With a new faculty member on board, a brand new $100,000 learning space in place, and research projects in the works, the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s new high-demand Bachelor’s degree program in Computer Science is experiencing a very busy first semester.
“We are so pleased to be providing our students with greater access to high demand degree programs like Computer Science. This will not only help us to better meet the workforce needs of our region and state, but also provide our students with new avenues for prosperous careers,” UMPI President Ray Rice said. “Having Dr. Md Rafiul Hassan on board as our new Associate Professor of Computer Science and having our brand new Computer Science Instructional Lab up and running in Folsom Hall will help to ensure that our students are able to get the in-depth and hands-on learning experiences they need to be career-ready upon graduation.”
This new degree program focuses on building high-demand skills in areas ranging from data science, big data, and cybersecurity to programming, software engineering, and IoT (Internet of Things). The program includes two concentrations, Software Development and Information and Data Management. Computer science graduates are among the highest paid majors, according to Money magazine. According to WayUp, Computer Science entry-level jobs are one of the fastest-growing fields in Maine, with computer and information scientists earning an average salary of $100,660 per year. Salaries for software developers in Maine average $90,530, and such positions are expected to grow by 30% in the state by 2020.
UMPI was able to establish this new Computer Science B.S. because of the U.S. Department of Education Title III Strengthening Institutions Program grant it received last fall. The grant is for $2.25 million over a five-year cycle and allows UMPI to create two high-demand bachelor’s degree programs—in Health Administration and Computer Science—and develop stronger career readiness and experiential learning offerings for students.
In the Computer Science program, students will learn about algorithms and data structure, computer architecture, cloud computing, and machine learning. They’ll take courses in game development, advanced programming, and software testing, and train in the new instructional lab to solve real-world tech problems organizations face every day. While this is a building year for the program, the newly established Computer Science Club has hosted Python workshops for campus and community members, with participants learning basic programming language. A long-term goal is for students to be able to participate in programming competitions, where there are top level job recruitment opportunities.
The new program is being led by Dr. Md Rafiul Hassan, UMPI Associate Professor of Computer Science (Software Development) and Curriculum Development Specialist. Dr. Hassan received his Ph.D. in Computer Science and Software Engineering in 2007 from the University of Melbourne. He worked at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals for more than 10 years as a full-time faculty member before coming to UMPI. He is an expert in machine learning and data science with applications to biomedical, financial and reservoir engineering, network security, and big data analysis. He has 3 U.S. patents, another U.S. patent submitted, and has authored many journal and conference papers. He’ll be working to secure accreditation for the UMPI Computer Science program with ABET (the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc.).
“Computer Science is such an exciting field with so many specialty areas and research opportunities to explore,” Dr. Hassan said. “And, especially appealing right now, there are many jobs in this field that allow you to stay close to home or wherever you are and work remotely. I’ll be working with students to prepare them to be successful in any environment and to connect them to as many of those opportunities as possible.”
Computer Science students have the opportunity to learn in a highly functional space equipped with the latest technology. Folsom Hall 101B received a $100,000 transformation, including renovations and new technologies, to become the new Computer Science Instructional Lab. The space includes 20 new ergonomic workstations featuring new i9 Dell computers with 24” video capable monitors and instructional technologies including Zoom capacity. It also has significant collaboration capacity with moveable whiteboards and shareable screens, creating an ideal instructional setting for students to practice writing programs and developing software.
The program includes a senior capstone experience—it could be an internship, independent study, or senior thesis—where students use the computer science skills they’ve gained toward a computational solution to a unique research question or application in an area such as business, natural resources, or healthcare. Students also will have the potential to present posters and talks at conferences and to participate in research in collaboration with faculty—for example, Dr. Hassan’s latest research is on ransomware predictions and using artificial intelligence to make COVID-19 predictions.
The program ultimately prepares students for a wide range of careers, from software engineer and programmer to security analyst, data scientist and network administrator. In addition, activities with the Computer Science Club will prepare students for specific certification opportunities, including Certified Security Analyst and Certified Ethical Hacker.
“This is broad training that prepares students for a wide variety of professions–whether it’s big data or software engineering—as well as certifications,” Dr. Hassan said. “I’m looking forward to making connections between our program and emerging job sectors in Maine, from bioinformatics in laboratory research to precision agriculture in farming, and finding ways that our projects and research can help make predictions and solve problems for industries here in the state and beyond.”