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What is Computer Science: Undergrad Perspective for High School Students

By Mindy Hart

I get the pleasure of teaching a service-learning based course at the university each semester. Within this course, undergraduate students are trained to conduct educational programs that fit the mission of our outreach program. And sometimes, for fun, I like to make them do work! One of the hardest questions we answer when working with the K-12 students is What is Computer Science? So as a final assignment this semester, I thought I'd ask my service-learning students to answer that question. Here is what they had to say.

Computer Science is
* A broad topic
* A challenge
* A deterrent to your social skills.
* A field where everyone can find a place
* A field with a 50+ year history
* A multinational multicultural field
* A team effort
* A very open environment where students cooperate and professors are integrated into their classes
* A way to change the world
* A way to innovate the way people operate in their daily lives
* About understanding
* Awesome
* Challenging
* Communicating effectively
* Creating the next generation of software
* Embracing new technologies
* Engineering
* Frustrating
* Fun
* Hard to teach correctly
* Helping the global community become integrated with technology
* Here in the USA as well as worldwide
* Innovative
* Logical thinking
* Magical
* Mathematical
* Misunderstood
* Multi-disciplinary
* Needed in many professions
* Problem-solving
* Programming
* Really tedious
* Research
* Respectable
* Rewarding
* Rife with social events to help with networking for future careers
* Somewhere to learn very diverse fields
* Still a young field
* Teamwork (collaboration of a diverse group of people)
* Useful for every branch of science
* Well-paying
* Whatever you make it (to an extent)
* Worthwhile

So what else would you add to the list?

I think this is actually one of the hardest questions for us to answer, but is imperative for creating an identity for computer science. I think our tendency is to offer non-examples such as "it isn't just programming" or "it's not just sitting in a cubicle." And while these non-examples are helpful for delimiting ideas, it still does not give us a concrete idea of what it is. However, maybe we do not need a concrete idea of what it is because I think there is a reason for that (and it is stated in the next to last point in the list above) computer science is whatever you make it. It is important to note that it does involve aspects such as teamwork and problem-solving, but the more important message to send out about computer science is that it can encompass multiple interests and there is an element of computer science in many more disciplines than ever imaginable.

So, what is computer science to you?

Mindy Hart
CSTA Board of Directors


I once had a friend who said that sailboats were "functional artwork" and to that end, I think of CS in the same/similar way. It is a creative energy force of logic and reason that can be organic in most simplistic terms that done well can turn into complex prose of thoughts and problems answered and revealed into a thing of beauty...artwork in a logical form and functionality built with a creative spirit that defies disciplines and the naked eye. To coin a phrase for it "functional creativity" on the genius of problem solving and the edge of technology...how far can you/we/us take it and how much can we bring to light the bright side and the creative side of solving something with a phrase, a variable, a language or just a different way of looking or approaching something. There is no other discipline with as much energy, with as much creativity, with as much opportunity that can even be slightly looked at as logical and an art form within the same sentence.

For me- computer science is - the study of computer and their architecture, language and all applications and maths that relate to computers and computations.
Hope this could be included in CS

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