“The most basic thing we teach is problem solving. And that’s the cornerstone of a liberal arts education.”
What on earth do medical imaging and shipbuilding have in common?
Both industries have benefited from contributions made by computer science professor Tylene Garrett.
While a graduate student at the University of Kentucky, Garrett developed an algorithm used in original color Doppler medical imaging. The imaging offered a non-invasive technique for measuring blood flow through the heart. At the time, medical technologists were getting a lot of false readings related to problems with mitral valve function, and Garrett’s contributions helped resolve that problem.
Garrett also developed software used in the shipbuilding industry to maintain the integrity of the design of commercial ship hulls. And she continues to work with students to develop compression algorithms, such as those used to compress sound and video data for efficient data streaming.
It’s notable that Garrett has experience solving real-world problems, because she sees that as one of the benefits of earning a computer science degree at Transylvania.
With the small class size, students get a lot of personal attention. They can try new things in a relatively safe environment. As Garrett explains, “They’re able to test their wings here at Transylvania while they still have that safety net. We try to give them some real world experiences before they’re in the real world.”
When they’re ready, there are ample opportunities for students to tackle real-world problems. Area businesses such as IBM, Lexmark, and ArchVision generate a big demand for Transylvania interns. “We always have more opportunities than we have students to fill the positions.”
The students' problem-solving skills are reinforced by Transylvania’s liberal arts curriculum. Many classes promote an interdisciplinary approach, which ensures that students see things from a variety of perspectives, not just a technical perspective. “Computer science permeates every aspect of our society nowadays," says Garrett. "Knowing how everything fits together helps our students.”
Transylvania’s computer science program is also nimble enough to “offer cutting edge stuff while it’s still cutting edge.” Although the course content largely focuses on fundamentals, the faculty have the freedom to respond to industry changes and develop special topics courses quickly, without requiring approval from an unwieldy administrative hierarchy. For example, Garrett was able to offer an iPhone programming class soon after iPhones hit the market.
Each year Garrett hosts a picnic at her Shelby County farm for current computer science students as well as former students and their families. She stays in touch with graduates all over the U.S. While several work at large corporations like Microsoft or Intel, others have found slightly less conventional applications for their computer science skills.
“Some amaze me with the things they have found to do with computer science that have absolutely nothing to do with programming.”