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Prerequisite Courses Limited for Students’ Greater Success

Brigham Young University-Idaho strives to prepare students for their future careers. One way the Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering provides students with more educational options is by cutting back on prerequisite classes for introductory courses.

While the prerequisite initiative was originally designed with majors in mind, a change in direction led to more students from different disciplines taking computer science and electrical engineering classes.

Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering Chair Scott Burton explained that prior to the change, students of other majors found it difficult to take some of these classes and succeed. However, that has changed in recent years.

“There are things that we want our majors to get,” Burton explained, “but we push those into other places—later in the program—so that the introductory courses can be accessible to anybody of any major.”

Burton explained that no matter what major students decide on, chances are very high that they will have to interact with computers frequently in their careers. Having a greater knowledge of these technological tools and how they work would greatly benefit everyone. Thus, making the introductory courses more available to more students strengthened Burton's resolve to make introductory courses available to more students.

“This was really important to us, because we think there are a lot of students out there who could find great options in the computing space, either as majors, or as a minor, or through a certificate,” Burton said. “Everything now involves computers and technology, so we really wanted to open that up so that anybody on campus could come get some skills to complement whatever else they are going to do with their chosen major.”

The computer science department offers a certificate to any student who wishes to earn one. The certificate can be accomplished in just a few semesters after taking 13 credits of introductory courses. Burton explained that this certificate would be enough to help someone get an entry level position in computer programming. There are 3-4 classes required for the certificate, and they build on one another, but no previous knowledge of computer programming is required to enroll in the classes.

Aside from the certificate courses, Burton said other classes are also available to non-majors without any prerequisite experience, and they aren’t all just computer science classes. Burton said that is by design.

“There are so many disciplines that are related here, and it gives more people the opportunity to learn new skills,” Burton said. “Just a few years ago, somebody could have come over here and taken a class, and it really would have been geared towards our majors only, and it wouldn’t have been very helpful. But now I have no problem recommending these classes to everyone. People will say that they don’t have any experience with computers, but that’s exactly what these classes are for.”

This interdisciplinary cooperation is taking place all over campus. Like the computer science department, the physics department is also heavily involved in working with other disciplines to provide better experiences for students. They partner with other departments such as engineering, food science, animal science, chemistry and education.

Many of the physics classes are built on previous classes, so not as many courses are offered without prerequisite knowledge. However, anyone with a need or desire to learn physics can take introductory courses.

This, along with interdisciplinary cooperation, gives students many options for education in their chosen fields.

The result is a higher number of students graduating better prepared for the real world. The result of a focus on introductory courses has made a significant difference in the world of physics education.

Earlier this year, the Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) awarded BYU-Idaho the 5+ Club award. The PhysTEC article announcing this year’s award recipients stated that BYU-Idaho is in the top 1% of universities in the United States graduating more than five physics education majors each year. Brian Pyper, the head of the physics education program on campus, said that this has been the case for the last 20 years.

“Twenty years ago, we discovered, kind of by accident, that we were graduating enough physics majors to be put in the top 1% of all the physics education programs in the country,” Pyper said.

Pyper said he felt that the attribution for such great numbers should go to the Church. “The emphasis the Church puts on the value of learning and teaching from a very young age makes teaching honorable and noble,” Pyper said.

Upon further research, the physics department learned they graduate somewhere between one half and two thirds of the number of high school physics teachers that are needed just to replace people that retire each year.

Department of Physics Chair Todd Lines stated that the need for high school physics teachers is big, which makes what the department does even more important.

“All of our students get jobs in the field because the need is large,” Lines said.

Working with the education department, physics students are prepared to join the workforce of high school educators across the nation.

“I think it’s valuable to the greater community that we have teachers in the schools that understand science, but also understand faith,” Lines said. “It’s amazing to have people who are intentional members of the Church teaching science, and it’s not by accident. They are there teaching because they have faith and because they love science.”