Undergraduate Education in Computational Science: Orlando Highlights

June 10, 2005

By Ignatios Vakalis

A highlight of this year's SIAM Conference on Computational Science and Engineering was the large number of talks on undergraduate-level education in CS&E. In fact, the conference featured six sessions in which 26 speakers reported on activities under way to infuse computational science into undergraduate curricula. Overall, the speakers covered themes that fall into three categories:

Partnerships. Connections and collaborations linking university researchers and educators with high school teachers are essential for infusing computational science into the K12 educational pipeline and for inspiring the next generation of high school students to study CS&E at the university level. Speakers identified partnerships with industry in the form of internships (undergraduate research experiences) as essential components of successful undergraduate programs in computational science. Members of the National Computational Science Institute reported on NCSI-sponsored partnerships, programs, and workshops (see http://www.computationalscience.org/).

Educational Programs. The number of institutions that include computational science at various levels of their undergraduate curricula is steadily increasing. Several institutions (e.g., Capital University, Clarkson University, the State University of New York, Brockport, the University of Ontario, Wittenberg University) have formal programs in computational science; others (e.g., Wofford College) offer a concentration within the undergraduate curriculum. Siena College and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University are now in the process of formalizing undergraduate programs in computational science. The Krell Institute maintains an up-to-date list of undergraduate computational science programs in the U.S. (http://www.krellinst.org/learningcenter/CSE_survey/index.html).

Most speakers and attendees indicated that they favor a CS&E minor program, rather than a major, for the undergraduate curriculum. The two main reasons cited are: (1) a computational science major would not provide sufficient (and necessary) depth in a particular domain science, because of the required number of mathematics and computer science courses and the overall credit constraints; (2) the implementation of such a major would most likely result in "turf-battles" among participating departments about the "ownership" of the curriculum. The conference program also included a session on teaching high-performance computing at the undergraduate level.

Undergraduate Research. Three poster sessions were devoted to undergraduate research projects in computational science and engineering. Building on successful sessions held at SIAM Annual Meetings, this initiative provided a unique opportunity for undergraduate students not only to present their research projects, but also to enrich their networking capacity while attending a wonderful meeting. The hope is that this event will become a regular feature of SIAM CS&E meetings.

Ignatios Vakalis is an associate professor in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. He and Peter Turner organized a minisymposium on the development and implementation of programs in CS&E at the undergraduate level.

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