EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 22, 2008

Focus: Want a job? Get a degree in computer science, finance or bio-technology

By Courtney Paquette

NORTH ANDOVER — Nearly every student who graduates with a computer science degree from Merrimack College does so with a job in hand.

"We can't fill the jobs fast enough," said Mary Noonan, the chairwoman of the Computer Science Department at Merrimack.

Computer science majors are in the highest demand of any college graduate in today's job market. Jobs available to those who hold that degree — such as network system analysts and computer software engineers — are the fastest-growing occupations in the country, according to the United States Department of Labor.

Professors at Merrimack College said they're also seeing high demand for finance and accounting majors, as well as students with biology degrees with concentrations in biotechnology and biomedical sciences.

Robert J. Cuomo, dean of the Girard School of Business and International Commerce, said he gets calls from the big four accounting firms — Deloitte, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Ernst &Young and KPMG — looking for recruits all the time.

"They're finding the demand is much more than the supply," he said. "Although these fields pay a lot of money, they're very demanding."

Professors at Merrimack said they're adding new courses and shaping the curriculum to make sure their students graduate with the most current skills they need to fill and excel at the fastest growing jobs.

In the fall, the college will switch from requiring students to take five courses to four. More intense and lengthy work will be required in these courses, and they will count for more credits.

The biology major offers a program this year in which students can focus their biology degree on bio-technology classes.

In finance, they're trying to develop a concentration to prepare students for careers in financial services.

And starting in the fall the computer science major will offer an information technology track, for students to learn to become, among other things, database managers.

The computer science and biology programs have also set up advisory boards to keep the curriculum tuned in to what the industry needs. Several people who work in those industries sit on those boards and give advice on what courses the school should offer to students so that they get good jobs in the fields. Recently, this led to the addition of bio-infromatics in the biology curriculum.

"What can we do at Merrimack to meet the needs of the industry?" Josephine S. Modica-Napolitano, chairwoman of the Department of Biology, said they're constantly asking themselves. "The industry has a dire need for thinker-doers. What the industry really needs is someone who has the skill set needed to do hands-on science but also has the ability to think and analyze."

Noonan said they currently have 35 students in the computer science major. They're looking to double that, and to specifically attract more women to the field.

"With the Internet bust a few years ago, people are reluctant to go into the computer field," Noonan said. "We're preparing our students to understand how the technology works, so they can lead the next generation in making the technology better."

Fastest-growing occupations for those with bachelor's degrees

1. Network systems and data communications analysts

2. Computer software engineers, applications

3. Personal finance advisers

4. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors

5. Financial analysts

6. Forensic science technicians

7. Computer systems analysts

8. Database administrators

9. Computer software engineers, software systems

Occupations with the most new jobs, overall

1. Computer software engineers, applications

2. Accountants and auditors

3. Elementary school teachers

4. Management analysts

5. Computer systems analysts

6. Network systems and data communications analysts

Source: United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics