by ANNA GROSSNICKLE
UMW has partnered with the Virginia Tech College of Engineering for a program that gives students the opportunity to earn credits towards a master’s of engineering in computer science from Virginia Tech while they are still undergraduate students at UMW.
“This program allows the students to take courses at Mary Washington—special, very specific courses,” said Keith Mellinger, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “If they get certain grades in it as courses, then Virginia Tech actually counts them as part of their requirements for their Master’s program.”
Mellinger compared the program to taking Advanced Placement classes in high school.
“It’s the same kind of thing, with these partnership programs—we try to give you an opportunity to take the class at Mary Washington,” he said. “But then that class, for whatever reason, counts towards graduate school. But then we’re also counting that as an undergraduate class here as well. You’re sort of double dipping—that’s the idea.”
According to Betsy Lewis, assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the program is popular among the computer science majors at UMW.
“I have been really impressed with the number of students who have been interested in it and the quality of the students who have been interested in it,” said Lewis. “They are some of our best computer science majors and grads.”
The program is mainly directed at computer science majors, but students from other majors are eligible to apply. These credits can be earned in specific computer science courses, including CPSC 110, 220, 240 and 340.
“I do not plan on attending a grad program for computer science, but had I known about this opportunity I would’ve considered the option at greater lengths,” said Olivia Breda, a studio art major and computer science minor. “I’m a computer science minor and not a major so I don’t have the necessary credit requirement, but hearing about the program made me regret not being a major.”
According to the U.S. News and World Report graduate school rankings, Virginia Tech is ranked 38 in the country among computer science programs.
“It’s Virginia Tech. If you want to get a Master’s of engineering in computer science in the state of Virginia, that’s one of the best,” said Lewis. “So I think it’s a way for these students—they’ve gotten their small school, liberal arts school experience, and all the great things that Mary Washington has to offer to them; they’re undergraduate, and yet they can still have these credentials for their Master’s degree from a really well-known and recognized institution. It just seems like the best of both worlds.”
UMW and Virginia Tech are working together to make the application process easier and more accessible for the students.
“Students ideally apply to the program during their junior year, but often students don’t begin thinking about their next steps until their senior year,” said Karen Anewalt, chair of the computer science department at UMW. “This can reduce their ability to complete courses that will count toward the accelerated degree. We are currently working with Virginia Tech to address this challenge and to potentially increase the pathways through which UMW students can gain admission for graduate studies at Virginia Tech.”
Representatives from Virginia Tech have hosted various outreach events in order to get UMW students engaged and interested in the program. According to Anewalt, they host webinars each semester to provide information about the program. They also visit campus and host drop-in hours for students for a couple of days.
“The representatives see a steady stream of interested students during these dates and often visit eight to ten classes to publicize the program,” said Anewalt. “Virginia Tech enrollment specialists visit UMW multiple times per year to build relationships with faculty, speak to our courses, meet with students just beginning to explore graduate school options, guide students who are in the process of applying to the program, and check in with students who have already been accepted. This personal touch means a lot to our students.”
Though UMW has other partnerships with universities across the state, Mellinger said the UMW-Virginia Tech partnership is one of the most popular.
“The students love it,” said Mellinger. “It’s very popular. By contrast, we have partnership agreements with a law school. We have a partnership agreement with another engineering program. We have a partnership with a pharmacy school. And we get very little interest in those. Not a lot of students are interested in those things. But this one picked up right away.”
Despite the program being relatively new, there have already been UMW students who have gone on to begin their master’s degree at Virginia Tech because of this program.
“It is still a pretty new program,” said Lewis. “But I think that the students are already showing success at Tech, after they graduate. In fact, I’ve gotten some feedback from Virginia Tech about how well our students are doing.”