Software engineering grads praise the Snow program for its technical rigor, faculty expertise, small class sizes, and low price

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At the end of the course, students review projects in a cloud application development course at Snow College. Students are enrolled in the Bachelor of Software Engineering program.

EPHRAIM—Snow College may be primarily a community college, but students who earned bachelor’s degrees in software engineering this spring say the training they received rivals many master’s degree programs in software-related fields. computer science.

The students, who were surveyed two weeks before the start of spring, also praised the quality of their teachers, the time teachers spent with them outside of class, and the low cost of the program.

Importantly, students and a faculty member who was also interviewed agreed that the Snow program, more so than similar programs at other schools, prepares graduates to go straight into jobs, which typically start in their mid-70s. $000 but have been as high as $99,000.

“It’s a program designed around the work, attitude, behaviors and skills they will need for their jobs, not just today, but 20 years from now. Not just the how, but the why and how to learn the next step,” said assistant professor Heber Allen, who joined the faculty four years ago after 25 years in industry, including jobs at Intel Motorola, Intermountain Healthcare and the Church. of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints.

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Juniors Justin Holsclaw (foreground) and Chance Young work together in the cloud application class.

The Utah State Board of Regents allows a community college to offer bachelor’s degrees in a few areas where it has outstanding excellence or where there is high need. The number of bachelor’s degrees awarded cannot exceed 10% of the total number of degrees, including associate’s degrees.

Snow’s two licensing areas are commercial music and software engineering. It is also possible for a student to earn a Bachelor of Commerce, but this program, although based on the Snow campus, is offered by Utah State University.

Based on 2021 numbers, Snow could award up to 120 bachelor’s degrees. He gave less than 35 this spring.

Even though there is a severe shortage of software professionals, and although Snow is particularly focused on preparing students for employment, enrollment in the software engineering program in the first four years has fallen short of expectations. , said Garth Sorensen, professor and head of the engineering department. Department.

When the program was approved in 2016, the college expected it to attract up to 40 majors. Last year, there were 27. And in the three years that bachelor’s degrees were awarded, there were 10, 8, and 11 graduates.

The faculty believe that the problem might be that there are not enough people who know about the program. Snow launched an advertising campaign to spread the word.

Efforts began in 2012

Steps to get a computer-focused bachelor’s program approved began around 2012. The college hired Kristal Ray, who had a Ph.D. and significant experience in software development, to prepare the proposal for the board.

One of the main motivations was economic development. “A lot of industry has to be in the city, but software development can be anywhere,” said Kevin Christensen, director of economic development for Sanpete County, at the time.

The presence of an educational program might even motivate a company looking for software engineers to locate in the area, Christensen said.

This possibility seems to be on the verge of becoming a reality. A Manti native, who started a software company on the Wasatch Front, told Ephraim City Council he could move the business to Ephraim Crossing, the new mixed residential-retail development south of McDonald’s. He said the company would start with around 20 jobs.

Another option for software engineering graduates who want to stay in Sanpete County is to work from home for companies based elsewhere.

As the bachelor’s program proposal evolved, the focus and name changed from “computer science” to “software engineering”.

Although the two fields have a lot in common, there are some important differences. “Computer scientists test theories and work at the edge of the unknown,” Snow’s website says. “Software engineering is an engineering discipline. Engineering starts with proven knowledge and develops solutions to technical, societal and business problems.

The Board of Regents approved the bachelor’s degree in software engineering at Snow in November 2016. At the time, it was the only software engineering program in Utah and one of 21 nationally. The program started in the fall of 2017.

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Heber Allen joined the software engineering faculty four years ago after 25 years in industry working in software development and databases.

Students do not have to earn an associate degree before gaining admission to the software engineering program. But along the way, before earning their bachelor’s degree, they must complete the general education courses that would be required for an associate’s degree.

Students also do not have to be juniors before taking software engineering courses. They can start in their first year.

