BOLIVAR — Tim DeClue chairs a Computer and Information Sciences department at Southwest Baptist University (SBU) that has dramatically changed since he first arrived on campus in 1985 as an instructor.
“There were no personal computers when I started,” he said. “Everything was mainframe, huge machines. The only computer lab we had had been converted from a typing lab where we had typewriters. We barely had networks. The Internet was around, but it was only a very, very tiny thing.
“There’s a quote by a CEO of IBM back in the 70s that said, ‘Computers are neat. We’re probably in the United States going to need five of them one of these days.’ It was very, very different. The Internet has changed everything that we do.”
It was 1981. Southwest Baptist College had just become a university, and the personal computer was fresh on the scene. Two years later, Charles Chaney became SBU president. DeClue remembers coming to an institution that needed to break out of its isolation —an identity that has changed considerably through the administrations of three more presidents plus an interim.
“We were a tiny university,” DeClue said. “We weren’t that much smaller number-wise, but we thought of ourselves as being a rural university sort of tucked away back down here, not really much going on. It has changed just a huge amount.
“We want to be the best computer science program at an evangelical Christian university in the United States. There’s an argument that we’re pretty close at this point, but we’ve still got a ways to go.”
DeClue, 52, has seen the department more than double in enrollment from the mid-2000s to a point where it now represents 5 percent of the total student population on campus. A fifth faculty position has now been approved for the department that specializes in designing and building software.
“You can’t ask for a fifth faculty member if your enrollment is going down, or if you only have 30 students in your department,” he said. “With 90 students you begin to gain traction.”
In this case, the traction did not happen by accident. DeClue, who considers himself to be a people person, worked for a time in admissions at Northwest Missouri State University. Another piece of the puzzle came when he observed what happened to his son, Ty, when he was being recruited as a basketball player. He put it all together and concluded he could think strategically to get the best computer science students to come to SBU. His process now includes traveling annually to 30-40 Missouri high schools to build relationships with prospects.
“We began seeking ways to show we’re a winning program here,” he said. “We began filtering everything that we do through the lens of, ‘Is this what a great program would do?’ If it is, then we commit to that, and we try to do that within a Christian context.”
Graduates of the discipline would appear to be winners. They get jobs with companies like Accenture Duck Creek in Bolivar, Walmart Information Systems Division, and Cerner. Other placements occur with such companies as Shelter Insurance, IBM, and Garmin. Starting salaries range from $50,000-$65,000.
As DeClue continues to coach and market, the joy of pursuing his academic endeavors just keeps on multiplying.
“You build things with computer science,” he said. “You build things that help people.”