HMC Celebrates Groundbreaking of New Computer Science Center

by Liam Chalk ’23

Harvey Mudd College held a groundbreaking ceremony on Sept. 28 for the new McGregor Computer Science Center, which will include a Makerspace, recording studios and other community resources. The new building’s three stories and 36,000-square-foot structure should also help alleviate some of the strain placed on the school’s expanding computer science department.

The ceremony brought together alumni, board members, faculty and students for speeches by various constituencies on campus.

Liz Orwin at podium

Engineering Chair Liz Orwin ’95 describes the building’s new makerspace

The building was planned in collaboration with the HMC community, according to Kim Patten, a partner at Steinberg Hart, the architectural firm that designed it.

“We engaged with the faculty, staff and students to understand what the goals and vision of this facility would be and … were inspired by the desire of the college to create a facility that would act as a campus and community gateway, embracing and welcoming people to the campus,” Patten said.

The building, located at the southwest corner of Mudd on Platt Boulevard and Dartmouth Avenue, will be unique on HMC’s campus because its primary entrance faces away from HMC’s central quad, unlike most other buildings on campus, Patten said.

“The addition of the McGregor Center to our campus is an exciting and important step forward for the college,” HMC President Maria Klawe said in her remarks at the groundbreaking. “We are eager for the buzz of activity that we will experience in our fantastic new makerspace, and we are excited that our growing computer science department will gain a new home.”

The new building will, among other features, include a new makerspace—a studio designed for hands-on creative activities—and machine shop, allowing the school to grow its design and manufacturing curricula, engineering department chair Elizabeth Orwin ’95 said.

Melissa O'Neill

Computer Science Chair Melissa O’Neill gives a history of the CS department at Mudd.

“Essentially anytime where there’s project work for students from any discipline: Clinic thesis, research teams, anywhere students want to come together to work together to create something, the space will have something to offer them,” she said.

HMC’s computer science program has exploded in recent years, necessitating the space.

The school didn’t buy its first computer or offer its first computer science classes until 1969, 14 years after its founding, computer science department chair Melissa O’Neill said in a speech at the groundbreaking.

HMC hired its first full-time computer science professor in 1979, and the College graduated its first CS majors in 1992.

Now, dozens of students graduate in CS each year. Last year, the 90 CS-related majors made up 43% of the graduating class, according to the college’s Office of Institutional Research.

Twenty-four percent of all declared majors enrolled through the end of the spring semester were CS majors, making computer science the second-most popular major behind only engineering (31 percent). Another 21% were CS-math or Math-Comp.-Bio majors.

HMC’s computer science department has also set records in gender equality. The computer science major has grown from 12% female in 2005 to nearly 50% female in 2019, O’Neill said.

Scott A. McGregor with Maria Klawe, Laurie Girand and Wayne Drinkward.

Scott A. McGregor, for whom the building was named, with President Klawe, trustee Laurie Girand and board chair Wayne Drinkward.

Nationwide, women earned only 18% of bachelor’s degrees in computer science in 2015, according to the National Science Foundation.

HMC is also the only college to have approximately equal gender representation from both students and faculty in computer science, Klawe said.

But the high demand for computer science classes has placed a strain on the department, limiting class registrations and causing frustration among CS majors and other Mudders.

The space created by the new building, though, “will create room to grow from 16 to 25 faculty positions over time,” according to a brochure about the new building (PDF).

Students are excited about the new space.

“The college is heading in a direction of further prioritizing inclusivity, community and preparedness for the next generation of students,” ASHMC President Kyle Grace ’21 said in a speech at the groundbreaking. “As a computer science major here at Mudd, I am excited to see our incredible computer science program become even larger.”

Guests sign a construction beam.

Guests at the groundbreaking sign the beam that will be a feature of the makerspace

Construction will last up to 18 months, with an estimated completion date in early 2021, according to the HMC website. The building is named for Scott A. McGregor, who along with his wife, trustee Laurie J. Girand, was a major donor for the project.

The school set a fundraising goal of $17.2 million for the project, which it reached in approximately three months. The building will cost $30 million in total, with the remaining funds coming from debt financing in the school’s operating budget, the website said.

If you would like to stay updated on the progress of the McGregor center construction, you can view the construction webcam on Harvey Mudd’s website, which provides an updated image every 10 minutes.

This article originally appeared in The Student Life