Hands-On Curriculum Boosts Applied Computer Science Program

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From landing a job at Amazon to preparing for summer internships with Moody’s and PTC, Dominican University of California’s Applied Computer Science (ACS) students and recent alumni are career-ready thanks to the program’s hands-on curriculum, in which students work with faculty on real-world coding projects from day one.

Students in the Barowsky School of Business are mentored by faculty with a wide breadth of software engineering experience in the tech industry. Career services, students clubs, and networking opportunities also are built into the program, with some students selecting to live on campus while attending classes online in order to take advantage of Dominican’s proximity to San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

Casey Spurgeon, director of career outcomes and talent partnerships, typically begins working with students toward the end of their first year.

“We take a holistic approach to partnering with students on their job search and future selves,” Casey says. “The program runs hand-in-hand with our courses to ensure that each student is prepared for the job market based on direct feedback from industry.”

Because ACS course tutorials are all vetted and aligned with industry standards, ACS students stand out while applying for jobs with a range of employers – from startup to established name brands.

Casey works with students who have opted in to job-seeking in order to help them develop a roadmap for success. Together, they take a deep dive look into resumes, LinkedIn profiles, and digital portfolios. As students start to apply for internships and jobs, they are encouraged to meet with Casey every two weeks to ensure maximum traction.

“We review their job search data, prepare for interviews, and run through how to negotiate a starting salary,” he says.

While he cannot guarantee that every student will be hired, Casey carefully matches candidates to jobs and hiring managers. The students are very much in the driver’s seat – aided by important insight from Casey.

“I present opportunities and they tell me if they are interested. I recommend everyone, but also give feedback if I professionally feel they are not ready yet.”

ACS students and recent alumni:

  • Zain Raza is a second-year student who is set to graduate this year. Currently working as a Teaching Assistant (TA) in the ACS program, he’s also served as a peer mentor for first-year students, as well as the leader of the program’s Technical Interview Club. He recently received an offer from PTC to join them as a software engineer.
  • Yin Chang is a second-year international student who has served as a TA and curriculum assistant for the program. Yin recently was offered an internship at Moody’s, the credit rating agency.
  • Dylan Player, a first-year student, is part of the Shopify Dev Degree program. Not only is he taking classes with Dominican’s ACS faculty, he’s also building an impressive resume working with development teams at e-commerce platform Shopify. Dominican is the only US partner for the Shopify Dev Degree program.
  • Abhishek Kulkarni graduated from the ACS program in the summer of 2021. Abhishek came to the United States to attend the program, and served as a TA while holding an internship with a Boston-based startup called Dispatch. At the end of 2021, Abhishek received an offer from Amazon.
  • Brooklyn Dippo is a first-year student who also is part of the Shopify Dev Degree program. Brooklyn joined the program as a second-degree student, after earning her initial bachelor’s degree in communication from the University of San Diego. Brooklyn also has worked as an education policy analyst and a college counselor before focusing on computer software engineering. She participated in the Google CSSI program, geared toward high-achieving computer science students and currently is part of the ACS student council.

Since the ACS program was absorbed by Dominican in fall 2021, faculty in the University’s Barowsky School of Business (BSB) have fine-tuned the career-friendly program. Indeed, the program showcases the inherent advantages of a small school education.

Introductory work covers the fundamentals of programming, writing pseudocode and drawing flowchart diagrams. Students then advance their technical skills – learning SQL database structure, data modeling, authentication & authorization, class-based forms, and automated testing. They study data structures and algorithms to see how arrays, linked lists, and hash tables work and then build structures from scratch, analyze complexity, and benchmark performance in an application to gain an understanding of real-world tradeoffs.

Integrated into the curriculum are intensive courses in which immersive experiences give students time to apply their skills to building original products and practice software engineering skills. The recent winter intensive, for example, was a week of coding with daily check-ins and feedback from instructors focused on UI/UX and delivering a high-quality product to be included in the student portfolio. Students also learn and implement sales strategies by performing contracting work with clients, creating projects according to specification, gaining experience finding contracting work, and ensuring client satisfaction.

First-year student Dylan Player says this is exactly the experience he was hoping for when moving from Alabama to study at Dominican.

“I really never considered any other programs,” Dylan says. “ACS at Dominican is completely different from all other college programs. Dominican is teaching skills that are needed right now in industry.”

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