$1.3 million grant boosters College’s computer science program

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The College of William and Mary was recently awarded grant money from Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s “Tech Talent Initiative,” a state initiative to produce more computer science majors within Virginia’s public university system. As a result of this, the College has been given a yearly grant of $1.3 million that is to designed to increase the size of the undergraduate computer science program. 

On top of this yearly sum, the College also will receive additional funding and support from the Virginia state government during the first few years of the Tech Talent initiative. The College hopes to graduate an additional 930 computer science majors over the next 20 years.

The investment announcement Tuesday, Nov. 12 came at the end of a long journey to secure state funding. The College’s administration applied for the grant in April and received word earlier this week that they were eligible to receive funding for the new program.

The move comes as a part of Northam’s broad attempts to expand the technology sector throughout Virginia. The governor’s plan to invest in computer science came about as partially because of Amazon’s new ‘HQ2’ headquarters, which is slated for construction in Northern Virginia.

The governor hopes to fill many of the new Amazon jobs with Virginian computer science graduates. The employees in the technology sector are in high demand, and by investing in the computer science programs of major universities, the state government believes it can prepare college students for the workforce and bolster the tech sector in the state. 

“This initiative is an investment in Virginians … Virginia’s tech sector will continue booming only if we can train the workforce those jobs require,” Northam said in a press release. “With today’s announcement, we are educating a workforce that will fill jobs at hundreds of tech companies around the commonwealth, including at Amazon, helping boost our economy and quality of life in every corner of Virginia.”

“This initiative is an investment in Virginians … Virginia’s tech sector will continue booming only if we can train the workforce those jobs require,” Northam said in a press release. “With today’s announcement, we are educating a workforce that will fill jobs at hundreds of tech companies around the commonwealth, including at Amazon, helping boost our economy and quality of life in every corner of Virginia.” 

The plan calls for a 75 percent increase in the number of computer science graduates across the state, with an increase of anywhere between 25,000 and 31,000 new computer science majors graduating from state universities over the next 20 years. To achieve the goals for the College specifically, the grant will be allocated towards expanding the number of faculty teaching the subject in hopes of increasing the number of students who ultimately pursue degrees in the field.    

“The Tech Talent program creates clear pathways for Virginia students to obtain high-wage jobs by equipping them with the necessary skills to succeed in high-demand fields,” Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni said in a written statement. “This agreement with many of our public higher education institutions will support business and industry in Virginia while preparing our students to enter the 21st-century workforce.”  

Currently, the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimates that thousands of new programming jobs across the country will be created over the next couple of years, making it an extremely fast-growing industry. In addition to being highly in demand, computer science positions are also highly paid, making computer science a very marketable major. According to the Office of the Provost, computer science department chair Michael Lewis and Vice Provost for Research and Professional Studies Dennis Manos were instrumental in ensuring the College’s participation in the initiative.  

“The money will primarily go hiring new faculty,” chair of the College’s computer science department Michael Lewis said. “Our target is to increase the number of CS majors graduating each year to 121 in ten years. With more faculty, we can offer more classes and a broader variety of classes. For instance, it could make it possible for us to offer more COLL classes.” 

Lewis said he is excited about what the department can do with the added funding.  

“The department will become larger and broader,” Lewis said. “It’s premature to say what other changes may result, but we have already begun looking into a number of options to increase participation in computer science. I am excited by some of the ideas we are kicking around.

“The department will become larger and broader,” Lewis said. “It’s premature to say what other changes may result, but we have already begun looking into a number of options to increase participation in computer science. I am excited by some of the ideas we are kicking around.” 

Lewis also said he thinks the College will be a key player, thanks to the new initiative.  

“I won’t speak for the entire state, I believe we will be successful at W and M … We’re ready to make sure the university is a key player,” Lewis said.