In a recent article published in Liberal Education magazine, Dr. Christine Shannon, Centre College professor of mathematics and computer science, shares her views of how computer science and liberal arts go hand-in-hand.
“Today, we associate the liberal arts or liberal education with a course of general study that equips students with critical thinking skills, with the ability to communicate effectively both orally and in writing, and most importantly with the ability to continue learning in a world where swift change could make very narrow training rapidly obsolete,” Shannon writes.
“Equipped with a broad knowledge of the arts and the natural and social sciences and with the skills to use that knowledge successfully for continued learning, reasoned and principled decision making, and effective communication,” she continues, “a liberally educated graduate…should be poised to pursue a diversity of careers.”
Many liberal arts colleges, however, have been “rather slow to recognize the opportunity that the study of computer science provides for achieving these ends,” she writes. “In fact, those who defend the appropriateness of computer science as a field of study in a liberal arts institution are frequently met with some skepticism from their colleagues.”
Shannon then confronts this skepticism by explaining how computer science contributes greatly to a liberal arts education. It does so, she says, by providing the opportunities “for practicing precise logical and algorithmic thinking, for developing creative solutions to difficult problems, and perhaps most importantly, for encouraging interdisciplinary approaches.”
Solving computer science problems forces students to think creatively to find solutions, and it also requires students to work efficiently.
“Far from being a course of study that prepares students for precisely one career path,” Shannon writes, “a well-designed computer science program equips its graduates with knowledge of theory and principles, and compels them to think in a very careful and organized fashion to construct solutions to complex problems. Those problems can arise in almost any realm of human inquiry, from the analysis of environmental issues to the design of theatrical sets.”
Such training ensures that liberally educated students, like those who graduate from Centre, are prepared for careers in any field; it enables students to achieve the “extraordinary success” Centre promises its students.