History of the Computer Science Department

In 1961, Dr. Rex L. Hurst, Head of the then Department of Applied Statistics, acquired an electronic digital computer to manage work his department was doing for the Dairy Herd Improvement Association, as well other data intensive projects. The computer, was an IBM 1620, one of the first of its kind to be delivered west of the Mississippi. 

The IBM 1620 had 40,000 addressable 6-bit storage locations. Six bits could only represent 64 characters which included upper-case letters, decimal digits, arithmetic operators, punctuation marks, and special characters, no lower case. It had multiply, divide and subtract instructions, but no add instructions. Nicknamed CADET for Can't Add, Doesn't Even Try, it added by doing a table lookup. 

CADET had no operating system. Rather, programs executed one at a time. They were loaded from a deck of punched cards, the first of which had to be a bootstrap card with instructions to load the rest of the deck then turn control over to the program just loaded. 

IBM 1620


Wendell L. Pope

When the IBM 1620 arrived, Dr. Wendell L. Pope, a professor in the Mathematics Department, was the only person on campus who had programmed a digital computer, so he was asked to help. He had learned programming on a Univac 1103A (a vacuum tube type machine) while working for Lockheed Missiles and Space Division and on an IBM 350 (a decimal machine using 5 bits to represent a decimal digit) while attending Stanford University. As a result of this request, he was given a joint appointment in Mathematics and Applied Statistics, which he held until he was appointed Director of the Computer Center in 1969.

In addition to programming the 1620, Dr. Pope developed and taught USU’s first Computer Science courses: Computer Programming, Programming Scientific Problems (FORTRAN), Advanced Programming, and Operations Research. Pope also developed and taught Numerical Methods and Numerical Analysis courses to support computing. Dr. Hurst is regarded as the founder of digital computing at USU, and Dr. Pope as the founder of Computer Science at USU.

Many disciplines were greatly enhanced by and singularly adapted to computers, and by 1966, USU students could enroll in a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science degree program, the first such degree program in the State of Utah. The first master’s degree in Computer Science was awarded to Karl Fugal in 1970. However, his degree was in Applied Statistics because USU  acquired its first master’s degree program in Computer Science (Plan B – report) in 1980. 

Computer Science continued as a discipline within the Applied Statistics Department until 1982, when it became a separate department. The department has steadily grown since its inception.

Master of Science  (Plan A – thesis) and Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees were added in 1984. The Computer Science Accreditation Commission approved USU’s undergraduate program in 1998. Since then, the CS undergraduate program has been accredited by Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). In 2000, a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph. D.) degree was added to the program. In 2019, the Data Science MS degree was added. In 2021, requirements for the MCS degree program were realigned to better match Master of Computer Science expectations in other institutions and the Plan C option was discontinued.

Dr. Don Cooley, the first Computer Science Department Head, served in that position for about 30 years, until Dr. Dan Watson took over in 2011. In 2017, Dr. Xiaojun Qi took over as Department Head and has served since then.