Lyon College Adds Computer Science Major, New Faculty Member

Lyon College is now offering a bachelor’s degree in computer science, a degree increasingly sought across the country after a slump in the earlier 2000s. With the growing capabilities of cell phones, enrollments in computer science have risen across the country again, as they did when personal computers first came on the market and during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s. The College previously offered the degree but has offered only a minor since 2010, when student interest and enrollment dropped.

Currently, students interested in computer science apply, but with no official major in the field, few from that group enroll. According to Matt Crisman, Vice President for Enrollment Services, Lyon expects to see enrollment gains from reinstating an updated version of the Computer Science major.

Provost Melissa Taverner noted that while most people are end-users, computer applications now offer vital tools for use in most fields across the entire scope of careers. These people rely on professionals who understand both hardware and software development. Adding the major, she says, “gives our students a background to go into an area where they can be very successful in the future.”

She added that Introduction to Programming in C will be offered in Lyon’s first of two summer sessions this year, at half the cost of courses taken during the regular school year. “We hope to enroll community members who want to develop computer programming skills, especially employees of our area school systems,” she said.

Lyon’s newest major requires courses in mathematics, including Calculus I, programming, and operating systems. In addition it requires Introduction to Digital Logic, which covers concepts foundational to machine design. Students must also choose three electives, which can include supervised internships and individual work on special topics in computer science.

Students who arrive at Lyon with programming experience may “challenge” a course by passing an examination over the material covered in that course. David Sonnier, Associate Professor of Computer Science, says that students are beginning to arrive at Lyon with some programming experience, and he expects this trend to grow as high schools begin to offer more sophisticated courses.

A new freshman-level course open to any interested student is Digital Humanities, which is an introduction to such topics as digital text encoding (XML), text computation and analysis, data visualization, and geographic information system (GIS) mapping. This course is designed to introduce students to computer science and its applications in other fields.

Digital Humanities is a special interest of Anthony Davis, who will join the program full-time in the fall. He is presently Chief Information Officer for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and has also been GIS Lead/Deputy Director and Senior GIS Analyst at the Arkansas GIS Office, a state agency reporting directly to the Governor’s Office.

A 2004 graduate of Lyon who double-majored in history and computer science, he has taught as an adjunct at the College for the past year. His master’s degree work at Vanderbilt emphasized digital humanities in connection with historical studies. Davis is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Computer and Information Science at UALR