Students showcase innovative computer projects they developed in joint Yale-Harvard class

cs50

What can a few months of computer science do for you? Judging by the final projects of students in “Introduction to Computing and Programming,” it can lead to everything from better food delivery to dorm room strobe lights.

The projects were presented Dec. 14 in two shifts at an end-of-the-semester fair in Commons dining hall in the Schwarzman Center. The event featured snacks and a DJ, and attendees received “stress balls” and other swag.

Offered at Yale for the first time this year, the course is a joint endeavor between Yale (CPSC 100) and Harvard (CS50), and very quickly became the most popular course on campus, with 330 Yale students enrolled in it. Consequently, the fair took up the entire Commons space (including a photo booth and a station for popcorn and cotton candy). The computer programs on display were created by students, either by themselves or in teams of two or three.

Computer science professor Brian Scassellati, who teaches the course for Yale, said the students’ results went well beyond expectations.

“We’re extremely happy with the projects,” Scassellati said. “The vast majority of the students knew no computer science, and now they’ve got projects that paid developers would be working on.”

The programs were designed to provide solutions or improvements to real-world problems and tasks.

“It’s not many courses where you can develop useful skills in such a short time,” he said.

Not surprisingly, many of the projects focused on student life. Elle Buellsbach developed “Remind Me,” a program that tracks your class assignments, checking them off when they’re done and reminding you when you still need to do more. To keep it from being such an unrelenting taskmaster, she also programmed it with a “random cat generator” feature. It produces videos of — you guessed it — random cats.

In addition to keeping her assignments in order, Buellsbach said the experience of developing a program might steer the direction of her studies at Yale.

“Actually, now I think I want to major in computer science,” she said, adding that everything from solving problem sets to the community atmosphere of the course convinced her.

Food-related programs were another recurring theme. Jonathan Norton developed “Yale Dining Tracker,” a website that gives you the full nutritional rundown of items offered by Yale food services.

Norton said the course was more difficult than he expected, but having gotten through it, is glad that he stuck with it. Although he came into the course with no computer science background, Norton ended the semester developing a program that could help people eat healthier.

“To go from nothing and actually create a website, I’m pretty proud of myself,” he said.

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