Schools participate in pathway pilot program
Twenty Mississippi high school districts and community colleges have agreed to participate in a new pilot program that will use customized curriculum developed from a successful private coding academy to “fast track” creation of hundreds of new academic and computer science career opportunities in the state.
The new program, called the C Spire Software Development Pathway, will start in 2019-2020 and 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.
Equipping young people with computer science skills is a key part of the broader C Spire Tech Movement initiative launched in 2017 and designed to move communities forward through technology with a focus on broadband access, workforce development and innovation.
Forty-seven teachers, counselors and administrators from 11 school districts and nine community college districts across the state met recently in Ridgeland with officials from the Mississippi Department of Education and the Mississippi Institute of Higher Learning for preliminary discussions on curriculum delivery methods, costs, teacher qualifications and scheduling of course work.
Representatives agreed to pair up interested high school districts with community colleges since the goal of the three-year program is to deliver 93 percent more Mississippi graduates qualified for entry-level software development jobs than current programs, which should help close the skills gap for this profession in the state.
The group also plans to schedule an initial set of recruiting tours this month at participating high schools for interested students and potential local business and community group partners, along with summer workshops for teachers and community college instructors to discuss curriculum, job shadowing and real-world class projects for program participants.
The pilot program, which will be fully funded in the first year and partially funded in the second and third years by C Spire, is bringing together high schools and community colleges to develop an innovative approach that will use curriculum to teach students skills in coding, project management, collaboration, and Web design.
Students can earn an associate’s degree of applied science after two years of specialized course work in high school and just one additional year in community college. More than 150 students in the first year are expected to benefit from this new program and be on track for high-paid, high-demand jobs in computing fields with higher numbers in subsequent years.
Curriculum for the pilot program was derived from Base Camp Coding Academy, a highly successful, nonprofit coding academy that started an intense, fast-paced,12-month specialized computer coding training regimen for select high school students in 2016. Every graduate of the program, now in its third year, has received job offers from multiple employers.
Participating high school districts include Booneville, Brookhaven, Gulfport, Laurel, Meridian, Starkville-Oktibbeha, Oxford, Lafayette, Newton, Lee and Rankin counties. Community colleges partnering with high schools include Copiah-Lincoln, East Mississippi, Gulf Coast, Hinds, Itawamba, Jones, Meridian, Northeast and Northwest.
“There is a lot of energy and enthusiasm to make this approach a success for our state,” said Shelly Hollis, assistant director of the MSU Research and Curriculum Unit’s Center for Cyber Education. “We are using a creative, out-of-the-box approach to meet the real-world needs of students to land better jobs and for employers to have more qualified workers now.”
Workers with a background in computer science are in high demand and short supply in Mississippi. Employers currently have 974 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 there will be a shortage of over one million software developers in the United States by 2020.
“We live in a software-defined world where code and the internet influence every aspect of our lives,” said C Spire CIO Carla Lewis. “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 to develop these important skills so they can pursue these highly-sought IT careers.”
Lewis said the main objective of the program is to close the skills gap for qualified software development programmers in the state. “These students will have an opportunity to receive quality education and training in a short, accelerated time frame with the ability to enter a critical field that businesses of all types and sizes need within one year of graduation.”
To learn more about the C Spire Tech Movement initiative, visit www.cspire.com/techmvmt.