Through a five-year, $6.24 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Massachusetts Amherst will form a partnership to further grow the pipeline of students in U.S. computer science programs and broaden participation in this fast-growing field. The new Expanding Computing Education Pathways (ECEP) Alliance will extend best practices and seek to duplicate state-level successes in developing K-12 and post-secondary curriculum, enhancing teacher training, and conducting hands-on student workshops and other programs.

Computer science remains one of the fastest growing fields, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasting almost 20 percent increases in computing-related jobs by 2020. While myriad efforts at the national, state and local levels have contributed to four years of sustained growth in undergraduate computer science programs, accelerated growth and diversification remains critical to cultivating the next generation of technology industry leaders.

“Computing is the world’s newest great science. Yet, even though enrollments in U.S. computer science programs are on a four-year rise, it’s still not enough to satisfy the workforce demands of a technology-driven global economy,” said Mark Guzdial, professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Interactive Computing and ECEP co-lead. “This new collaboration will drive the discipline forward, enabling states to replicate recent successes in Georgia and Massachusetts that enhanced computing education, grew the pipeline of interested students, and facilitated systemic change to the educational system.”

Georgia Tech
The Christopher W. Klaus Advanced Computing Building. Photo courtesy of Georgia Institute of Technology  

ECEP builds on five years of work by Georgia Tech’s Georgia Computes! program and UMass Amherst’s Commonwealth Alliance for Information Technology Education (CAITE). In Georgia, Georgia Computes! introduced thousands of middle and high school students to computing through workshops, summer camps and partnerships with the Girl Scouts and other organizations. As a result, the number of students taking the AP Computer Science exam doubled from 2007 to 2011, with even higher growth rates among women and underrepresented minority groups. In addition, more than 500 teachers from 312 schools in 20 states have taken one or more training workshops as part of the Georgia Computes! program.

“Georgia Tech has a legacy of creating, implementing and disseminating computing educational approaches that introduce computing in ways that are creative, social and interesting, such as creating stories, art, music and games by writing computer programs,” said Barbara Ericson, director of Computing Outreach in the Georgia Tech College of Computing, and co-PI for ECEP. “Through this new partnership with CAITE, we can further expand our efforts and have a tremendous impact on computing pipelines across the nation.”

In Massachusetts, CAITE helped bolster enrollments in community-college computer science programs by 64 percent over five years, and facilitated 78 percent growth in programs that facilitated CS student transfers from two to four-year universities. CAITE also reached more than 21,000 students and 2,100 educators through more than 350 computing events, including robot-building activity days for middle school girls and professional development workshops for computer science teachers and faculty.

"Our work in Massachusetts compliments the national focus on community colleges as gateways to four-year degrees and the workforce,” said Rick Adrion, professor emeritus of computer science at UMass Amherst and co-lead of ECEP. “CAITE is making it more possible for computing students to transfer and successfully complete four-year degrees. We have much to share concerning this work and our outreach programs. NSF's support will allow us to adapt CAITE and Georgia Computes’ innovative activities in Massachusetts, Georgia and other states."

The first state partners for ECEP will be California and South Carolina, chosen because they have the population, institutions, workforce demands and individuals or organizations ready to work on computer science education reform.

Working in conjunction with industry and government associations, ECEP will assist and advise these and future partner states in running 4th-12th grade student summer camps, improving transfer from two- to four-year institutions, enhancing computing curricula, conducting effective student outreach, and more.