University introduces new CS plus animal sciences major

By Michael Caruso, Staff Writer

The University is introducing a new computer science plus animal sciences major for the fall 2020 semester. This will be the eleventh CS+X major available at the University and the second degree program for CS+X in the College of ACES.

However, this is the first program that will combine animal sciences with computer science in the entire country, said Rodney Johnson, head of the Department of Animal Sciences. 

John Wang, computer science student, said he thinks the program will be beneficial for students who are in majors that are currently less focused on technology.

“I think CS+X majors do get some extra skills because I think that regular majors do lots of things that are repetitive,” Wang said. “Adding a CS part to a major would improve that. I think more of these majors would be good, and I want to see what they come up with.” 

According to a proposal approved by the University Senate last year, the new program is intended to address a growing need within the industry for students who are skilled in both animal sciences and computer science. 

“All of agriculture is undergoing a digital transformation, and that’s very true with animal agriculture,” Johnson said. “By combining computer science and animal sciences, our goal is to help a graduate to work in the world of big data.”

Johnson said sensor technology in companion animals and in animal agriculture is one major application of this new program. 

The curriculum will combine coursework in animal sciences and computer science, with students primarily taking typical computer science courses for the first two years and integrating a variety of animal sciences classes as well.

“Students will have to be admissible to both programs in animal sciences and computer science,” said Katelyn Jones-Hamlow, the freshman and sophomore adviser for animal sciences. “We’re hoping to have somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 students in the degree, and from there we’ll see how that works (and) how those students are going through the curriculum, and we would never have a problem adding more than fifteen students after we get started.”

The admissions process will initially focus on admitting rising sophomores for the first year before opening up to incoming freshmen.

In addition to the new major, the Animal Sciences department has hired a new assistant professor in precision animal management, Isabella Condotta, who specializes in image analysis and machine learning to detect signs of lameness in animals. Her other work uses machine learning to weigh pigs using only an overhead camera, showcasing the growing importance of computer science within animal sciences.

“This is an area that campus is investing in by establishing the Center for Digital Agriculture, and our department is investing in this area by adding more technology to what we do,” Johnson said. 

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