Two New Computer Science Programs Aim to Reduce Barriers

The Gateway to Computer Science graduate certificate and an M.S. in Applied Computer Science are designed for individuals who have no prior programming experience.

March 31, 2021

Computer code on a laptop screen.

By Kristen Mitchell

The George Washington University School of Engineering and Applied Science is launching two new programs this fall aimed at eliminating academic barriers for students interested in computer science. 

A new graduate certificate, The Gateway to Computer Science, is designed for individuals with no background in the field. Through four courses, students will be trained in basic programming and software development skills that will help them write code to work with data, solve computational problems, build websites, and perform other critical functions. The second new program, a 10-course M.S. in Applied Computer Science builds on the graduate certificate, providing a seamless path for students who want to deepen their knowledge and seek career paths in the tech industry.

Similar post-bachelor's degree programs designed to bring more diverse students into the field have started to gain traction over the past few years, including a program at Northeastern University that last year attracted more than 1,000 students from 120 different undergraduate majors. GW is the first university in the Washington, D.C., area to offer this type of program.

“Computer science has rapidly become a critical component of almost every aspect of our lives, and leaders in government and industry tell me that they cannot hire computer scientists quickly enough to fill their organizations’ needs,” said SEAS Dean John Lach. “So in addition to graduating computer scientists through our existing degree programs, we are opening up the field to those from other educational and professional backgrounds, giving them valuable skills and knowledge that will lead to tremendous career opportunities.”

SEAS is hosting a virtual information session on April 8 for individuals interested in learning more about these programs. Applications are open now, and the Gateway program is available to current GW students.

Rahul Simha, a professor in the Department of Computer Science who has been leading the development of these new programs, believes the Gateway program fills a void in the existing landscape of computer science education. 

“The pathway toward a degree, bachelor’s and then later in advanced degrees, calls for a lot of preparation,” he said. “It's difficult for someone to come in from outside wanting to switch into computer science. What we have done is develop an alternative pathway.”

The program is designed to be accessible for students who had a change of heart after receiving their undergraduate degrees in another discipline, or are excited about the growing career opportunities in the computing field, Dr. Simha said. It’s also for those who want to use computer science skills to complement and build on their work within their current discipline, such as the history major or political scientist who wants to be able to process and analyze digitized information, for example. 

The programs will be taught online, but students will have access to on-campus resources including computing labs, meetings with faculty and teaching assistants, and peer networking opportunities. Students will have the option to take courses asynchronously to ensure accessibility and flexibility for working professionals, Dr. Simha said. 

One goal of the program is to demystify the field of computer science, which can often seem intimidating. Broken down into small steps, anyone can learn programming, Dr. Simha said. 

“This is like learning a musical instrument or a foreign language,” he said. "It takes time, and people have to have patience. But anyone can do it, and we are here to help them achieve their goals."