Donation to New U Computer Science Building Opens Conversation Surrounding the Field


Tom Denton

Students on campus (Photo by Tom Denton | The Daily Utah Chronicle).

By Devin Oldroyd, News Writer


A $15 million donation to the University of Utah towards a prospective computer science building sparked a discussion of the computer science field as a whole.

“We live in the 21st century, it’s the century of technology,” said Dean of the College of Engineering Richard Brown. “There are a lot of great jobs out there, and I think the word is getting out to students and their parents that there is a demand for graduates with a computer science degree.”

This donation comes from U alumni John and Marcia Price, who recently donated to the newly renovated John & Marcia Price Theater Arts Building.

“We’re delighted to have their support,” Brown said. “It is nearly impossible to get support for a new building unless you have private donors who are supporting it. The Price family’s commitment to be the naming donors really was a necessary step in getting us supported by the legislature. We’re very grateful for them and proud to have their name go on the building.”

The building is coming after years of the U’s computer science program not having its own place on campus, despite it being the university’s largest major. According to Brown, computer science majors make up 34% of the College of Engineering, with 1,796 undergraduate students and 375 graduate students.

“The new John and Marcia Price Computing and Engineering Building will enable the U to double the number of computer science graduates, and significantly increase the number of graduates in other departments of the College of Engineering,” Brown said. “It will also improve the teaching environment and therefore, the learning that students experience. Some courses such as robotics and cybersecurity require physical access to specialized facilities, which the new building can provide. It will offer space so that we can teach more students.”

Physical space is something the computer science program has been lacking, with as many as 200 students in a class, according to U senior and computer science major Brian Dong.

“You can expect to take core classes that tend to have over 100 or 150 [people],” Dong said. “I think my first class had 220 people, and that’s like, ridiculously large.”

Lacking a building to call their own, computer science classes have been housed in many different places around campus.

“Most of them end up in the engineering building,” Dong said. “There are also weird ones that end up in Gardner Commons. I [also] had one on the sixth floor, I think, of the geology building, which was kind of weird.”

With so many computer science students comes a rapidly growing and competitive field, creating a high demand for computer science graduates. This puts a lot of pressure on students studying computer science.

“Computer science is an extremely hard field,” Dong said. “A bunch of people are getting into it, not necessarily because they want to, but because they think they can make a lot of money in it. I’m not going to criticize this motive, but there’s a certain personality to a lot of people who chase money. With that, there’s a lot of egos and a lot of superiority complexes that, thankfully, once you reach senior year, get weeded out because it is competitive.”

Along with its competitive nature, Dong also recognized there is a lack of gender diversity within the field, something he discusses with his female friends who also study computer science.

“In my class of 200, I think there is a grand total of 10 to 20 women,” Dong said. “I talk to my [female] friends about this and ask, ‘Hey, does this suck as much as I think it sucks?’ and they’re like, ‘Yes, yes it does.’ I am definitely unhappy about that.”

As computer science students graduate and enter the field, employers are looking for experience among other things, according to Senior Engineering Manager for CHG Healthcare Steve Keiser.

“It’s really hard to know a person from a resume,” Keiser said. “What makes somebody stand out is experience, some interest [and] a passion.”

According to Keiser, who manages a team of software engineers, CHG looks for applicants who do side projects and demonstrate they are trying to learn new things. They want people who have a curiosity about computer science and programming.

“It’s a hobby to them, as well as a job,” Keiser said. “They better be passionate and enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, that shows in your work.”

Most of all, Keiser emphasized students should have experience through internships and side projects as they enter the field.


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