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Jan. 16, 2015

CSE professor receives award to help retain computer science students

Richard Enbody, associate professor of computer science and engineering (CSE) in the Michigan State University College of Engineering, knows the importance of preparing the next generation of computer scientists.

To be better able to do this, Enbody recently received an award from the Google Computer Science Engagement Program, which supports educators teaching introductory computer science courses. The goal of the program is to develop and integrate instructional materials in these courses, and engage and retain students in computer science, including underrepresented students.

Richard EnbodyTogether with CSE Associate Professor Bill Punch, Enbody redesigned the college’s “Introduction to Programming” course (CSE 231) to incorporate real-world problem solving using the Python programming language.  An important component was developing exercises that required students to grab real data from the Internet and write programs to analyze the data.

“We are finding that non-majors gain useful programming skills and majors are better problem solvers after taking the course,” Enbody explained. They shared those exercises online, and as instructors from other institutions began using them, the work caught the attention of Google and its efforts to make an introduction to computer science more engaging.

To support their class Enbody and Punch wrote the book “The Practice of Computing using Python," and they are working on the third edition.  Together they developed an online version of CSE 231 using an innovative paradigm.

Enbody came to MSU in 1987 with a PhD from the University of Minnesota, and he has witnessed firsthand the rise of computers and the important role that beginning computer science courses play for non-majors as well as majors. Enbody’s research interests includes computer security, computer architecture, and web-based distance education.

The Google Engagement Award is an unrestricted gift of $5,000. Enbody plans to use the funding to bring computer scientists from underrepresented groups to speak to students.