The Illinois Board of Higher Education in September approved a new undergraduate degree that combines computer sciences and animal sciences at the University of Illinois, according to an announcement from the university, which noted that incoming freshmen can enroll in the program, known as CS + Animal Sciences, starting in the fall of 2021.
“The way the industry is moving, our students need experience handling large data sets, bioinformatics, genomic information and data from remote sensors. Having a background in coding, programming and advanced statistics will make them highly sought-after in today’s market,” said David J. Miller, undergraduate teaching coordinator for the new program and professor in the University of Illinois department of animal sciences.
The new degree, first of its kind in the country, expands the list of blended CS + X degrees pioneered through the University of Illinois department of computer science, the announcement said. CS + Animal Sciences follows the CS + Crop Sciences program as the second such degree to be offered in the university's College of Agricultural, Consumer & Environmental Sciences (ACES).
Miller said graduates could tackle nearly any large data set or big-picture problem in the animal sciences. This could include data from remote sensors in large livestock herds, allowing producers to detect and treat health problems in a timely manner, or the analysis of genomic information that leads to breed improvements in efficiency or disease resistance. “Our imagination is our only limit, really,” he said.
Rod Johnson, head of the department of animal sciences, added, “The animal sciences landscape is experiencing a digital transformation. By creating this first-of-a-kind degree, we will train the next generation of animal scientist able to address intractable problems, whether it be by probing large production data sets or implementing sensor technology with machine learning to enhance the health and well-being of farm animals and pets.”
The degree will include lower- and upper-division courses in computer sciences, mathematics and statistics, as well as courses in animal sciences that can be tailored to each student’s career goals, according to the university.
Miller noted that while the degree will be academically challenging, it can be completed in four years.
“This program, along with our existing CS + Crop Sciences degree, represents yet another way students can leverage their ACES education to change the world. With their ability to handle bigger data sets, students will solve bigger problems facing industry, society and the planet,” said Anna Ball, associate dean for academic programs in the College of ACES.
“With CS + X, Illinois is at the forefront in preparing students to create and use new computational tools to better understand the world around us,” said Nancy M. Amato, department head for computer science and Abel Bliss professor of engineering. “These degrees, together with our collaboration with ACES on the Center for Digital Agriculture, will lay the groundwork for exciting new research advances at the agriculture and technology interface.”
Elsa Gunter, director of undergraduate programs for the department of computer science, said, “There’s real potential to make an impact with this new program. Graduates in CS + Animal Sciences will be well-positioned to advance the state-of-the art in animal sciences by applying computer science to animal health and behavior, food production, nutrition, animal biology and related environmental concerns. In turn, those advances will further drive innovation in computer science.”
Students transferring from community colleges and within the University of Illinois can enter the program in fall of 2020. Miller said the program will eventually enroll 15 students per year.