September 4, 2012

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Westminster Awarded Grant for High School Computer Science Project

Press Release

September 4, 2012

Westminster College has been awarded a $790 thousand grant for a program that will change the way students in Utah’s public schools learn about computing. The National Science Foundation (NSF) is funding the project called The Utah Exploring Computer Science Initiative.

Teachers and businesses are finding that Utah high school graduates lack a solid understanding of how their favorite devices work. Last year only 25 percent of Utah high schools offered a rigorous computer science course and only 11 percent of high schools offered a course in AP computer science. This project will seek to address the problem of decreased enrollments in high school computer science classes and the increased need for computing professionals in the workforce.

Dr. Helen Hu, associate professor of computer science at Westminster, is directing the collaborative project with the Utah State Office of Education, Brigham Young University and Southern Utah University. Hu will lead an effort to implement the rigorous Exploring Computer Science (ECS) curriculum in Utah classrooms. The ECS model made national headlines for its success in educating more female, Latino and African American students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The Utah Exploring Computer Science Initiative ultimately aspires to adapt ECS into Utah’s 9th grade basic computer literacy courses.

“We need to take Utah students beyond knowing how to browse the internet and use Microsoft Word,” said Hu. “Teenagers and their parents have expressed enthusiasm for a class about how computers actually work and the myriad ways they are integrated in the world around us. ECS teaches computer science in a way that engages and excites them.”

The grant will fund training of Utah public school teachers in the rigorous ECS curriculum. Hu has already taught the ECS curriculum to three Utah teachers who will be piloting the ECS course this school year. Hu anticipates the project will be in 100 Utah schools within three years and the majority of public schools statewide within five years.

“The goal is to prepare students with more advanced 21st century computing skills,” said Hu. “This project will put Utah on the forefront with a workforce ready to fill the soaring demand for high-tech jobs.”

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