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CS & Linguistics brings diversity of gender, race, and skill to the technology workplace

8/29/2016  8:00 am

This fall, 46 percent of the 190 incoming freshman computer science students in the U of I’s College of Engineering are women—well above the 18 percent of women majoring in CS nationwide. Last year, only 24 percent of the incoming CS class were women, and in 2012, only 6 percent. 

This is good news for the Department of Linguistics, one of four departments on campus that participates in the “CS+X” programs, which combine computer science with other disciplines.

The Computer Science + Linguistics joint major program at the U of I started accepting applications in the fall of 2014. The program brings together students and faculty interested in different aspects of the computer-natural language relationship. Students are exposed to the tools of both disciplines—formal methods, philosophical analysis, computer programming, and empirical research—with the aim of acquiring the appropriate skills required by the field.

The increase in the enrollment of women also comes at a time when tech companies are increasingly seeking diversity in the workplace. "Students see how important and pervasive computing is and how it could change their lives," said Leonard Pitt, associate head of the computer science department at U of I. "Being aware that they could create things...has made it much more real, rather than an abstract field."

“Computer science and Linguistics is one of the most popular ‘CS and X’ joint majors due to the perfect marriage between the two fields,” says Roxana Girju, the Director and the Linguistics Advisor of the new joint major. “Currently, the industry is very much interested in a more balanced gender and racial diversity, as well as in a broad set of knowledge, skills, work habits, and character traits. And we believe that our computer science and linguistics program is well positioned to deliver at this level.”

Rashad Russell, the first student to graduate from the CS+Linguistics program in Spring 2016, is now working as software engineer at Evenbrite, the world's largest self-service ticketing platform. Few years back, Rashad discovered computational linguistics/natural language processing (NLP) during a summer internship and decided to join the CS + Linguistics program in his junior year. “I think CS & Linguistics is a great program for UIUC because of the rise of Machine Learning & NLP in industry," he said. "I realized that after interning last summer at Quid, predictive analytics and NLP company, in San Francisco and went to a few NLP meetups."

For more about the CS + X Degree Programs: