Computer Science Department faculty stretched thin

Georgia State’s Computer Science Department has experienced a sharp increase in enrollment for the fall semester, but its faculty and resources are stretched too thinly.

According to Associate Chair and Director of the Computer Science Department Raj Sunderraman, his department has experienced rapid growth in its undergraduate computer science program.

“We’ve been struggling with this high enrollment,” Sunderraman said. “Ten years back we had 300 majors and right now we have 1,400 majors.

Lack of Faculty

This growth was attributed to the changes made in the many industries where computer science is now being applied, such as policy studies and civic services.

“Everybody, whether they’re tech related or not, needs [computer science] services, so it’s prevalent in society now,” Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies at the Computer Science Department Anu Bourgeois said.

As the Computer Science Department has blown up, faculty growth has mostly stagnated. From 2009 to 2015, the department’s faculty grew from 342 to 378, but over that six-year period, the undergraduate population grew from 415 to 1,227. Last year, the department’s faculty experienced a slight increase to 483 members, but the undergraduate population was 1,404 at that time.

The current undergraduate population sits at 1,496 majors. The graduate population has grown as well, but is more easily managed as the department decides who gets into the program. Still, Bourgeois said that there is a very large disparity in the amount of people currently staffed to serve the computer science major population.

“Right now our student to faculty ratio [is] at 50 or 55 students to one, whereas Georgia State likes to advertise their 20 or 21 students to one faculty,” Bourgeois said.

According to College Factual, Georgia State’s advertised 21-to-1 ratio overall is  ranked one of the worst, when compared to the national college average of 14-to-1. To cope with their faculty disparity, Bourgeois said that the department increased class sizes, which she said isn’t beneficial to the students.

“It hampers the learning in the classes, and we have a lot of PhD students teaching, which also is not the best choice,” Bourgeois said. “Some of them do a fantastic job, but students also get upset. We’ve had some students who’ve complained that they’ve gone three years without a faculty member ‘cause all they’ve had are grad students.’”

Lack of resources

Another issue the department has faced is the lack of computing labs. Georgia State only provides one lab that seats thirty students, so students don’t always have the resources to get hands-on experience in coding, data mining and cyber security.

“The students in computing need hands-on experience,” Sunderraman said. “They can learn the theory, but that doesn’t do them very much. If they have labs, students can meet weekly and work in a team with other students and solve problems, which are technology solution. That experiential learning is missing right now.”

However, student organizations like Panther Hackers and Georgia State’s Computer Science Club have been able to provide a measure of practical experience. Newly appointed President of the Georgia State Computer Science Club Dino Cajic said that the club is looking to increase its membership.

“We’re striving to increase the overall membership rate at the CS club to help students prepare for the working environment,” Cajic said. “Our goal is to also increase the overall enjoyment in obtaining a computer science degree. We’re planning on accomplishing both through extra-curricular projects that are designed to mimic real-world scenarios.”

Cajic said the club will be working on projects involving the club’s website, creating a desktop application that ties into the same database as the website and an Android application.  

The department has also held hackathons for the last two years to supplement the hands on assignments that the department’s funding and access to space can’t always supply. The department is often contacted by companies looking for full hires and interns.

“But right now we just don’t have the resources to make the established connections and to keep a regular pipeline set up with different companies,” Bourgeois said.             


However, Honeywell International Inc. offers a solution outside of Georgia State.

The engineering company brought their Software Center and Home and Building Technologies headquarters to Atlanta last fall and has been integrating itself into the Atlanta tech community and university system.

At the close of this year, more than 200 jobs will have been created at the center and over 700 employees are expected to be hired over the next five years. These jobs will focus primarily on software application development. Software developers and engineers have been working in temporary office spaces as the Honeywell offices are being built.     

Honeywell’s Vice President and General Manager of Connected Enterprises Stephen Gold said he hopes the center’s influence will bring many more job opportunities to the city of Atlanta.

“We are supporting and collaborating with Atlanta Tech Village. We very much want to engage and work with [students] in providing them access to deep domain and expertise as well as routes to market,” Gold said.

Honeywell has also started a venture fund to possibly invest in the startups created by students. Choosing Atlanta to set up the center has opened up opportunities for Honeywell to recruit top talent from the school system as well.

“We look at it as more than just recruitment,” Gold said. “We look at it as participation in terms of working on campus, influencing the curriculum, participating in in-class projects [and] potential for research and development efforts.”

Gold said Honeywell has collaborated with multiple universities, such as with Georgia Institute of Technology’s Center for the Development and Application of Internet of Things Technologies (CDAIT). Honeywell has also run “hackathons” on campuses to better acclimate students to the kind of work they would be doing as employees at the center.

However, for Georgia State, Gold said any program collaborations with the school are still on the drawing board.

“We’re still early in defining what the Georgia State program will be,” Gold said. “A lot of that will be directed by both the interest of students and faculty to engage.”

Still, Gold said that Georgia State students would benefit from the internships that the Software Center provides. The center has completed its first summer internship with 17 participants and will begin an internship and co-op/internship program in the fall and winter respectively.

“For the Georgia State students, it’s a great opportunity from a practical point of view to get real life experience [and] work on meaningful projects,” he said. “Having a role in providing support and resources to articulate what types of jobs will be available; what type of preparation, training, classes need to be offered to help prepare students to take on these type of jobs, all of those are in their early stages.”

At a glance

  • In 2016 the Computer Science Department received a total of $2 million dollars in research funding, but in 2017 it was reduced to $835,937.
  • The department is in need of tutoring space, labs, and faculty.
  • In 2016 the department had 150 undergraduate honors students, 78 Ph.D. students, and 99 Master’s students.
  • Honeywell International Honeywell invents and manufactures technologies that address critical challenges around energy, safety, security, productivity and global urbanization.