ADRIAN — A collaboration between Google and Adrian College is gaining steam to offer computer and data science courses to its undergraduate students.
Adrian College is one of only eight schools in the United States, and the only college in Michigan, collaborating with Google on courses aimed to increase undergraduate access to quality computer and data science education by leveraging new technologies and teaching techniques, according to a news release.
The applied computing series teaches computer and data science through hands-on, project-based coursework, designed to attract students who might not consider themselves destined for a technology career.
The courses use tools and techniques used at Google and in the overall tech industry, while also teaching nontech skills needed to be successful at work more generally, such as critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and the ability to communicate and network.
Scott Hill, assistant professor of physics, said the course offering came out last year after Adrian College President Jeff Docking spoke with a Google representative about computer science.
“Google was looking for computer science graduates with collaborative project experience,” Hill said.
Adrian College hadn’t had a computer science department “for some time,” Hill said. According to Hill, Docking suggested Google could support a foundation of computer science courses at small liberal arts colleges.
Hill said he was asked to teach the classes because of his experience in programming.
Hill said the first semester tried a class format that had the equivalent of two courses combined into one, challenging the students. For the second semester, Hill said, “we changed the format and made it an Introduction to Python class and it went very well.”
Python is a computer programming language used by Google.
The first semester in the spring had 20 students, and while the second semester only had five, the current semester has 16 enrolled, Hill said. The courses are guided by members of the Google engineering education team.
Google is also providing the materials, online textbooks and problems and ideas for the students, Hill said.
Hill said he is collaborating with other faculty around the country on the class and looks for the opportunity for students to collaborate with other students as well.
The goal of the courses is to teach students the fundamentals of computer and data science, and to give them real world experience in applying and practicing those concepts through creative work, college officials said.
According to the college, students participating in the program:
— Gain exposure to computer and data science and develop skills that can be applied to their own majors.
—Work with Google employees to learn about the tech industry’s working environments, challenges and nuances.
—Immerse themselves in a project-based curriculum to help reinforce the computer and data science principles they’re learning.
Adrian College Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs Andrea Milner said the college is “thrilled to be in this collaborative endeavor with Google.”
“We are excited and see this opportunity as availing our students to quality computer science education they otherwise wouldn’t have,” Milner said. “It will give them the chance to develop 21st century skills, critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration with other students, and developing the ability to communicate and network.”
Pilot programs often evolve into long-term offerings, Milner said, and Google is looking ahead to the summer to have colleges across the country to be hosts for summer institutes.
Adrian College student Nicole Czuhajewski said she was one of the 20 students who were in the pilot course with Google at the college.
“I was excited for the opportunity to join my classmates and try something completely different,” Czuhajewski said. “I am a business marketing major, so computer science was a new area to explore.
Czuhajewski said the class delved into learning about coding “and the importance of knowing how to manipulate data and actually understand what we were doing.”
“I learned some of the basics of Python coding along with how to collaborate with my peers,” Czuhajewski said. “The vast majority of us had no prior experience in coding or computer science. We had to find ways to work together to figure out solutions to our challenges.
During the semester, Czuhajewski and her peers had the opportunity to talk to Google employees and ask them questions.
“My dream job would be to work for Google, so getting the unique chance to speak to them directly was fantastic.” she said.
While Czuhajewski said she did not take the fall class due to having to take courses related to her major, the class structure changed a good amount to better fit the needs of the students and assist them better along the way.
Being a part of the Google pilot course was a challenge and a learning experience, Czuhajewski said, “but that is what makes it fun.”