Spotlight on top majors: Computer Science

Computer science is empowering as well as lucrative — but what you might not know is how much fun it is, besides.

Computer science is Mount Holyoke’s fastest-growing major and that doesn’t surprise department chair Valerie Barr ’77 one bit. 

“Once they take that first class and realize the relevance of computing to many fields, students want to take more,” Barr says. 

That’s because learning computer science is incredibly empowering, says Audrey St. John, who specializes in theoretical computer science. 

“When students first learn what's sitting under the hood, they find technology demystified,” she says. “Programming, the core tool that allows us to automate our solutions, can feel like magic. Type some text into a file and suddenly you’ve made a game! It's attractive to get to work on exciting applications, and there can be very immediate rewards.”     

Perhaps the best part about studying computer science at Mount Holyoke is the ease of combining it with other subjects across campus. 

“I love working with students to help them marry together multiple interests — computing and politics, data science and dance, you name it,” Barr says. “I love the opportunity to work with faculty from across the campus on how they incorporate computing into their courses.” 

“Our students never cease to amaze me with their dedication, intellectual curiosity and passion to pay it forward,” says St. John. “They are capable beyond what they imagine and incredibly grounded, often downplaying their accomplishments. It’s so rewarding to get to see students move through their tech journey, particularly when I get to witness a student transform from being a little dubious to becoming so passionate they innovate a new way of inspiring others.” 

Combine the opportunities for research with faculty and internships at places like Google, Microsoft and YouTube; throw in the Fimbel Maker & Innovation Lab and the student-founded HackHolyoke, the first hackathon to achieve gender parity — and you’ll find the opportunities are endless. 

The lucrative job market for computer science majors is one of the attractions, of course. A high percentage of graduates go on to six-figure jobs right after college, and not just at Amazon, Google or Facebook. 

“We say that every field is a tech field and our students experience that in the work world,” says Barr. “They can find jobs across a wide range of fields — health care, business, finance, beverages, sports and more. Some go on for an advanced STEM degree, drawn to a future in academia, where they can inspire the next generation.”

Stats about Computer Science

As of December 2020: 

  • 97 students are majoring in computer science, of whom 42 are double majors
  • 6 students are minoring in computer science
  • 7 faculty in spring 2021

179 students graduated with Latin honors over the years 2010–2020, eight of whom graduated summa cum laude.

Thesis and independent study topics include: 

  • Designing Sensor-Aided Wearable Assistive Technology for The Visually Impaired (honors thesis)
  • Grounding in Human-Robot Dialogue
  • Computational Analysis of Statics and Dynamics of Macromolecules (honors thesis)
  • Software Development: Helping Scientists Track Changes in their Code
  • Persistent Multi-robot Formations with Redundancy (honors thesis)
  • Algorithms to Improve the Health of River Networks
  • Modeling Swallow Roosts Using Weather Radar (honors thesis)
  • Sentiment Analysis of Twitter Data: How do media characterizations impact the views of individuals?

These results are from Mount Holyoke’s annual Alumnae Survey: 

  • 88% of respondents satisfied with their careers thus far
  • 77% enrolled in a grad program since graduating from the College
  • 74% reported that their career is related to their major