Computer Science Department to Celebrate 25th Anniversary with Series of Talks and Panels

Media contact: Noelle Lemoine, communications assistant; tele: (413) 597-4277; email: Noelle.Lemoine@williams.edu

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., April 5, 2013—Williams College will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Department of Computer Science on April 19-20. The department has organized a full program of alumni-oriented events including lectures to classes, panel discussions, and a wide variety of talks that highlight the contributions of Williams alumni to various scientific and technology-oriented disciplines. A full schedule of CS25 events and their locations is available at www.cs.williams.edu, the department’s web site.

Public events begin on Friday afternoon, with three panels that discuss various career options. A panel of research-oriented alumni discuss academic and industrial research opportunities. Two other alumni groups discuss opportunities for computer scientists as entrepreneurs or as contributors to mainstream technology industries including Google, Facebook, and Microsoft.  Nationally, the demand for computer scientists has far outstripped the number of students actually obtaining degrees. On Saturday, two panels discuss the future of computer science at liberal arts institutions and non-traditional career paths for majors including journalism, law, and art.

Friday afternoon’s events culminate with a talk by Richard Ketcham, a geoscientist from The University of Texas, titled “Doing Earth Science with Computers.” Dr. Ketcham, a Williams geoscience and computer science major from 1987, will consider how the use of computers has fundamentally changed how scientists ask and answer questions. The talk is sponsored by the Williams College chapter of Sigma Xi, the honor society that promotes a better understanding of science through its series of public research talks.

Saturday morning provides an opportunity for the department to show off its own active research programs. Three faculty—Jeannie Albrecht, Brent Heeringa, and Morgan McGuire—and two senior research students—April Shen and James Wilcox—discuss work in everything from computer graphics to machine learning. Both Shen and Wilcox are headed to graduate school to continue computer science research. Research talks by alumni from academia, industry, and government continue throughout the day.

The capstone event on Saturday is a talk by A.J. Bernheim Brush (Williams Class of 1996) from Microsoft Research, “Home Automation: Is it Finally Ready for the Mainstream?” Dr. Brush was the recipient of the 2010 Borg Early Career Award from the Computer Research Association for her work on human-computer interaction and ubiquitous computing.  Dr. Brush’s talk is sponsored by Williams Class of 1960, which has long supported discussions between prominent researchers, students, and the general public.

Some of the first computer science courses offered at small liberal arts institutions were taught at Williams.  In the 1970s, courses on programming and algorithms were taught by mathematicians as part of a concentration. Students could major in computer science beginning in 1984, working on some of the first minicomputers and workstations. In 1987, the department was formed. At that time email was used by few on campus, the college was experimenting with internet connectivity, and the new department had a handful of computers dedicated to student use. Over the years the computer science department has grown to include eight full time faculty and runs several teaching and research labs.

The event is cosponsored by the Dean of Faculty and the Office of Alumni Relations.

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