The math and computer science departments at the University of Richmond sit in the eastern wing of Jepson Hall, covered with dry-erase board markings that are incomprehensible to many others, and brimming with students, creating a small community on the second floor.

Separated by an invisible line from the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, professors’ doors suspend wide-open as students chat, using the private “computer science majors only” computer lab or the lounge nearby with floor-to-ceiling whiteboards surrounding it.

The dedication from students and professors is there, but something is missing.

With the help of Prateek Bhakta, an assistant professor of computer science who holds a doctorate in computer science from the Georgia Institute of Technology, a chapter of Upsilon Pi Epsilon is in the process of establishing itself at UR.

According to UPE, the purpose of the organization is “to promote the computing and information disciplines and to encourage their contribution to the enhancement of knowledge.”

The organization stated that, though the computing industry is relatively young, there is a growing need for people knowledgeable in the computer science field to keep up with the modern era.

UPE can help create a higher level of prestige in the computer science department by establishing a chapter at UR with an emphasis on honoring the students who have excelled in the field.

Perhaps even more importantly, the new face of the computer science department, with Bhakta and the fresh perspective of new professors, can bring the current computer science community together.

With approximately 60 to 80 students majoring in the field, it pulls from students who double major or minor in relating disciplines of computer science, Bhakta said.

“We do have a small-knit community, so you’re bound to know almost everyone involved in computer science,” said Michael Le, senior. “A lot of friend groups stem from this interest.”

Le, who is majoring in business administration with a minor in computer science, became the president of UPE after Bhakta emailed eligible candidates in the computer science field. Lauren Toth, junior, and Madeline Shea, sophomore, became co-vice presidents of UPE, and three other members are on the executive board.

The computer science and math departments recently gained many new professors who are in their first, second and third year at UR, helping the department burst with young energy, Bhakta said.

“We’re coming from other colleges that had a lot more of a math and computer science community than there is here,” Bhakta said. “We thought it would be a good idea to build some of that community that we all had at our respective schools.”

Bhakta graduated with an undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the University of California, Berkeley, and was an active member in Tau Beta Pi and Eta Kappa Nu. He said he did not join UPE at UC Berkeley because it was not a very involved chapter and he wanted to get something more out of his honor society.

In an effort to prevent that from happening at UR, Bhakta has turned to making this chapter more active.

“Every chapter gets to decide how they want to make the organization work, so there are absolutely many schools who just have a ‘stamp on your resume’ kind of organization,” Bhakta said. “We’re trying to make it a little more interesting.”

The professors and students want to recognize the students at the top of the class. Juniors who are in the top 35 percent of the computer science major with regard to their GPA and sophomores who have taken Introduction to Computing, Data Structures, and Discrete Structures, and received all A’s are eligible to join.

Both Shea and Le said they hoped this would better prepare students to go into the workforce and focus on getting started in the field early, stating that many students began considering career paths with computer science too late.

UPE hopes to host hack-a-thons, professional development programs and other coding events to implement the social aspect of the honor society.

“I envision UPE to be a place or organization where our most hardworking students try to give back to the computer science community by putting on events for the general math and computer science populous,” Bhakta said.

The organization is just getting off the ground as it was recently recognized by UR and is filling out paperwork to be recognized by the national chapter.

As they visit the computer science classrooms, the executive board of UPE reported that it wanted to simply get more people dedicated to some part of computer science.

“It’s really important for everyone to have some sort of marketable technical skill going out into the workforce, so I think that computer science is a great way to achieve that, whether you’re a minor or a major or have just taken courses,” Shea said. “The world is going digital so you’re going to need to have some sort of knowledge of computers or technology.”

Bhakta agreed, saying that computer science was more relevant in the world today than ever before. He said that with computers, “you’ll realize that what you can do with them is really only limited by your creativity.”

Contact news writer Stacey Dec at stacey.dec@richmond.edu.

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