The Department of Computer Science announced revised concentration requirements to students within the department at a meeting Oct. 23. The new requirements, which are not yet finalized, strive to better prepare students for 1000-level courses. Currently enrolled students planning to concentrate in CS can choose to either continue following the existing requirements or switch to the new ones.
Going forward, students will be required to take a course in math concepts for CS, three intermediate courses in algorithms and theory, systems and artificial intelligence/machine learning, according to a summary of the proposal sent to CS students.
“As our population has gotten more heterogeneous in their background and interests, some of the pacing in the early courses was going too fast,” Professor of Computer Science (Research) Kathi Fisler said. “Many students were getting to the 1000-level classes not having sufficient command over material that everybody hoped they would learn earlier.”
The department is also looking to revise the requirement of pathways and capstone courses for both Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science students, Fisler said.
According to the CS department’s website, pathways are groupings of “core courses, graduated courses, related courses and intermediate courses” based on topic areas. Currently, AB students must complete one pathway while ScB candidates must complete two. Under the new requirements, pathways would no longer be mandatory for concentrators.
In a Sunday email sent to the CS undergraduate listserv, the department announced that capstones for Bachelor of Science students “are almost certainly going to remain” and may become a requirement for Bachelor of Arts students as well. “We are still in discussion with the college about this,” the department wrote in its proposal summary.
According to Fisler, the overhaul was motivated by a department-wide reevaluation last year. The new requirements are intended to address the “enrollment explosion” that has taken place in CS in the last decade, she said.
Under the current model, first-semester CS students have the option to take introductory classes that teach computing foundations and common paradigms in computer science, according to the department’s website. All introductory classes but CSCI0190: “Accelerated Introduction to Computer Science” must be followed by CSCI0200: “Program Design with Data Structures and Algorithms.”
Beyond CSCI0200 or CSCI0190 and the 1000-level courses, students can take a number of intermediate, “sophomore-level” courses to fulfill pathway requirements and prerequisites for 1000-level courses, Fisler said.
But because the concentration lacks explicit intermediate course requirements, Fisler said professors who teach 1000-level courses often noted that their students had varying levels of experience. This made it difficult to structure a curriculum without repeating material some students may have already been exposed to. Professors often look to CSCI0200 as the content baseline between students, she added.
“We realized the current 1000-level requirements were probably causing more headaches than they were worth,” Fisler said. “At the sophomore level, we thought there was a little more that everybody should see before they got into the 1000s.”
The four proposed intermediate requirements, each of which can be fulfilled through existing courses until new single courses are in place, will hopefully remedy this, Fisler explained. The department has also introduced a new course in algorithms and theory. CSCI 0500: “Data Structures, Algorithms, and Intractability: An Introduction,” taught by Professor of Computer Science Philip Klein, will be offered this spring.
In developing the new requirements, the department’s faculty looked to programs at 12 peer institutions, including Harvey Mudd College, Stanford University and the University of California at San Diego, Fisler said.
Though none of these universities have a requirement in artificial intelligence and machine learning, Fisler added that the University’s CS department decided that it was a vital field that students should be exposed to.
“One of the department's curriculum-wide learning goals for students is in socially responsible computing, and many of the current concerns around this topic are in AI/ML/data,” Assistant Professor of Computer Science James Tompkin wrote in an email to The Herald. “Having all students take a core course in this topic will let us introduce and frame the social impact of AI technologies earlier.”
Aidan Hennessey ’25, who is considering a joint Math-CS concentration, said he hopes that the revised curriculum might benefit students navigating the difficulties of a joint concentration. In particular, Hennessey expressed interest in how the department would address overlapping material between the CS math requirements and math concentration requirements.
According to Fisler, specific requirements for Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science and joint concentrations are still being discussed, though the department aims to standardize them by pre-registration for the fall 2024 semester.
Heon Lee ’26, a CS concentrator, said that he initially wondered why the curriculum needed changing at all. But upon reviewing the proposed changes, the department’s decisions “made sense.”
“I feel they're approaching this in response to how the field is changing,” Lee said. “AI/ML is becoming more important for everyone. I understand where they’re coming from.” Lee added that he was considering switching to the new requirements.
Many peer institutions have decided to increase the rigidity of their requirements and cap their CS majors to deal with the influx of students, but those decisions do not reflect Brown’s approach to education or the philosophy of the open curriculum, Fisler said.
“It’s still Brown in ethos,” Tompkin wrote. “There’s still significant choice in the intro sequence, and students have more flexibility in their electives” than under the current model.
Fisler said she hopes both faculty and students find the requirements easier to navigate while building a stronger foundation and maintaining flexibility.
“You want to study computer science? We are going to figure out how to fit you in,” she said.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated details about the new requirements. The Herald regrets the error.
Anisha Kumar is a section editor covering University Hall. She is a sophomore from Menlo Park, California concentrating in English and Political Science who loves speed-crosswording and rewatching sitcoms.