Engineering News Winter 2016
On a Mission to Correct the Disconnect
Here are the facts (according to Code.org):
- Today there are 604,689 computing job openings nationwide.
- Last year, only 38,175 computer science students graduated into the workforce.
- Jobs in computer science on average are growing at twice the national rate, and at four times the rate of other fields in California.
- There will be 1 million more computer science jobs than students with degrees in that field by 2020.
For more than a decade, Dan Lewis, associate professor of computer engineering, has worked tirelessly to rectify this disconnect between the availability of qualified computer scientists and employment demand in California by focusing on computer science education in the K-12 pipeline. To date, he has raised more than $2.5 million from the National Science Foundation and private sources to create summer camps, professional development for teachers, and improved computer science (CS) curricula, as well as scholarships to incentivize students to study CS here at Santa Clara.
Recognizing that middle and high school teachers often lack the resources or training to teach this subject, Lewis followed up a successful series of summer teacher workshops with a program that provided 10 local high schools with Lego robotic kits, computers, and instructional classroom help from SCU engineering graduate students. In the face of national funding cuts, they doggedly patched together grant monies with a donation of 350 nearly new computers snagged from Santa Clara University’s annual PC replacement program.
“When we started with the 10 high schools, only two offered any computer science courses—and those each just had one,” Lewis said. “Today, all 10 offer Exploring Computer Science, a course we introduced for ninth graders, most provide at least two courses, and three or four of the schools now have three courses as part of their curriculum. Also, four of the high school teachers we put through training have become leaders who travel the country delivering workshops funded by Code.org,” he added.
Although they made headway in the classroom, more work was needed. So in 2012, Lewis and five other educators founded ACCESS—Alliance for California Computing Education for Students and Schools. He now serves on the group’s steering committee. Among other goals, ACCESS seeks to elevate K-12 CS education, establish a CS certification pathway for California’s K-12 teachers, advocate for CS to count toward high school graduation as math or science core credit and UC/CSU eligibility and admissions, and make high-quality K-12 computer science education accessible in California—particularly for traditionally under-represented groups: girls, low-income students, and students of color. “We’re trying to do what we can to promote computer science education and we’re working through the California legislature to establish changes in policy,” Lewis explained. “Until now there was no teacher certification in the state for computer science and most high school courses didn’t teach anything beyond how to use Microsoft Office. We hope to change that. A colleague and I are also cataloging online courses that high school teachers could take for credit toward a new Supplemental Authorization in Computer Science that was proposed by ACCESS and is currently under consideration by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.”
In characteristically self-effacing fashion, Lewis reflects on his past 10 years’ work. “There was a national problem and I was doing what I could locally. It’s been really rewarding, and I can see that it’s made not a huge, but a measurable impact.”
Later this year, 20 more local high school students will participate in a pilot program created by Lewis and Silvia Figueira, associate professor of computer engineering, and funded by Google—the Summer Institute for Humanitarian Computing. During this intensive month-long workshop, the students will perform research, create a mobile app for social benefit, and prepare technical papers and posters for conference submission.
The hope is that this hands-on, project based work will inspire some of these students to pursue computing as a field of study and, eventually, a career path. A few million jobs await them.
Photo: Dan Lewis joined the School of Engineering in 1975 and led the effort to establish the Department of Computer Engineering in 1988. He served as department chair 1988-2007.