C Spire executives and state education officials recently unveiled a new pilot program that uses customized curriculum developed from a successful non-profit coding academy in Water Valley, Mississippi to “fast track” creation of hundreds of new student academic and computer science career opportunities.
The new program, called the C Spire Software Development Pathway, is a public-private partnership between C Spire, a Mississippi-based diversified telecommunications and technology services company, and the Mississippi State University Research and Curriculum Unit’s new Center for Cyber Education.
Mississippi has an aggressive goal as part of the 2015 Computer Science for Mississippi (CS4MS) initiative to create and deliver standardized computer science curriculum for nearly a half million students in grades K-12 and place qualified computer science teachers in all the state’s 896 elementary, middle and high schools by 2023-24.
“We need to accelerate our efforts to educate and equip more young people with the computer science skills they need that translate into jobs in the real world,” said Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who spoke at a press conference with C Spire and state education leaders to announce the new program. “Preparing young Mississippians for the good-paying jobs of a high-tech global economy is critical to our state’s future economic success.”
Under the three-year pilot program, C Spire and state education officials are estimating the new program can deliver 93 percent more Mississippi graduates qualified for entry-level software development jobs than existing programs.
“We live in a software-defined world where code and the internet influence every aspect of our lives,” said C Spire CEO Hu Meena. “Computer science, coding and software development drives innovation and creates jobs in our economy, but we need to do more now to encourage schools to offer courses, equip teachers and enable young people pursue IT careers”
The program, which will be fully funded in the first year and partially funded in the second and third years by C Spire, will train 30 teachers and give computer science job opportunities for 150 students from selected schools after two years of specialized course work in high school and one year in community college.
Curriculum for the pilot program was derived from Base Camp Coding Academy, a successful, non-profit coding academy that started an intense, fast-paced,12-month specialized computer coding training regimen for select high school students in 2016. Every graduate has received job offers from multiple employers.
“For a program like this to be successful, we need to partner with businesses across the state to develop first-class teacher mentoring and student internship and job shadowing opportunities,” said Dr. Mark Keenum, president of Mississippi State University, which is helping the state Department of Education with its CS4MS initiative.
Recognizing the need for broader partnerships and innovative approaches to help the state reach its aggressive curriculum and teacher training goals, Mississippi State Schools Superintendent Carey Wright said MSU’s Research and Curriculum Unit recently formed the Center for Cyber Education (CCE), which will focus on K-12 education needs statewide.
A key partner will be the Mississippi Community Colleges. Dr. Andrea Mayfield, executive director of the Mississippi Community College Board, said the CCE plans to train an instructor from each of the nine participating community colleges along with a teacher from a partnering high school in the software development curriculum. Each high school teacher will recruit at least 10 students for the program.
“As our economy grows and evolves, career and technical education has experienced a renaissance driven by technologically focused careers that are in high demand in Mississippi,” Mayfield said. “The Mississippi Community College Board looks forward to working with the community college presidents, C Spire and Mississippi State University’s Center for Cyber Education to further develop this program, which will ultimately create more job opportunities for our young people.”
Workers with a background in computer science are in high demand and short supply in Mississippi. Employers currently have over 1,342 unfilled job openings due to the serious shortage of trained, qualified IT workers. The average salary for qualified IT workers is over $69,000 a year, almost double the statewide average. Nationwide, new research indicates that there will be a shortage of over 1 million software developers in the U.S. by 2020.
Workforce development is a key part of the C Spire Tech Movement initiative launched last fall to deliver on its promise to help create and retain a 21st century technology workforce in this region that will boost the state’s economy, promote business expansion and improve the overall quality of life.
Other elements of the initiative include creation of a state-of-the-art digital customer care platform, massive deployment of broadband internet for homes and businesses and other leadership initiatives designed to drive adoption and integration of the latest technological innovations, such as smart cities, businesses and homes, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things.