March 4, 2024

Purdue’s storied and rigorous computer science program delivers in equipping the next generation of industry, academic leaders

About this series: This story is part of an ongoing Purdue Today series highlighting programs ranked in the Top 10 or Top 10th percentile among our peers nationally, demonstrating the university’s persistent pursuit of excellence, innovation and transformative learning.

Ronak Thakker knew the classwork and projects for his bachelor’s degree in computer science would be extremely challenging. But the New Jersey native also understood the value of a degree from one of the nation’s best and most storied computer science programs and how that would translate into a promising career post-graduation.

“Purdue’s computer science program, although rigorous, requires students to understand the deeper meaning behind everything,” says Thakker, who will graduate in May with a double major in data science and statistics. “My CS 37300 class, Data Mining and Machine Learning, required students to learn about specific machine learning algorithms and the math behind it. When doing coding interviews for specific companies, they had me explain these algorithms, and I was able to go much more in depth than they expected.”

That’s music to the ears of Purdue students and faculty — and industry leaders in computer science and related technology and engineering fields who are looking to tap the depth and breadth of that Boilermaker talent.

With a rich history as the first in the nation to offer an advanced computer science degree, this Purdue program plays a crucial role in shaping a rapidly evolving field. At No. 18 overall, Purdue’s computer science program for undergraduates ranks among the top 10% of 554 programs in a survey released by U.S. News & World Report in September.

“Our undergraduate program has soared to new heights, cementing its place among the top computer science programs in the country,” says Chris Clifton, interim head and professor of computer science at Purdue. “It’s a testament to the dedication and brilliance of our faculty, the hard work and passion of our students, and the cutting-edge research that takes place within our department.”.

Purdue’s graduate computer science program also is among the nation’s top 10% at No. 20 among 208 programs surveyed by U.S. News & World Report in spring 2023.

“These rankings not only reflect our commitment to academic excellence in the Department of Computer Science but also our role as a driving force in shaping the future of computing,” Clifton adds. “We’re not just educating students, we’re shaping innovators and leaders who will lead the field. As computer science is bolstered by Purdue Computes, it’s an exciting time to be a part of our program, as many possibilities and achievements lie ahead.”

Additional Information

Founded in Purdue’s College of Science in 1962, the Department of Computer Science was launched to be an innovative base of knowledge in the emerging field of computing as the first degree-awarding program in the United States. The department’s focus on advancing the computer science industry through research also sets it apart from those at many of Purdue’s peer institutions.

Graduates of the program are able to solve complex and challenging problems in many fields. Its consistent success in an everchanging landscape is reflected in the record undergraduate enrollment, increased faculty hiring, innovative research projects and the creation of new academic programs.

And the increasing centrality of computer science in academic disciplines and society along with new research activities — centered around artificial intelligence, data science, robotics, theoretical computer science, machine learning and cybersecurity — provide the pillars of focus for the department’s future.

Recent CS graduate Frances O’Leary, now a flight software engineer at SpaceX on the Dragon capsule in California, was impressed by the Purdue program’s focus beyond programming or mathematics. A student responder for her commencement ceremony in spring 2023, O’Leary earned bachelor’s degrees in computer science honors and math.

pt-cs-top10-3-800x533 Beatrice Bevilacqua, a PhD student in Purdue’s Department of Computer Science, and computer science undergraduates Genna Yavaraski and Elliott Bode discuss ideas while walking through the Lawson Computer Science Building. (Purdue University photo/Brian Powell) Download image

“It’s really a major in creative problem-solving. At its core, CS is just figuring out a way to solve a problem given a wide range of constraints and requirements. It applies to all fields and way more than just traditional tech,” O’Leary says. “With a CS degree you can help launch rockets to space, figure out how to get people the best medical care given what is available, and reduce carbon emissions.”

Jeffrey Turkstra, an associate professor of practice, has been part of Purdue’s community for 23 years — as a student and alumnus, staff member and now faculty member. The culture and learning environment of the CS program epitomizes what Purdue is all about — “a place to find anything that you seek, while becoming a part of the whole from which we originated,” he says.

“Purdue Computer Science, like Purdue itself, is a place of refuge and exploration for everyone willing to dedicate time and effort to their intellectual growth,” Turkstra says. “From the quiet introvert to the boisterous extrovert, Purdue Computer Science has for 60 years been a place for people to whip their brains into top shape, discover their capabilities and limitations, and continue that lifelong journey of growing into — and becoming — what they were always meant to be.”

Momentum is surging for Purdue Computer Science. Among its recent milestones: celebrating its 60th anniversary as the nation’s first degree-granting computer science department; launching its newest undergraduate major in artificial intelligence; and acting as a powerful catalyst for innovation, enriching a multitude of sectors in society.

Purdue plans to add 50 faculty members to its computer science and computer engineering departments over the next five years, plus another 50 new faculty with expertise in AI, robotics and manufacturing to support the Institute of Physical AI (IPAI), which was launched last fall.

Additionally, the field of computer science is a key component of Purdue Computes, which was identified last year by Purdue as a top strategic initiative and a beneficiary of the historic and transformational $100 million gift from Lilly Endowment Inc. announced in January. Purdue Computes is a bold initiative that focuses on computing departments, physical AI, semiconductors and quantum science and engineering. It will use the Lilly Endowment funds to continue its mission to connect faculty and students from across the university and further advance to the forefront of these sectors and their diverse applications.

Chandler Yang, a data science major in the Purdue’s computer science program, remembers feeling anxious when she first came to campus because everything was new. But her choice was confirmed when she experienced the strong sense of community in the Computer Science Undergraduate Student Board mentoring program.

“My favorite accomplishment at Purdue CS is being a part of the mentorship program with the Computer Science Undergraduate Student Board,” Yang says. “I am able to help freshman students become acclimated to their college experience and set an example for them. Having the opportunity to ease those feelings for computer science, data science and artificial intelligence majors is truly one of the most impactful moments for me.”

Writer: Phillip Fiorini,

Contributing: Emily Kinsell,

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