Currently, Microsoft employs 119 Whitman College alumni. In the near future, that number may expand - at Microsoft and other technology companies - thanks to a new emphasis on computer science and the establishment of Whitman's first Microsoft Chair of Computer Science. The Chair is made possible by major funding from Microsoft and other sources.
"This is an opportunity to support Whitman College as it responds to the needs of its students and the needs of our economy," said Microsoft Executive Vice President and General Counsel Brad Smith. "Computer science drives innovations that touch every aspect of our daily lives - business, government, education, healthcare and the arts. Students at colleges throughout the state should have the opportunity to discover the exciting opportunities that it can create for their futures."
Whitman College is already a top choice for high school graduates in the Pacific Northwest and many college graduates have the desire to join businesses developing and employing advanced technology. Increasing the computational and reasoning skills of Whitman graduates will expand the pool of exceptional Northwest candidates competing for jobs that demand strong analytic, deliberation and communication abilities.
George Bridges, president of Whitman College, notes that computer science courses have been offered at Whitman since the 1970s. However, the gift from Microsoft - part of a larger $150 million campaign Whitman launched, in part, to broaden and deepen the college's curriculum - allows for greater emphasis and offerings in the field.
"Microsoft's generous gift coupled with others will establish a robust curriculum in computer science at Whitman," Bridges remarked. "This program of study will produce a generation of computer scientists who combine advanced algorithmic thinking and knowledge of computing with the creativity and analytical and communication abilities that ensue from a rigorous education in the liberal arts and sciences."
Jenn Watt '03 is one recent graduate who works for Microsoft in the Human Resources Department. She sees a more robust computer science program as a huge benefit for Whitman students.
"I think the major thing that sets Whitman students apart is that they have learned how to think and effectively communicate so, regardless of what job function someone wishes to pursue, they are equipped to ask meaningful questions, dive into complex thinking and problem solving, and work with people different from them to accomplish great things," Watt said. "Adding that strong computer science background to those skills will make them even more marketable to companies like Microsoft."
Watt's advice would be for all students - not just those focused on a technical career - to take at least one computer science course.
The search to fill the first position dedicated to computer science is underway and students and parents can expect to see expanded course offerings over the next three years beginning in the fall of 2015.