Columbia welcomes Rebecca Wright as inaugural director of Barnard’s CS program

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Columbia’s computer science community is growing with Barnard College’s creation of a program in Computer Science (CS). Rebecca Wright has been hired as the director of Barnard’s CS program and as the director of the Vagelos Computational Science Center (Vagelos CSC), both of which are located in the Milstein Center.

Wright will lay down the groundwork to establish a computer science department to better serve the Barnard community. According to Wright, the goals of Barnard’s CS program are to bring computing education in a meaningful way to all Barnard students, to better integrate Barnard’s CS majors into the Barnard community, and to build a national presence for Barnard in computing research and education. Barnard students have already been able to take CS classes at Columbia and to major in CS by completing the Columbia CS major requirements.  The Barnard program will continue to collaborate closely with the Columbia CS department, seeking to add opportunities rather than duplicating existing efforts or changing existing requirements. 

“Initial course offerings are expected to focus on how CS interacts with other disciplines, such as social science, lab science, arts, and the humanities,” said Wright, who comes to Columbia from Rutgers University. “We will address the different ways it can interact with various disciplines and ways to advance those disciplines, but with a focus on how to advance computer science to meet the needs of those disciplines.”

Wright sees room to create more opportunities for students to see the full spectrum of computer science – from the one end of the spectrum using the computer as a tool, to the other end of the spectrum where there is the ability to design new algorithms, to implement new systems, to carry out things at the forefront of computer science. Barnard will enable students to find more places along that spectrum to become fluent in the underlying tools and mechanisms and be able to reason about them, create them, and combine them in new ways.

The first course will be taught by Wright and offered next year in the fall. It is currently being developed and will most likely fall under her research interests – security, privacy, and cryptography. She also is working on building the faculty through both tenure-stream professors and a new teaching and research fellows program.

For now, students can continue to visit Barnard’s CSC and CS facilities on the fifth floor of the Milstein Center, including making use of the Computer Science and Math Help Room for guidance from tutors, studying or relaxing in the CSC social space, and enrolling in CSC workshops.

Wright encourages students to visit the Milstein Center,”I love walking through the library up to our offices.” The space is open and a modern presentation of a library – much like how she envisions how the computer science program will develop.

“Computing has an impact on advances in virtually every field today,” said Wright. “I am excited to see what we develop around these multidisciplinary interactions and interpretations of computing.”

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