Maryland Puts Focus on Computer Science

One of the Indiana Chamber’s top legislative priorities for 2018 is to increase computer science (CS) requirements for K-12 students. In Maryland, several similar initiatives are taking place.

Governor Larry Hogan kicked off “Achieving Computer Science Collaborations for Employing Students Statewide” (ACCESS) just a few months after signing on for Governors for Computer Science, a partnership of state leaders that have committed to increasing access to K-12 CS education.

By executive order and proposed legislation, the governor hopes to improve job readiness for graduates and draw a more diversified workforce to computing jobs.

Currently, according to the governor’s office, Maryland has 115,000 CS-related jobs in-state, with almost 20,000 openings. Demand for CS workers is expected to grow by another 12 percent over the next decade. Yet, state colleges and universities graduated fewer than 3,000 CS majors in 2015, just a fifth of whom were female.

Maryland is home to several cyber-related federal government agencies and military installations, including the National Security Agency, the U.S. Cyber Command and the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence. The state has 1,200 private sector cybersecurity companies. And 17 Maryland universities, colleges and community colleges have been designated as national centers of academic excellence in cyber defense.

Governor Hogan’s Executive Order requested that the state’s Task Force on Cybersecurity and Information Technology study the development of pathways that meet targeted workforce needs in computing fields and identify new ways to promote gender and minority equity in the STEM and IT workforce. A report on the findings will be due in June 2018.

The governor also announced that he would support legislation during the 2018 General Assembly session to implement computer science standards statewide for K-12 students. The administration said it would work with the state’s teachers as well representatives from higher education and computer science organizations to develop those.

Additionally, the governor will be allocating $5 million to fund teacher professional development in CS and offer grants to districts and schools to create training models and equipment.

The governor also said his office would team up with Girls Who Code to launch the challenge, which would promote partnerships among state and local leaders, school districts, community organizations and industry to launch new clubs statewide. These clubs offer free after-school programs that allow female students in grades 6-12 grade to learn and apply CS to help their communities with the support of peers and role models.

Short Session Starts With a Flurry of Activity

The Governor and General Assembly have continually heard from Hoosier employers on the need for a skilled workforce – and better aligning state programs with job demand. The good news is bills are being introduced to address those concerns. While only a handful of measures have been released to date, we are seeing legislation related to training tax credits and grants, as well as efforts to streamline current workforce programs. We anticipate a comprehensive workforce bill (1002) will be introduced in the House later next week.

The Governor’s computer science bill (SB 172) requires all public schools to offer a one-semester elective computer science course at least once each school year to high school students. We expect a hearing on this measure in the next two weeks. Both this and the workforce efforts are 2018 Indiana Chamber legislative priorities.

Senate Bill 257 has been introduced by Sen. Travis Holdman (R-Markle) to serve as the beginning of discussions on clarifying the exempt status of computer software sold as a service (SaaS) – a Chamber priority. Holdman is also authoring another major piece of tax legislation, SB 242, which contains a variety of tax matters. The House bills are coming in too, with a good number already filed addressing local tax issues.

Speaking of local matters, the Chamber is very pleased to see that the House Republican agenda includes a bill that will make township government more effective and efficient by the merging of townships (approximately 300) where less than 1,200 people reside. Such local government reform has been a longstanding Chamber goal.

In addition to SB 257, other technology-related bills include Rep. Ed Soliday’s (R-Valparaiso) autonomous vehicle (AV) proposal to position Indiana to safely test and implement AV technology with automobiles. The bill also will address truck platooning, which uses GPS and WiFi technology to allow trucks to more closely follow each other for greater efficiency, on Indiana roads.

Rural broadband, high-speed internet and small cell wireless structures technology all will be topics for the Legislature to debate. Certified technology parks also will be discussed with the idea to have an additional capture of sales and income tax revenue for those complexes that perform well.

In health care, enabling employers to ask prospective employees if they are smokers not only heads the Chamber’s wish list but also appears to be gaining traction this go-round. Eliminating the special protections (currently in state statute) for smokers is found in SB 23 and will be guided by Sen. Liz Brown (R-Fort Wayne). The bill has a pretty good chance of getting a hearing in the Senate – which would be a first. Previously, a measure was taken up in a joint hearing in the House.

