A Degree for Both Sides of the Brain: New joint bachelor's combines CS, arts
By Karen Hoffmann, The Link, Fall/Winter 2008

Alyssa ReuterWhen Alyssa Reuter had to choose a college, she wanted one that offered programs in computer science and the arts. "The one school that was strong in both was Carnegie Mellon," she says.

But how could she combine her two passions? Getting undergraduate degrees from both SCS and the College of Fine Arts - a double major - would have meant an extremely heavy workload, because the majors don't have many overlapping courses.

As it turns out, Reuter wasn't the only student asking to combine the disciplines into one undergraduate degree, says Franco Sciannameo, director of Carnegie Mellon's Bachelor of Humanities and Arts (BHA) and Bachelor of Science and Arts (BSA) programs - joint efforts between CFA, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and the Mellon College of Science.

Students were literally "knocking on my door," Sciannameo says. From game design and computer animation to computer music and robotic art, technology and the arts are no longer separable, he says. "This is Carnegie Mellon, the temple of arts and technology combined. Students come to us, attracted by these two pillars of today's world. The time was right to create another program."

The newly created Bachelor of Computer Science and Arts (BCSA) degree has the enthusiastic support of SCS Dean Randal Bryant and CFA Dean Hilary Robinson, and passed both college counsils unanimously, according to Sciannameo. Eight Carnegie Mellon students (four each from SCS and CFA) transferred into the program this fall. Others will follow in the spring, and the first freshmen are slated to enter the program in the fall of 2009.

The students combine coursework in SCS with stedies in CFA's schools of art, architecture, design, drama, and music. " The BCSA program eliminates some of the courses that aren't completely necessary for pursuing the combination of the two," Reuter says. "It makes perfect sense to me. I'm really happy about it."

SCS has long encouraged connections between computer science and other disciplines. Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center, a joint venture between SCS and CFA, offers the only masters of entertainment technology (M.E.T.) degree in the United States, while undergraduate computer science majors already must select a minor in another field. Mark Stehlik, SCS assistant dean for undergraduate education and computer science advisor to the BCSA program, says upper-level courses combining CFA and SCS students have provoked lively interactions. "When you get very creative people with differnt skill sets working together, magic can happen," he says.

Reuter, now a junior, plans to go into game development, animation, or special-effects production. "I also think that it would be really interesting to explore other wways computer science and art could be combined in more of a gallery situation," she says.

The BCSA degree also will serve as a pathway to the MET degree; an accelerated program will allow students to complete their BCSA in three and a half years and their MET in a year and a half.

"The goal of the BCSA program is to help students who really want to achieve a complete fusion of two fields of inquiry," Sciannameo says.

Interest in the BCSA is high; Reuter's friends keep telling her the program is a "cool idea." But perhaps the strongest measure of its success are the inquiries that Sciannameo is getting from students in the Carnegie Institute of Technology and the Tepper School of Business, who want to know when they'll get their own joint degree programs. To which Sciannameo says, "one discipline-bridging program at a time."