Thanks to UBC alumnus and Vancouver native Dr. David Cheriton, who has donated $7.5 million to the University of British Columbia, computational thinking could soon become like reading and writing – a skill all students can acquire.
Cheriton has donated $7 million to create a new chair in computer science and $535,800 to create a new first-year course in computational thinking.
Dr. Cheriton is a professor of computer science at Stanford University, a technology investor and business mentor. In 1998, he was a founding investor in the then startup company, Google.
“I have the deepest respect for David Cheriton, a scientist and philanthropist who supports the next generation of innovators,” says UBC President Arvind Gupta. “His generosity will bolster computer science research and help UBC lead in an exciting and rapidly changing field.”
The new David R. Cheriton Chair in Computer Science is the first endowed chair for the Department of Computer Science. It enables the department to hire a senior researcher in the field of computer systems, a field that presents new technical challenges regarding reliability, privacy and security on mobile devices and cloud computing services that host social network, e-commerce and on-line entertainment platforms.
The new first-year course in computational thinking will begin in September 2016 and will teach UBC students to solve problems using computer science techniques.
David Cheriton commented: “I am excited to invest again in UBC to expand the Department of Computer Science and help them meet demands at this time of rapid growth in this field. The new chair will hopefully extend the already recognized strength of the department; the new course should make computational thinking accessible to students outside of computer science, a thinking discipline I regard as key to a 21st century education.”
This is the second time Cheriton has invested in undergraduate education at UBC. In 2010 he donated $2 million to Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman’s Science Education Initiative.
Once considered the domain of nerds and geeks, as lionized in Triumph of the Nerds, computer science skills are widely applicable and are something students from all types of academic backgrounds, including arts, music and medicine, can aspire to attain.
“I am delighted that David Cheriton has provided this support – computational thinking will enrich the ways that UBC students can create, collaborate, learn, and understand our world,” says Anne Condon, head of the Department of Computer Science.
This gift forms part of UBC’s start an evolution campaign, the most ambitious fundraising and alumni engagement campaign in Canadian history.
Computational thinking at UBC
Computational thinking is a versatile and broadly applicable approach to problem solving and understanding our world that is rooted in concepts and techniques of computer science. It enables us to frame scientific questions in structured ways so that computers can help solve them, and to obtain models of our world from available data. For example, computational thinking can guide us in uncovering patterns in large data sets, such as genetic causes of cancer.
Condon explains that computational thinking is valuable for everyone, not just scientists. In economics, computational thinking has led to sophisticated on-line markets for trading goods that ensure better outcomes for both buyers and sellers than would be possible with traditional markets. Computational thinking can inspire creativity, novel ways of generating art and music, and new means for collaboration.
The course will initially be offered to Science students but will eventually be open to students from all disciplines.
David Cheriton graduated from UBC with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1973 and then went on to receive his Masters and PhD from the University of Waterloo. Cheriton also spent three years in the early days of his career as an assistant professor at UBC before moving to Stanford where he is a professor.
About start an evolution
UBC’s start an evolution campaign is the most ambitious fundraising and alumni engagement campaign in Canadian history with the twin goals of raising $1.5 billion and involving 55,000 alumni annually in the life of the university by 2015.