New Illinois Computing Accelerator for Non-Specialists (iCAN) Progresses After First Year Success

1/13/2021 Jancie Harris, Illinois CS

The Department of Computer Science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is excited to build off a successful first year for this new one-year certificate program focused on broadening participation in computing.

Written by Jancie Harris, Illinois CS

Update: Applications are now open!  Learn about the application process.

The Department of Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is excited to build off a successful first year for this new one-year certificate program focused on broadening participation in computing.

The Illinois Computing Accelerator for Non-specialists (iCAN) program is designed for students who have a bachelor’s degree in any field other than computer science. iCAN’s mission is to broaden participation in computing through an accelerated program for non-computer science college graduates. The program supports not only a diversity of experience, but also a breadth of thought that will enable participants to impact high-tech industries through their unique perspectives. Upon completion of the iCAN program, students will have the skills to succeed either in industry or in a top computing graduate program.

Tiffani Williams
Tiffani Williams

Tiffani Williams, who joined the Illinois CS faculty earlier this year as Teaching Professor and Director of Onramp Programs, is leading the development of curriculum and innovative new programming that will support students from diverse backgrounds and ways of thinking. Williams previously served as director of the Align program at  Northeastern University’s Charlotte campus, and she brings a wealth of experience implementing programming for students without prior computing experience.

“iCAN is an innovative program offered by a top-five computer science program that will empower non-CS college graduates to obtain a Computing Fundamentals Certificate. Our focus is to provide a supportive environment, which integrates individualized instruction, hands-on training, and academic and career mentoring,” Williams says. She welcomes any college graduate who is passionate about tech but has little training in this area to consider the iCAN program. “Someone who enjoys solving problems, creating innovative solutions, and  who is looking for a pathway to a satisfying tech career in industry or research would be a great candidate.”

iCAN welcomed its first cohort of students in August 2020 with the goal of growing larger classes in following years. Applications are currently open for the second cohort. While the program is designed to be in-person, the second cohort will continue to be online due to impacts of COVID-19.

Nancy Amato
Nancy Amato

Nancy Amato, the head of the Department of Computer Science, has been planning the iCAN program since before she arrived at the University of Illinois in early 2019.  Amato explains, “Making computing accessible to learners at all career stages and from all backgrounds is a core mission of Illinois Computer Science.  This is important for an equity perspective, but also necessary to ensure that we are able to engage people from diverse perspectives so we can develop the best solutions for the pressing and exciting challenges arising as computing continues to re-define every aspect of modern society.  iCAN will be a signature program in Illinois Computer Science's expanding portfolio of broadening participation in computing initiatives.  I'm extremely excited to see iCAN taking shape under Professor Williams' leadership.  It will provide an opportunity for students to engage with our department's world-class faculty and resources and enable them to contribute to the Illinois reputation for making groundbreaking research advances,  developing revolutionary technology and addressing real-world problems.”

Mahesh Viswanathan
Mahesh Viswanathan

Classes and curriculum in the iCAN program are designed specifically for students without prior programming or coding experience. According to Mahesh Viswanathan, Associate Head for Academics for the Department of Computer Science, “The iCAN curriculum will provide students with a comprehensive introduction to computer science, teaching students programming and systems, as well as abstract algorithmic thinking. Students will also be exposed to ideas in cutting edge research.”

Yael Gertner
Yael Gertner

Yael Gertner, who joined the department last fall as a Teaching Assistant Professor, has been instrumental in designing the program’s hands-on coursework. Gertner states, “our goal for the iCAN program is to prepare and empower our students so that they can succeed in computer science.  With this goal in mind we designed the curriculum so that the coursework delves into the fundamentals of computer science and provides a solid footing in the field. At the same time, it prioritizes a mentoring environment and individualized attention.”

Financial accessibility for students who have the passion and drive for iCAN is one of the key goals of the program. In 2019, Facebook committed to invest $300,000 in the Department of Computer Science to support iCAN’s launch. This funding, along with additional support from philanthropic and corporate partners, will provide tuition scholarships to students in accordance with need and academic performance.Faculty and advisors within the iCAN program will work closely with students to make sure they are connected with  internships and other experiential learning opportunities that will further their careers. iCAN will also provide an affordable pathway for students to continue on with computer science graduate studies at Illinois.

To learn more about the iCAN program, please visit the iCAN website or contact the iCAN team.

About the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Since its founding in 1867, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has earned a reputation as a global leader in research, teaching, and public engagement. With our land grant heritage as a foundation, we pioneer innovative research that tackles global problems and expands the human experience. Our transformative learning experiences are designed to produce alumni who desire to make a significant, societal impact. Consistently ranked among the top-5 computer science graduate programs in the United States, Illinois Computer Science has a global reputation for groundbreaking research across the spectrum of computer science. For just some of this amazing story, visit


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This story was published January 13, 2021.