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MTSU’s Pettey: Computer-Science Field has Enormous Potential

Knowing that the demand for computer-science personnel is great not only in Tennessee, but also in the U.S. and worldwide, Dr. Chrisila Pettey’s vision is to have MTSU supply more talented graduates to the workforce.

“Even if it’s indirect, every company out there needs computer programmers,” said Pettey, an MTSU alumna who recently was appointed permanent chair of the Department of Computer Science after serving as interim chair for two years. “Every business needs software, and programmers are the ones who create it. There are not enough programmers in the United States. It is a serious need.”

Pettey’s check of the web reveals real-time data: The Nashville Technology Council site indicated there were 853 technology-related job openings in the first quarter of 2012. Also, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook reports a 22-percent computer and information systems projected growth between now and 2020.

Pettey said this growth rate ‘is huge.”

“In Middle Tennessee, the number of people who graduate with a computer-science degree is not enough to cover the need,” said Pettey, her comment indicating that all of the region’s colleges and universities are not meeting the demand.

Students will be beneficiaries of the growing need for computer-science graduates.

“It has an advantage that it’s a very diverse field,” Pettey said. “Our graduates can go in any direction that they’re interested in. We’ve had students go to work for Google, IBM, Sony Pictures Imageworks and many more companies. They can go to work anywhere. They do not have to work in the health-care field, even though that’s a huge industry now.”

College of Basic and Applied Sciences’ Dean Tom Cheatham announced Pettey’s appointment June 20. The Tennessee Board of Regents approved Cheatham’s and the University’s recommendation of her for the position after a national search.

“Chrisila knows the department very well and has a great passion for helping people,” Cheatham said. “She will make a great chair.”

Pettey has goals and aspirations for computer science, which has 336 undergraduate majors, 28 graduate students, 11 full-time faculty and two staff members.

“My goal is to do my best to facilitate continually moving the department forward,” Pettey said. “Our discipline is a rapidly changing one,  and the faculty has to work hard to stay current and keep the curriculum current as well as maintain our accreditation.”

While a main priority at present is an upcoming accreditation visit in October, Pettey said she would like to raise the bar in terms of research and working hand-in-hand with other departments.

“I would like to see more research and/or teaching collaboration between our department and other departments on campus, and more students involved in internships and research,” she said.

This spring, Pettey led efforts by the department to hold a 25th-anniversary celebration of the program. Alumni returned from various parts of the country for the event.

Pettey joined the computer-science department in 1992 as an assistant professor after she completed her Ph.D. in computer science at Vanderbilt University. She earned her bachelor’s from Lipscomb University in 1978 and a master’s in ’81 from MTSU.

Computer science is one of 10 departments in the College of Basic and Applied Sciences at MTSU.