Pioneer in computer science education
(1950s to 1990s)
Faculty in the Department of Computer Science & Engineering played a central role in bringing computers to the university in the late 1950s, making computing available to researchers and students and developing some of the first regular courses in computer programming in the mid-1960s. Our computer science faculty formed a separate department in 1974, making it one of the first independent computer science departments in the world. Later, it became one the first departments with a nationally accredited undergraduate degree program in computer science. The department was among the first to introduce software engineering classes in its curriculum and to teach students how to design VLSI circuits and systems. More recently, we took the lead in introducing object-oriented design in our freshman-level courses, using Java as the primary instructional vehicle, and we are teaching upper level students to recognize and use design patterns to enable them to design large software systems productively and reliably. The department has long recognized the need for excellent computing facilities to support computing education and has a history of initiatives in the development of instructional computing infrastructure, including one of the first PC labs dedicated to teaching and a variety of innovative educational software packages.
In addition to teaching undergraduate and graduate students, the department has been a resource to local government agencies and companies seeking to train their employees to meet the challenges posed by the rapid advance of computing technology. Such an effort was a key component in the U.S. Defense Mapping Agency's transition from largely manual map-making processes to fully automated digital mapping techniques. Similarly, aerospace leader, McDonnell Douglas (now part of Boeing) turned to Washington University to help train its employees in software engineering and in the application of artificial intelligence.