UW computer science program eyes 2nd building to meet booming demand

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Concept art for the proposed new UW computer science building.

The Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Engineering, which opened a decade ago, houses the University of Washington’s nationally-recognized computer science program. The building is currently operating at full capacity and demand for admission into the school is growing rapidly. In fact, more than 900 students are taking Intro to Computer Programming this quarter alone — a new record.

The department could certainly use more space. Fortunately for them, as well as the hundreds of students who are turned away from the program every year, plans are in the works for a new facility across the street from the Paul Allen Center.

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The proposed area for the new computer science building at the University of Washington is just across the street from the Paul G. Allen Center. Photo via Google Maps.

The department is working with the university and an architectural firm to build the facility, which could potentially connect to the Paul Allen Center via an underground tunnel. The university has already requested $6 million from the Legislature to hire LMN Architects — the same firm that built the Allen Center — and develop plans for the new facility.

The Seattle Times, which reported on the story this morning, cites a potential $100 million price tag for the new building, but department officials say a final budget hasn’t been set.

“We need to grow our degree programs at all levels to meet the demand for computing education, both for our own majors and outside,” said Hank Levy, the department’s Wissner-Slivka Chair.

Before the CSE program moved into the six-story Allen Center in 2003, it was housed in Sieg Hall — an “old classroom not intended to support programs such as ours,” as Levy describes it. There were only two small lab spaces and one conference room available for use.

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The proposed area for a new computer science building at the University of Washington.

The move to the Allen Center helped turn the department into a leading computer science program. The new digs provided substantially more room for faculty and research projects, which has helped support projects involving education, healthcare technology, energy savings in the home, modern automobiles, big data, and a whole lot more. Some of that research has been used to churn out successful startups from the department, too.

However, the building did not provide space for classrooms, and as a result, all of the department’s courses are taught in other buildings. Classroom assignment is becoming more of a problem each year as CSE classes increase in size.

An additional building could do wonders for the program. Levy said that one goal of the new space would be to provide new classrooms for students “that make sense in the current world of teaching,” which would include the use of multiple technologies, dynamic interaction among students, flipped classrooms and project-based learning, among other forward-thinking learning strategies.

And it wouldn’t be used solely for software engineers majoring in computer science.

“Increasingly, some knowledge about computer science is a requirement for everyone in every field,” Levy said. “Our hope is to have a number of classrooms of different sizes to accommodate our program as well as those of others.”

Inside the Paul G. Allen Center at the University of Washington.

Inside the Paul G. Allen Center at the University of Washington.

Ed Lazowska, the department’s Bill & Melinda Gates Chair, notes that he and Levy are both now in their 60s and are thinking about the future of the department beyond their tenures there.

They have several thoughts on this point. Lazowska told us that for one, computer science and computational thinking are increasingly central to success in all disciplines. Two, computer science is becoming increasingly central to solving societal challenges.

“It’s a key part of what we do,” he said.

Finally, Lazowska said that “Washington’s kids must have the opportunity to become educated for Washington’s jobs.” It’s a topic he’s sounded off on before.

A new building would help fulfill all three of these notions.

“We need more space and more faculty to meet these needs,” Lazowska said.   

  • http://www.bluebox.net Jesse Proudman

    This would be a fantastic addition to the region. Glad to see the investment is being considered!