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Beloit Experience in Computer Science (BECS)

Introduction

This NSF sponsored program is a collaborative effort between University of Wisconsin-Madison (lead institution), Beloit College, Duke University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Loyola College in Maryland, Purdue University, Rutgers University, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The goal is to test and evaluate a new approach to increasing the number of undergraduate women and minorities who take computer science courses and receive computer science degrees. This effort is in response to continuing low enrollments of women and minorities in undergraduate computer science programs.

The program involves recruiting promising women and minorities into introductory computer science courses. Here at Beloit we will use CSCI 121, Introduction to Computer Science. Students in the program will meet with a peer leader who is an undergraduate who recently completed this course.

Questions or comments about BECS can be directed to the principle investigator, Steven Huss-Lederman via email at huss@beloit.edu or phone at 608-363-2071.

Information for Perspective BECS Students

Below is information that was sent to perspective students in the BECS program for the fall semester of 2007. If you want to be involved in this program and we (unfortunately) did not send you a letter, please contact Steven Huss-Lederman (see above).

What is BECS? In addition to attending the regular “Introduction to Programming” class, you will participate in a special meeting of about one hour led by an undergraduate student. There will be about 7 sessions over the semester. The specially selected and trained student will lead sessions designed to solidify your knowledge of computer science as well as introduce you to the opportunities in the field. Since your peer leader took this course last year, she is in a unique position to help you with the material. In addition, there will be periodic social gatherings in future semesters to meet friends from your semester as well as others involved in BECS and CS (these are, of course, voluntary, but we suspect you had such a good time at the start that you will come!).

What will I get out of BECS? You will get a unique opportunity to develop lasting friendships with highly motivated students. Also, preliminary studies indicate you are likely to do better in the class as well as enjoy it more. Finally, you should have lots of fun with your peers (snacks are provided)!

Why am I being invited? Your accomplishments in high school, including grades and/or test scores, indicate you are likely to do well in computer science. Furthermore, Beloit College is part of a national effort to increase participation in computer science by women and underrepresented minorities. As you may be aware, participation in computer science by these groups is very low in the United States. As a result, these special sessions will have high representation from these groups. Both our introductory programming course and students continuing to study CS now have significant representation from these groups (a large increase since these efforts began ­ I’m happy to share details if you are interested).

Do I have to participate? Absolutely not but I hope you will. You can register for the course without taking advantage of this program (or not register for the course).

Who is coordinating this effort? I am (Steven Huss-Lederman, Associate Professor of Computer Science). I have a strong interest in offering the best educational opportunities to all of our students.

Is anything else unique about the course? The “Introduction to Programming” course is offered in a studio format. As such, you will meet in two-hour blocks to facilitate an interactive, hands-on approach to learning computer science. Each Monday, the class is broken up into groups of 6-8 students that meet with a trained peer leader (and not with me). In these sessions you do group work and tackle problems to help you understand and appreciate the materials in the course. Also, the course will be ½ unit and meet during the first half of the semester. (The courses “Introduction to Computer Hardware” and “Object-Oriented Java Programming”, both for ½ unit, will meet during the same time slot in the second half of the semester. You can choose to take one of these courses when you register or near the end of the first module ­ after you have experienced the first course. This allows for ½ unit or 1 unit of CS in this semester.) You will also do your programming in a 3D animation environment specially developed to teach the important programming concepts in computer science (Alice, see www.alice.org). Finally, we utilize paired programming where students work in pairs to complete programming assignments. For two years we have offered this revised format and the response from students has been very favorable.

Do I have to want to major in Computer Science? No! If you are like many of your peers, you won’t have considered taking a computer science course. This is one reason we are extending a special invitation. (If you are interested in computer science that is great!). Information on pursuing studies in computer science can be found at http://www.beloit.edu/computerscience.

OK, but what does computer science have to offer me? It is a dynamic field that makes a difference in our world. It impacts our ability to offer low-cost medical care in third world countries, solve the human genome problem, create cool movies, and much more. It is also nice that computer scientists are well paid with a project of many new jobs in the U.S. (despite what you may have heard about off-shoring).

A Few Pictures

A group of BECS students went to Madison, Wisconsin during the fall 2005 semester to hear from practicing professionals in computer science. Here are some pictures from the dinner.

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BECS Materials

Each week the peer leader and BECS students meet to do unique activities to enhance their CS experience. You are welcome to look over the materials used in the BECS program.