But to be admitted to the major, students must complete approximately 12 hours of prerequisites. Some of the prerequisites have prerequisites themselves, so the number of courses required to apply may vary depending on the student.

For example, one of the prerequisites to apply is Physics 2220, Physics for Scientists and Engineers II. The course teaches students to use calculus to solve problems related to electricity, magnetism, circuits, optics, and relativity.

But before taking the course, a student is advised to take Physics 2210, Physics for Scientists and Engineers I. And before taking either course, a student must have taken differential calculus.

Offers twenty courses

The software engineering program offers about 20 courses. Many are very technical, such as Survey of Languages ​​(computer programming languages), database systems, mobile application development, cloud application development, and advanced algorithms.

Some of the courses combine technical information with a discussion of how to get things done in the workplace, such as software project management and two software engineering internship courses that all majors take in the first and second semesters of their last year. Internship courses include individual and team projects, software industry information, and preparing portfolios for job searches.

In general, the courses are difficult. “The things we do in this bachelor’s program…they don’t…up to a master’s program” at other schools, said North Sanpete graduate Ammon Zerkle of Mt. Pleasant. Highschool. “A lot of the project-based work and real-life applications we do in the bachelor’s, they don’t get until the master’s.”

Elsinore, Sevier County graduate Jaaron Nielson said his favorite course was Survey of Languages. The course covered 12 programming languages. “It’s a very strong course,” he said.

“Absolutely relevant”

The course is “very relevant for working in the field because (as) technology evolves, you need to be able to apply what you already know to different circumstances,” he said. Having a background in all these languages ​​gives the opportunity to “learn different languages ​​quickly”.

McKinnon Lloyd of Mesquite, Nevada, completed an internship in the summer of 2020 at 3M, and now that he’s graduated, he’ll be working for the company full-time.

He said the 3M manager who hired him for the internship was especially excited to have learned about SQL, a database programming language, because other people the manager had interviewed, including job candidates. colleges and industry, didn’t know SQL.

In fact, one of the boss’ interview questions was, “What did you learn in the first two weeks in your database course?”

“When students come back from job interviews, where they’re successful, seven out of 10 times at least one of the questions was about databases,” Allen said. “It’s a pretty common space, and our students are doing pretty well.”

The graduates surveyed said that the main reason they are able to meet the rigorous course requirements is the quality and accessibility of the faculty.

“We have really smart teachers with really relevant work experience,” said Matt Rigoli, also of Mt. Pleasant, and another North Sanpete High School graduate.

Wyatt Brown of Manti, a graduate of Manti High School, said he took the Advanced Algorithms course his last semester. The course covered “very advanced things about programming” and required him to write “algorithms to solve very complex problems”.

But he added: “Thanks to Snow College and the opportunity we have here, most of us can spend 2-3 hours a week in our teacher’s office.”

Without that one-on-one help, he said, he would Google and watch YouTube videos to learn what he needed to know. It could take 20 hours a week.

Finally, the graduates said, the Snow program represents enormous financial value. Kaydon Stubbs, who is from Southern California, said, “I’m here because the value is greater than anywhere else, especially in California.”

He said some of his friends in computer science majors at prestigious schools in California pay $50,000 in tuition a year. He paid between $1,700 and $1,800 per semester ($3,400 to $3,600 per year) at Snow.

Even in Utah, the graduates said, Snow’s tuition is less than half of what it costs to attend USU or U of U.

“It was a tough program, but here we are,” said Zerkle at the end of the road, graduating. And two weeks before graduation, eight of the 11 graduates had accepted jobs.

The strength of the software engineering program at Snow is that “we try to meet the needs of the industry in Day 1 and Year 10,” Allen said. “We don’t just teach the theory that has been taught for years, but the reasons for the theory and the applied methods of today. Our education is not just learning from books, but learning by using it on the job. We want our students to be ready from day one for their new employers. »

Gordon K. Morehouse