Five million dollar grant expands computer science education


Photo Credit: Melanie Westfall | Daily Texan Staff

UT’s WeTeach_CS program is working not only to make computer science classes more available to students but to diversify the field as well.

Only one in 10 high schools offer computer science nationwide, according to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. Computer science is not offered in many schools mainly because teachers are not certified to teach it, according to WeTeach_CS director Carol Fletcher. 

A $5 million grant from the Texas Education Agency, or TEA, aims to help WeTeach_CS, a part of the College of Education’s Center for STEM Education, certify more teachers in computer science and help bring computer science classes to more Texas high schools. 

Fletcher said the grant will help WeTeach_CS build on their previous success. 

“I think that Texas is really leading the country in scaling up computer science preparation,” Fletcher said. “Last year we trained more people in the state of Texas than (were trained) in the entire country, and with this additional grant we are poised to do the same thing again.”

Deborah Kariuki, who writes grants for WeTeach_CS, said it is easier to get a computer science teaching certification now than it was when she became certified in 2010. 

“To me, the challenge was a lack of any review material or anyone to talk to about prep material,” Kariuki said. “Today that has changed because WeTeach_CS has invested in helping teachers both with computer science and no computer science background prepare for the (certification) exam.”

The grant will fund 29 different initiatives, including computer science collaboratives and training programs to support teachers. The collaboratives aim to help teachers mentor other teachers and are based off of the Center’s Texas Regional Collaboratives for Excellence in Science and Math Teaching. The grant will also fund teacher externship projects, or temporary training programs, that provide teachers with experience in the industry and broaden their knowledge about the field.

More computer science classes offered in high school create more opportunities for minority students to go into STEM fields, said Todd Hutner, assistant director of teacher education and center development at the Center. Only 22 percent of AP computer science students are women and only 13 percent are of African-American or Latino descent, according to College Board. 

“WeTeach_CS has a commitment to equity, which includes ensuring that students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds are given access to computer science,” Hutner said. “This includes girls and women, as well as African-American and Latino/a students, and students of lower socioeconomic backgrounds.”

Hutner added that diversifying and developing computer science education will cause Texas’ economy to grow, due to an increase in industries that rely on computer science. For example, the oil and gas industry, which has a large presence in Texas, requires computer scientists to help model physical and economic systems. 

Carol Ramsey, graduate research assistant at WeTeach_CS, said she feels optimistic about the future for computer science education, especially in Texas.

“I think that the Center for STEM Education is really being a leader in the field and Texas is really being a leader as well,” Ramsey said. “We have a center that is getting the funding and doing the work of getting teachers certified. This is leading the way in which the country should get work done.”