faculty hires should be able to handle the anticipated enrollment growth, but for good measure, he will be requesting at least one more faculty member in 2017.

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