Computer Sciences receives education grant for undergraduate and outreach programs

AUSTIN, Texas—The Department of Computer Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin will receive $447,990 from a Texas consortium to enhance an honors program and outreach efforts for high-school girls, teachers and counselors.

This represents the largest Technology Workforce Development grant administered by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board through the Texas Engineering and Technical Consortium. The consortium is a partnership between private companies and higher education institutions designed to increase the number of engineering and computer science graduates.

The Computer Sciences Department in the College of Natural Sciences will use the grant that begins in January to build its Turing Scholars Program and First Bytes Outreach Program and to develop a summer program to enhance the computer knowledge of counselors and middle-school and high-school teachers. Enhancing computer science education is considered critical because the top seven growth occupations are in information technology, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Five of these seven occupations require a computer science degree.

The Turing Scholars Program, which began at the university in 2002, lasts four years and is offered to exceptional incoming computer science undergraduates. Those in its first entering class had average SAT scores of 1470 as compared to an average of 1260 for all entering computer science students. Turing Scholars students receive an intensive, accelerated educational curriculum, early research exposure and direct access to the computer sciences major from high school.

“The Turing Scholars Program represents our efforts to develop a challenging educational program for the technology leaders of the future,” said Associate Professor Calvin Lin, noting the world’s increasing reliance on technology. Lin is the program’s director.

First Bytes, a free, week-long residential camp on campus, seeks to interest high school junior and senior girls in computer science careers by showing them the power of computers and the excitement of problem solving.

“Women received less than 28 percent of the bachelor’s degrees in computer sciences in 2001, which is down from 37 percent in 1984,” said Associate Professor Kathryn S. McKinley, First Bytes director. “First Bytes is the university’s response to reverse this national trend and increase the participation of under-represented populations in building and using the technology of tomorrow.”

In June 2003, 75 girls from Texas high schools participated in the first camp, and even more are expected to attend camps that will be held in June and July 2004. The camps provide the opportunity for the Texas residents to see how computers are used to solve problems, to gain hands-on experience in computer programming and to interact with female computer scientists.

To enhance Texas students’ exposure to computer sciences, the grant also will be used to fund a pilot program in June 2004 for middle-school and high-school teachers and counselors. The program will provide intensive technology training and explore innovative teaching strategies. The pilot program will be run in partnership with the Texas Regional Collaborative for Excellence in Science Teaching of the university’s College of Education.

For more information contact: Barbra Rodriguez, College of Natural Sciences, 512-232-0675.