Surpassing the hype: the power of 112 and Concepts

Credit: Anna Li/ Credit: Anna Li/
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From painting the fence to participating in buggy, Carnegie Mellon's traditions take many forms, and adding the notorious 15-112 (hereafter referred to as 112) and Concepts of Mathematics (referred to as Concepts) to your academic resume is a tradition every student is quickly introduced to when first arriving at Carnegie Mellon. Despite the two courses falling under the School of Computer Science, they are understood across nearly every college to be a vitally defining aspect of the university experience that feeds well into the “interdisciplinary” academics Carnegie Mellon advertises. But, how can we make this interdisciplinary emphasis expand past the realm of computing? And, why are 112 and Concepts the only classes that seem to garner interest across the entirety of our campus?

Since its inception, Carnegie Mellon found its niche in technology, being aptly named Carnegie Institute of Technology (CIT) as early as 1912. After the merging of CIT and the Mellon Institute, the university grew exponentially; however the focus remained on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), creating a reputation for the school that remains today.

15-112: The Fundamentals of Programming and Computer Science has become a stereotype of the Carnegie Mellon experience. Every year, the 112 lecture hall fills to the brim with students of varying backgrounds and degrees, regardless of whether the course applies to their individual practices. 21-127: Concepts of Mathematics holds a similar reputation, and, when brought up on campus, these two courses are referred to as cultural rites of passage within the community. While both 112 and Concepts are infamously demanding and time intensive courses, students flock to their doors regardless as a result of the significance assigned to them within the campus culture. To many students, not taking either of these classes seems stranger than going out of your way to do so, and despite this sounding like a positive motivational force in theory, it also results in creating a stress culture that upholds STEM abilities above others.

It is no surprise that the general emphasis on STEM over other disciplines has tainted our own university culture. The continuous push towards STEM fields is intensified as a consequence of the stereotypes and insecurities attributed to the Arts, and as scientific progress and tech jobs continue to mark a large portion of our global conversation, it becomes difficult to dispel these beliefs and convince students to give other disciplines their equal respect. These concerns become a part of the academic hierarchy as generations of students seek to join fields they believe will supply them success, further engraining the stereotypes into the institutions they attend.

But, what makes Carnegie Mellon so partial to this problem? The Carnegie Mellon mindset has long been founded on a STEM emphasis that supersedes that of other studies — a mindset that is due to change. Programming, in many ways, is presented as a valuable life skill regardless of whether it aligns with a student’s personal pursuits, equating it to something as essential as learning to write. This assigns an inherent merit to taking 112 and Concepts — a merit that does not extend to other classes outside of the computing field. As the other colleges continue to grow, expand, and succeed, much of the student body finds itself at odds with these perspectives. Through the introduction of newer programs, such as BXA, that focus specifically on creating cross-disciplinary degrees and academic opportunities, the Carnegie Mellon culture has begun to embrace the idea that interdisciplinary practices across all of the colleges can be equally valuable.

The student interest in 112 or Concepts was never the issue itself; the problem is in how this attitude does not expand beyond these two classes, in turn influencing the way students navigate both their academic and professional careers. There is space to give credit to these classes while at the same time acknowledging the worth of classes that fall under other disciplines. By introducing other courses as essential parts of the university identity, the power of classes like 112 and Concepts can be given to them equally, providing an inclusive, holistic education.