Computational Problem Solving: Engineers’ soft skill for the 21st Century
Engineering is defined as the application of math and science to solve problems and engineers are often defined as critical thinkers. Transformational changes in computer technology and extensive use of computers may expand this definition to computational thinkers and computational problem solvers.
The term “computational thinking” was initially associated only with computer scientists, computer engineers, or software engineers. In recent years we saw a paradigm shift. Computational thinking and computational literacy made inroads into all science and engineering disciplines. Integration of computational principles and tools into science and engineering enhances the way of solving complex problems.
So, what actually is computational thinking? Does it mean knowing how to use a computer and the internet? Does it mean knowing a programming language or coding?
Computational thinking is a thought process involved in problem-solving. It is strategically designing a solution in a form that can be effectively carried out by a computer.
Sorting, searching, clustering, basic mathematical operations like addition, subtraction, multiplication can easily be performed by computers in a very short amount of time. The first step in computational problem solving is called algorithm development, which is converting your problem into a suitable form that computers can recognize. Furthermore, it is developing a set of instructions or sequences which can be easily executed by computers.
To program a computer to execute a step-by-step procedure, an algorithm needs to be translated into a machine language that can be read by a computer. Programming or coding can be explained as translating higher-level human language (i.e: English) to a machine language (i.e: Python, C, Java, etc.). Programming is a fundamental part of computational problem-solving. It needs creativity and the ability to communicate in writing a code that humans can easily read while computers can still properly execute it.
Among the programming languages, Python has clearly come a long way since the 1990s; it now has one of the most crowded developer communities and is the second most used language on GitHub. The availability of specific Python libraries and frameworks make it an easy choice for all kinds of projects in Web development, artificial intelligence, data analysis, and scientific computing.
Many middle and high schools in the U.S. are now teaching Python as part of their curriculum. Engineering schools are looking for ways to incorporate computational thinking and programming in their curriculum. Computational Engineering and Computational Science graduate programs are gaining popularity among students as they have greater potential to better prepare them for 21st Century job market.
The University of Central Oklahoma is leading the way in developing computational science and engineering curriculum by offering the one and only Computational Science and Engineering Professional Science Master’s degree in Oklahoma. Professional Science Master’s (PSM) degrees are the fastest-growing type of master’s degree in the United States. It is partly a technical science master’s degree (think statistics, engineering, or computer science) with communications and business courses added to the mix.
The PSM degree is designed to train the next generation of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) professionals for the integrator and technical leadership roles in science-intensive industries.