Thursday Extra: Rethinking Mathematics in CS at Grinnell

On October 27, members of the computer science department's faculty will share information on potential new major requirements and a discrete structures course.

Mathematics serves many purposes within the CS curriculum. Certainly, mathematical techniques are necessary for a wide variety of activities, including linear algebra in computer graphics, mathematical induction as a precursor to recursion, and a variety of techniques in artificial intelligence. In addition, in order to successfully analyze algorithms, an activity central to computer science, students need some mathematical sophistication, including an ability to read and write proofs.

For many years, Grinnell has relied on MAT 218, Combinatorics, to ensure that students had an appropriate background for the computer science major. However, the CS faculty have also been concerned about the effects on students of MAT 218's long prerequisite chain.

The Computer Science and Mathematics/Statistics departments are considering offering a new course entitled "Discrete Structures" that will serve many of the needs of CS majors and will approach many topics through both a mathematical and computational perspective. The new course is also likely to have prerequisites of MAT 131, Calculus I, and CSC 151, Functional Problem Solving. Dr. Stone's notes on a possible structure for that course appear here.

If this new course is offered, the Computer Science department is likely to change its requirements so that students may take either MAT 218 or this new course. Before we move forward further with these proposals, we would like to hear from our students.

We invite you to come meet with us to discuss the new course and the potential changes to the computer science curriculum. Refreshments will be served at 4:15 p.m. in the Computer Science Commons (Noyce 3817). The presentation and discussion will follow at 4:30 p.m. in Noyce 3821. Everyone is welcome to attend.

Friday Extra: "Combinatorics, heuristic search, and software testing"

At noon on Friday, April 30, in Noyce 3821, Myra Cohen of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln will speak on the role of combinatorics in the design of test suites for software:

Software systems today are magnitudes of order larger and more complex than their recent ancestors. Instead of building single systems, we now build families of systems. User interfaces are graphical and programs event-driven. The software/hardware interfaces we once kept distinct have become blurred. Developing reliable and affordable software presents an increasing number of challenges. As glitches in these large-scale systems continue to make newspaper headlines, developing reliable and affordable software presents an increasing number of challenges.

In this talk we examine advances in software testing that focus on the difficulty caused by one simple but ubiquitous concept -- system configurability. Configurable systems include software such as web browsers and office applications, families of products customized by businesses for different market segments, and systems that dynamically reconfigure themselves on the fly. We show how theory from combinatorial mathematics, combined with heuristic search algorithms, can help us to test these systems more efficiently and effectively.

Pizza and soda will be served shortly before noon. Professor Cohen's talk, Combinatorics, heuristic search, and software testing: Theory meets practice, will begin promptly thereafter. Everyone is welcome to attend!

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