Curricular goals

The following objectives guide St. Olaf’s Computer Science (CS) curriculum:

  1. The CS major meets recent curricular recommendations of the Computer Science professional societies.
  2. The courses and activities include interdisciplinary undergraduate research projects, undertaken in teams. Senior majors participate in such projects as part of the capstone course. Other interdisciplinary team research projects appear in other courses, in undergraduate research experiences, and in independent projects.
  3. The major integrates ethical and social impact analysis in a distinctive way. Although the professional societies recommend study of ethical and social issues, relatively few major programs actually do so, even at liberal arts colleges. Led by our local expert, Prof. Chuck Huff, we offer an innovative approach that involves an ongoing discussion of ethics throughout the curriculum, a course on ethical and social analysis that examines actual cases, and structured ethical/social impact analysis of projects. This emphasis on ethical and social issues is consistent with St. Olaf’s mission.
  4. St. Olaf’s CS curriculum builds on breadth-first introductory courses. The first course, which has no prerequisites, surveys the discipline, focusing on problem solving, the theory/abstraction/design processes of Computer Science, and fundamental principles that unify disparate aspects of computing. The three second-level courses explore these matters further in hardware, software, and the mathematical foundations of computing, respectively. Thus, a liberal arts student can sample one or a few courses and emerge with a sense of CS as an intellectual endeavor.
  5. The curriculum emphasizes written and oral communication skills at all levels, building on and drawing from the skills students develop in other courses.


These goals support and depend on each other. For example, surveying disciplinary processes and principles early enables students to identify them in all subsequent Computer Science courses, and to reflect on them in the senior capstone experience. The emphasis on projects engages students and motivates interest both in the disciplinary course sequence and in ethical and social issues. The projects, for which software development plans must be expressed clearly and edited repeatedly, promote written and oral communication skills, as do the team-generated ethical and social impact statements.

For more information about St. Olaf’s CS curriculum, see the following.