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Department of Computer Science

Computer Science Courses for Non-Majors

The Department of Computer Science offers a wide array of courses for majors. But computer science systems affect all of us every day. Therefore, the CS department also offers a number of courses meant for non-majors, ranging from “Cyber for Future Policymakers,” an exploration of cyber technologies that policymakers need to understand, to “Computing for Developing Regions,” a study of technologies that can be used in the context of marginalized communities, to “Privacy in the Digital Age,” a course examining privacy in our brave new digitized world. Take a look! These courses may be of interest regardless of your major.

EN 0001-01: Introduction to Computational Design
With the availability of increased computing power, many engineering disciplines now rely on utilizing computation to explore different design options. We will learn how that is done: how to model a problem with math and how to use computers to optimize a product using that model. We’ll optimize all sorts of products from different disciplines. We will learn to program in MATLAB, and then use it to learn fundamental concepts such as a solution space, design-decision variables, constraints, optimal points within the design space and searching a design space using efficient algorithms.

EN 0001-04: Simple Robotics
This introduction to an engineering course applies programming (in Python) to the field of robotics, exploring engineering design and using code to read sensors, make decisions, and control robots. Students will learn to design and build their own mechanical solutions (using the LEGO Education Robotics platform, so accessible to anyone), and then develop their own algorithms and control solutions for using simple code to solve open-ended challenges. From simple drawing robots to more interactive exhibits, this course introduces the field of CS and the role of programming in automation and control. Acceptable for students with no prior coding experience, but still fun even to those who've programmed before; come learn how coding can be used to manipulate the world around you!

ES 0002: Introduction to Computing for Engineering
All fields of engineering are becoming more reliant on computation, as disciplines develop the ability to quickly collect lots of real-world data and rely on accurate and efficient processing to make engineering design decisions. This introductory course starts with the basics of programming, learning the basic coding concepts, and then builds to have students plan and implement both small and medium-scale projects in various fields of engineering. With a focus on data science (the acquisition, processing, and visualization of data), students develop confidence and skills for modeling physical systems in code and applying computation to engineering design.

COMP 10: Computer Science for All
Computers are indispensable tools for research. This holds not only for more technical fields such as physics or chemistry but also for humanities and the social sciences. While most students are competent users of standard software such as word processing or spreadsheets, the real power of the computer is unleashed when we are able to program it ourselves and make it do exactly what we want it to do.

This course is aimed at people who want to learn how to use computer science to solve basic information processing problems, such as analyzing text data and performing elementary statistics on them. It will cover elementary principles of computer science and will teach the student to independently write their own programs in the computer language Python.

COMP 11: Introduction to Computer Science
The study of computer science centers on two complementary aspects of the discipline. First, computer science is fundamentally concerned with the problem-solving methodologies it derives from its foundational fields: the design principles of engineering, mathematical theory, and scientific empirical study. Second, these methodologies are applied in the complex context of a modern day computing system. In this course we will address both of these important aspects. As a means for developing your design skills, we will discuss the fundamental features of a high level, general purpose programming language -- namely C++ -- and learn how to use it as a tool for problem solving. We will also consider the performance of solutions, and how to apply both analytical and empirical assessment techniques. Finally, we will explore the Unix operating system as a context for problem solving.

COMP 14: Emerging Scholars Program (ESP)
ESP is a semester-long program with weekly hour-long workshops. The goal of the program is to encourage more students to pursue Computer Science beyond the introductory level and into the major by creating a program that encourages active participation and discussion of Computer Science related topics in a positive, relaxed, and open environment. In each workshop, a peer leader presents a set of problems from a specific Computer Science field, and the students work as a group to come up with algorithmic solutions and/or analyses of the problems. There is no programming and there are no homework assignments, just the self-contained workshops that demonstrate that Computer Science is a collaborative activity that is focused more on problem solving than on programming. Since there is no work outside of class, attendance at all sessions is mandatory and participation is required from every student. Students should be enrolled concurrently in either COMP 10 or COMP 11. Please see: for specific details.

