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Computer Science Professors Awarded Three-Year CAITE Grant

February 9, 2009
By: WSU News

If you’ve heard a rumor that computer science is dead, that all the jobs have been outsourced to Mumbai, you need to update your own data.

The Massachusetts Department of Workforce Developments March 2008 annual profile lists software engineering-related positions in the top three jobs for 2004-2014, said Karl Wurst, chair of the Computer Science Department. These jobs are not being outsourced because they require close contact between software engineers and those who need large software programs.

Retrofitting the Prius to run on electricity is one such need. David Cash, Massachusett’s assistant secretary for policy in the executive office of energy and environmental affairs, told students during his Global Warming Solutions campus talk Feb. 5 that his office is enthusiastic about such retrofitting.

Who figures out how to do this retrofitting? The software engineer.

“Monitoring and control of energy systems is another area that needs capable software engineers,” Wurst said. “As the state and national economies turn green, software engineers will be in even greater demand.”

To help meet this demand, Wurst and fellow computer science professor Aparna Mahadev have received a three-year grant to work with Worcester Public Schools high school teachers and guidance counselors to broaden their understanding of the computer science field and increase their computer science teaching skills.

“Guidance counselors seem to have gotten the message that the field is dead,” Wurst said. “It’s very much alive. We need to get out the word that this is a worthwhile and interesting field to go into.”

It isn’t only worthwhile and interesting. Undergraduate students enrolled in the state’s public universities and colleges may apply for the Commonwealth Covenant Fund, a program that provides accessible tuition loan repayments for those majoring in computer science, among other fields of science and mathematics.

Wurst and Mahadev will organize summer workshops for teachers and guidance counselors to illustrate computer science teaching techniques and explore employment opportunities in the computing field.

“There currently isn’t a good K-12 to college pipeline for those interested in computer science,” Wurst said. “No one really knows what computer science does, so they don’t actually teach it. That’s what this grant aims to improve.”

Another facet of the grant incorporates work with Quinsigamond Community College to ensure that students there can complete two years of computer science courses then transfer to WSC as juniors and be on track to graduate.

Currently, QCC does not offer an associate’s degree in computer science.

The Worcester State team is working with QCC faculty to match up the courses that each institution offers. They’ll then figure out what courses QCC might add so its students can keep up with WSC computer science students.

The Commonwealth Alliance for Information Technology Education, CAITE for short, invited Worcester State to join its efforts last spring. The alliance had a previous National Science Foundation grant to bring more women and under-represented students into computing education and careers.

Worcester States participation in this NSF renewal grant to CAITE will extend the alliances work into central Massachusetts. The region has a growing percentage of families living below the poverty level, minorities and immigrants, and it has low percentages of students graduating from high school, going to four-year colleges and participating in the knowledge economy.

This new funding allows us to expand the project at a time when many people are choosing to pursue education at our public institutions, said Rick Adrion, CAITE director and professor of computer science at UMass Amherst. Information technology remains a vital industry in Massachusetts, and employers are seeking workers who represent the diversity of the population.

Resident students who attend public institutions are the primary focus of the grant, and this is indeed good news for the Commonwealth. These students tend to stay in state in larger numbers after graduation.

And if the Workforce Development offices projections are correct, Massachusetts will need as many software engineers as Worcester State can produce. That’s got to be good news for computer science students in this economy.

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