Computing IRL

students working together in the library

Computing IRL exemplifies the vitality and promise of liberal arts approaches by applying academic inquiry to our communities’ most pressing needs.

Open only to first-year students, the Computing IRL ("In Real Life") immersive program consists of a connected set of courses in which students will see how computing techniques and ideas inform and are informed by their interaction with the real world. Students who participate in the program will take a First Year Seminar ("Digital Worldmaking"), an introductory computer science course (COMP 131), a new course on justice and equity in technology (COMP 101), and an internship at various organizations that have links to Occidental College and the Los Angeles area.

Possible internship locations include STEAM:CODERS, a non-profit in Pasadena dedicated to bringing STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) education to students at underserved K-12 institutions. Interns there will learn about STEAM education, about how technology supports or excludes low-income communities, and about the structure and operation of community non-profits. We will consult with students before placing them with an organization and we hope to match incoming students with more advanced students within each organization. The Computing IRL Immersive Semester exemplifies the vitality and promise of liberal arts approaches by applying academic inquiry to our communities’ most pressing needs.

No previous programming experience is required! If you're interested in being part of the Computing IRL Immersive Semester, sign up using the online form linked at the bottom of this page.

Program Overview

The Computing IRL Oxy Immersive Semester consists of 4 linked courses totally 14 units:

  • FYS 1: “Digital Worldmaking” (4 units)
  • COMP 101: “Justice and Equity in Technology” (2 units)
  • COMP 131: “Fundamentals of Computer Science” (4 units)
  • COMP 295: “Computer Science Internship” (4 units)

Students who successfully complete these courses will fulfill both their Fall First Year Seminar (FYS) and Core Lab Science requirements. First-year students at Oxy can take up to 18 units each semester, with an average course load being around 16 units, so Computing IRL participants have the option of registering for an additional 2- or 4-unit class of their choice during Orientation.


FYS 1: Digital Worldmaking

Taught by Prof. Teddy Pozo

  • 4 units; fulfills the Fall FYS requirement
  • Choose from two different section times:
    • MWF 12:15-1:10pm or
    • MWF 1:30-2:25pm

Description: For the programmers who built the first video games, controlling computers meant controlling miniature worlds, having the power to shape both fantasy and reality. Yet if computers are tools of transformation, how have they been used so far? We are sold the fantasy of technology companies as progressive and utopian disrupters of a repressive status quo, while these companies’ products often deepen and reinforce oppressive systems of rules such as racism, sexism, binary cis gender, colonialism, and capitalism. If you had the chance to make your own world using technology, what would you do differently? In the hands of a new generation of programmers, could the process of designing virtual worlds with their own systems of rules help reimagine technology, building what Ruha Benjamin calls an “emancipatory approach”? Through this class, students will use science fiction, video games, movies, and works of history and theory as inspiration to artistically and technologically transform real-world practices such as game design, AI ethics, virtual reality, disability and accessibility, and environmental science. Students will also leave prepared to build strong thesis-driven written arguments and exercise their critical thinking skills throughout their time at Occidental College.

COMP 101: Justice and Equity in Technology

Taught by Prof. Irina Rabkina

  • 2 units
  • MWF 2:45-3:40pm

Description: Throughout their careers, students in Computer Science will have the opportunity to affect society through the technologies that they create. Yet technology is not created in a vacuum, but rather is a product of the ingrained assumptions of its creators, and the societies that structure these assumptions. When working with the tools of Computer Science, students will face traces of the field?s racist, sexist, homophobic, and imperialist history, and will have to decide how to work with or challenge these parts of the field. This course prepares students to work for justice and equity in technology and society by facilitating conversations about the sometimes-oppressive history and impact of Computer Science, and by uplifting voices that have historically been marginalized within the field. By the end of the course, students will be able to analyze and discuss technology within its broader context, and be able to use the tools of Computer Science to subvert the unjust structures the field has inherited.

COMP 131: Fundamentals of Computer Science

Taught by various Computer Science faculty members

  • 4 units; fulfills the Core Lab Science Requirement
  • Choose one of the following options:
    • Class Time #1: MWF 9:45-10:40am, with additional lab time: either Thursday 8:30-11:25am or Thursday 1:30-4:25pm

    • Class Time #2: MWF 11:00-11:55am, with additional lab time: either Thursday 8:30am-11:25am or Thursday 1:30-4:25pm

    • Class Time #3: MWF 1:30-2:25pm, with additional lab time: either Tuesday 8:30-11:25am or Tuesday 1:30-4:25pm


​​​​Description: Computer science is about the organization of information and the design of processes that use it. This course teaches students to think computationally—how to break processes down into components that can be then fully described—and to acquire other habits necessary for a computer scientist. Students should come out able to write simple but complete programs of their choosing, and should also be able to diagnose problems in unfamiliar programs.

Note: Students with extensive experience in programming may be enroll in COMP 181 instead; please contact the chair of the Computer Science department for additional information. 


COMP 295: Computing IRL Internship

Taught by Prof. Irina Rabkina

  • 4 units
  • Meeting Time TBD

​​​​Description: Students will complete weekly reflection papers and a final presentation describing what they've learned about computation IRL. Open only to students enrolled in the Computing IRL semester.

Interested in enrolling in this program?

Fill out the form below by 10pm PDT on Wednesday, June 16! Please note that seats are limited. You will receive an email letting you if you have been added to the course by the end of the day on June 19. 

Computing IRL Interest Form