COMP 12: Cyber for Future Policymakers 
Policymakers face decisions involving new technologies all the time—but they often have no idea what these technologies do and how they work. This course covers those technologies that policymakers use every day—and the ones on the near horizon—including: internet architecture and basic networking, the Web, cloud architectures, cryptography, security and privacy, AI and machine learning, and open-source systems. Developing technologies, including quantum computing and post-quantum cryptography. Learn how they work and learn how to explain them in simple terms. The course includes a focus on communicating with policymakers (e.g., writing policy briefs). All that’s needed is a programming course equivalent to COMP 10 or COMP 11.

COMP 13: How Systems Work
How modern computing systems work, their power and their limits: How do apps represent information? What can a physical computer actually do (and not do), and how can a single device show web pages, play games, edit documents, track your calendar, etc., etc.? How do computer networks allow us to transfer information from place to place? Learn how systems work and be able to amaze your friends, your boss, and even a Congressional staffer as you explain how networks and IP communications actually happen. All that’s needed is a programming course equivalent to COMP 10 or COMP 11.

COMP 27: How Systems Fail
Most of our courses in Computer Science are about making things work: writing good code, choosing efficient algorithms, and generally understanding how systems work. Not this course! This course is about breaking things. Why is that interesting? Aside from being fun (who doesn’t like to break things?), looking at how systems fail tells us a lot about how they work. We will look at the way in which failures manifest themselves and the resulting consequences, in particular with respect to cybersecurity. Failures also tell us a lot about the human processes behind systems design and implementation, and how those processes can fail. The course is designed for students with a basic technical background; no significant programming experience is necessary.

COMP 150: Ethical Issues in Computer Science
Most of the topics covered in the course are things of relevance to any user of technology, or anyone living in a society in which computing plays a key part—things like the use of algorithms to make hiring or criminal decisions, facial recognition systems and policing, and data-driven medical treatments.  Most of the salient features of these and other topics can be understood without deep technical expertise in how the systems are built, since many of the most pressing questions revolve around how they are put to use. Non-majors are welcome, as anyone willing to discuss and write about ethical and social issues will be a valuable contributor.

COMP 151: Computing for Developing Regions
This course is for anyone who has interest in seeing an example of CS + X -- specifically, how technology can be used in the context of developing regions. This is an interdisciplinary, applied course, with an emphasis on understanding and solving problems that are specific to developing regions. A wide range of case studies will expose students to a range of problems -- from healthcare to gender issues -- and how different tools from computer science can be applied to potentially solve them.

COMP 182: Cyber in the Civilian Sector
This class is a survey of non-military cyber policy issues including Internet shut-downs, online censorship, content moderation on social media platforms, online hate speech, data breach notification laws and class action lawsuits, cryptocurrencies, and cybercrime. The course requires no technical background beyond a willingness to learn a little about Internet architecture and software compromises and covers policy initiatives with an international perspective including case studies in the United States, European Union, Australia, Russia, China, Brazil, and India, among others.

COMP 183: Privacy in the Digital Age
This course looks at issues of online privacy, including communications interception, encryption, online advertising, biometrics and facial recognition, and location tracking. No prior technical background is required, though the course will provide some background in encryption and network architecture to help students understand the mechanics of online surveillance and security efforts.

COMP 184: Cyberlaw and Cyberpolicy
Wiretapping, copyright, and espionage haven’t been the same since the Internet came into play—and law has been having a hard time keeping up with the changes that the new technology has wrought. This course is an introduction to the complex legal issues of cyberspace. Learn how the Digital Revolution impacts the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment law, the failure and solutions of copyright in the Digital Age, about the failures and limitations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and the Law of Armed Conflict. The course will mostly focus on U.S. law and jurisprudence, but will cover issues from an international perspective. Plan to write, think, and argue!