Getting Teenagers Hooked on Computer Science
The Association for Computing Machinery estimates that, from now until 2020, 150,000 new jobs in computer science fields will open each year. Despite such high demand for computer science skills, just 40,000 American students graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science (CS) in 2010. While the technology industry in Seattle has boomed in the past decade, employers such as Microsoft and Amazon have been forced to search outside the state for qualified employees. Despite very limited resources, the UW has managed to increase its annual production of STEM degrees by 60 percent over the past ten years. However, this increase has not been enough to meet the ever-growing demand for STEM talent.
Technology companies blame a lack of education, especially in early grades, for the shortage of computer science majors in Washington. Because of the high starting salaries offered at tech companies, CS graduates rarely pursue education as a career path, leaving few teachers to help get students interested in computer science. Furthermore, the Computer Science & Engineering (CSE) program at the University of Washington is not able to meet student demand given current resources. The department turns away approximately sixty percent of applicants, although many are well-qualified. To help remedy this problem, the 2011-13 state budget redirected $3.8 million in current UW state funds to convert 425 existing student FTE to Engineering FTE. CSE estimates 80 additional CS degrees will be produced each year.
Nevertheless, technology companies want to get students hooked on computer science even earlier. To address the shortage of CS teachers in K-12 institutions, Kevin Wang, a Program Manager at Microsoft with a graduate degree in Education from Harvard, founded a program called TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) in 2010. The program recruits Microsoft employees to volunteer at local high schools to teach computer science courses for two-to five hours per week in the mornings. Employees are paid a small stipend by Microsoft for their volunteer time, and go back to work later in the day. The goal of the program is to increase the number of high school students getting exposed to and passionate about computer science, which will hopefully lead to more computer science graduates later on.
The program has grown exponentially since its inception in 2010. TEALS teachers taught in four Seattle-area high schools during the 2010-2011 school year; this year, 110 teachers are teaching in 37 high schools across eight states. The teaching pool has expanded to include 19 non-Microsoft teachers as well. By all accounts, the program has been a huge success, with over 300 students enrolled in AP Computer Science courses taught by TEALS teachers this year.
To read more about the program, read this article in the New York Times, or check out the TEALS website.