BGSU computer science program’s strong reputation is bolstered by student and alumni success in ‘Big Tech’ and large regional companies
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Falcons regarded in the industry for their broad problem-solving skills and adaptability
By Laren Kowalczyk ‘07
Bowling Green State University alumnus Jeff Fenster ‘14 worked in software engineering at Microsoft for nearly a decade — a career he launched after a successful internship at the technology giant as an undergraduate — and joined Meta as a security engineer earlier this year.
Fenster is one of many BGSU alumni staking a claim in Big Tech, a nod to the strength of the University’s nationally-ranked computer science program and its reputation for producing highly qualified graduates prepared to solve technology’s biggest problems.
“One of the most important aspects in computer science is the ability to learn,” Fenster said. “There’s an infinite number of technologies released every year, and there’s no way to be an expert in all of them.
“There’s never a point in this industry when you stop learning. Everything comes back to the core principles and building upon them, which BGSU stresses throughout its program.”
Leading the way
BGSU has been a pioneer in computer science for more than five decades, leading the way as Ohio’s first public university with an undergraduate computer science program long before it became the in-demand field it is today. In U.S. News and World Report's 100 Best Jobs of 2023, four of the top 10 best jobs are computer science-related, with software developer at No. 1.
“The University had the foresight to see the potential societal impact of computer science, a decision that has contributed to the program’s rich history and tradition,” said Dr. JK Jake Lee, the David and Amy Fulton Professorship in Computer Science associate professor and chair of the department.
Since its founding in 1969, the computer science program at BGSU, ranked No. 8 among Ohio public universities, has drawn top faculty and students from around the world to become one of the nation’s most respected and sought-after programs.
A growing network of BGSU alumni works at some of the industry’s most recognizable companies, including Microsoft, IBM, Google, Amazon and Meta.
Hundreds more alumni have built successful careers at global companies headquartered regionally, such as Nationwide Insurance, Marathon Petroleum Corporation, Owens Corning, Ernst and Young and Progressive Insurance.
Michael Carrel, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Nationwide Financial, is among them. He's worked at Nationwide since graduating from BGSU in 1995 with a degree in computer science.
Carrel has served in numerous roles throughout his 28-year career and works alongside several BGSU alumni in executive technology roles at Nationwide, which he said points to the caliber of a BGSU education.
“The fact that BGSU graduates don’t just get jobs at Nationwide but have lasting careers highlights the University’s ability to equip students with the foundational knowledge needed to succeed in this industry,” he said.
BGSU student interns are similarly regarded for their high performance at Nationwide, which has contributed to the University serving as one of the institutions from which the company actively recruits.
“We look at performance ratings for interns across different universities, and BGSU continues to have one of the highest ratings,” Carrel said. “BGSU students are hard-working, committed to learning and adaptable to our environment.
“The job of a university is not to teach students every technology. Their role is to teach technology concepts. BGSU does an exceptional job of teaching students the concepts, and that’s why they can build careers."
Carrel is also a member of the BGSU Computer Science Advisory Board, a group of faculty, alumni and IT leaders who help evaluate curriculum, measure student outcomes, assist with program accreditation and provide input on emerging needs in the profession.
During a visit to campus in Spring 2023 to speak to a group of computer science students, Carrel noted how impressed he was with the "level of engagement and excitement from the students."
"The future is bright," he wrote on LinkedIn.
Driving student success
The Bachelor of Science in computer science was recently reaccredited by the Computing Accreditation Commission of ABET, the global standard for quality assurance for higher education programs in engineering and engineering technology, applied science and computing.
The Bachelor of Science in software engineering was accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET.
The ABET accreditation reviews program curricula, faculty, facilities, institutional support, advising, student outcomes and continuous improvement.
Lee attended the ABET symposium in April, during which the BGSU computer science program’s self-study report for reaccreditation was one of six reports displayed as an exemplary example.
“It’s just another example of how our computer science faculty are working hard to maintain our strong reputation while also improving student learning,” he said.
Lee said digital forensics, which provides students with the skills to gather digital evidence to trace attackers and cybersecurity attacks, is the most popular specialization. The number of students who select that specialization has tripled in recent years.
The relatively new specialization, computational data science, is also growing rapidly as advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning, including autonomous driving and ChatGPT are gaining attention.
Regardless of the specialization students choose, Lee said a computer science degree equips students with a broad range of skills that can be applied to numerous positions and industries.
Fenster can attest to that. When he began his career at Microsoft in 2014, he worked with Windows. But after a few years, he transitioned to the Xbox team to design security systems for the Xbox console and Xbox Live streaming service.
“I’m a really big Xbox fan, and I’ve always been an Xbox gamer,” Fenster said. “One of the cool things about Big Tech that’s not discussed is the flexibility within these companies to move to different projects. The fact that you can always find exciting projects and can help solve exciting problems is what keeps me in Big Tech.”
Fenster began his career as a security engineer at Meta in May.
Although computer science is highly lucrative and in demand, it has historically lacked diversity, which Lee said is detrimental to the field.
“The society we live in is diverse, and we need a diverse group of individuals in computer science to ensure multiple perspectives are being represented,” Lee said.
In 2021, the BGSU Computer Science Department was awarded $1.14 million in Choose Ohio First Scholarship funding from the state and Ohio Department of Higher Education.
The scholarship aims to recruit high-achieving and underrepresented students who intend to major in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Students receive scholarships and unique educational and advising experiences to enhance their academic and career success.
Kamryn Wurth received the scholarship as a computer science major, specializing in computational data science. Aside from the financial benefit, she said she values the additional guidance provided throughout the program, including participating in the Academic Investment in Math and Science (AIMS) program.
“Through AIMS, I’m surrounded by like-minded students in STEM-related fields, which is helpful,” Wurth said. “Dr. Lee does a great job advising us and checking in on class schedules, internships and career fairs. Having mentors who care about you and emphasize checking in with you as a Choose Ohio First Scholar has been really valuable.
“All of my computer science professors have been really helpful, and it’s obvious they care about their students and helping them succeed.”
Wurth served as president last year of the University’s chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery for Women, an organization advocating for women in computing. She was also a Code4Her mentor, teaching girls in fifth through eighth grade the basic principles of computer programming.
“I hope to inspire more women to join this field,” Wurth said. “There’s definitely a discrepancy in the male-to-female ratio, but I think encouraging more female students to pursue computer science will help bring new insights and perspectives into the field.”
Updated: 09/27/2023 11:27AM