Increasing the tobacco tax and raising the legal age for smokers to 21 are policies that likely will be included in a bill to be introduced by Rep. Charlie Brown (D-Gary). The Indiana Chamber is supportive of both.

Nine utility-related bills are on our radar screen at this point. They range from tweaks of last year’s big legislation (like SB 309, which addressed rising energy costs and a long-standing struggle between the investor-owned electric utilities and larger consumers of energy) to compulsory sewer connection, excavation for infrastructure, regulation of solar energy systems in homeowners’ associations and new water legislation. Separately, Sen. David Niezgodski (D-South Bend) has a proposed ban on coal tar pavement sealer, which we oppose.

There are also a number of bills proposing changes to Indiana’s alcohol laws including: Sunday sales, cold beer sales by grocery and convenience stores, and increases in fees and penalties.

The Chamber will be providing more details on all of these bills as the session progresses.

For anyone who wants a refresher about how legislation becomes law, the Chamber has a handy guide free of charge. It includes a diagram of the bill process, a glossary of often-used terms and a look at where bills commonly get tripped up.

Additionally, the Chamber will be providing updates and issuing pertinent documents throughout the session at www.indianachamber.com/legislative.

GUEST BLOG: Computer Science Education Reaching Critical Mass

Graduation season is always a time for reflection in higher education, and this year is no different for those of us who prepare students in one of the fastest growing fields in the country: Computer science.

With more than 60 students graduating this year from IUPUI with either a bachelor’s or master’s degree in computer science, we’re pleased we are making progress in meeting a critical need for trained computer scientists in central Indiana. Even so, it is a constant challenge to match the pace of the job creation in the field. It’s estimated there are three computer science jobs available for every one new graduate, a departure from the environment of underemployment many new college graduates are facing today. The “big picture” scenario of the industry clearly illustrates we have a much higher hill to climb before declaring success.

The good news for students who are considering a computer science degree is that the facts are in your favor. Jobs are plentiful and pay well compared to other fields. Every imaginable industry can use the problem-solving and critical-thinking skills of a trained computer scientist, and the field offers a great deal of marketability and job security for graduates. Consider these additional facts:

  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the median annual salaries for computer scientists at more than $97,000 and starting salaries for computer software engineers in Indianapolis with a bachelor’s degree at more than $50,000.
  • Occupations requiring a bachelor’s degree in computer science are growing at more than 20% annually.
  • Computer science jobs account for 70% of the annual job growth for all STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields.

Despite these powerful and tangible benefits, the fact remains that universities across the country, not just the School of Science at IUPUI, still find it challenging to expand their computer science enrollment rosters. The field faces an identity crisis. The misguided image of computer scientists as introverts hunkered down in a dimly lit room for days at a time is no longer reality. Today’s computer scientists are professionals from all races and genders and represent an integral part of every industry looking to grow with the help of technology. Every computer scientist has the ability to impact a variety of fields, and the versatility of such a degree can open up immense possibilities. Computers are simply tools to help scientists think smarter and work more efficiently when solving complex problems. Until this distinction is made, most students are drawn to other majors that have a more clear social relevance and easily identifiable job description.

So why is there such a gap between the number of computer science students and the number of professional computer scientists?

Computer science has not been integrated well enough yet into middle and high school education requirements. K-12 students rarely have options to pursue computer science courses that will give them college credit while also allowing them to expand their knowledge and interest in the field. Not all students are expected to become biologists, but biology is a required course. The same emphasis should be applied to computer science courses, but not just those that focus on computer applications. We need to support students in efforts to create technology, not just learn how to use it. Just because students use technology everyday does not mean they understand it. Computer scientists are trained to understand the how and why of information technology, not just its functionality.

Until we approach the educational imperatives this field requires, we will continue to play catch up in the challenge to fill these jobs and to help our technology-dependent industries innovate and grow. As a result, central Indiana’s tech sector and other businesses are at a disadvantage they cannot afford.

—————-
Shiaofen Fang, Ph.D. is a professor and chair of the Department of Computer and Information Science at Indiana University Purdue University – Indianapolis (IUPUI).

U. of Evansville Student Finds Success with iPhone App

Indiana’s colleges and universities are constantly serving as hubs of innovation and pride for the state. Here’s a great story from the University of Evansville, as computer science major Jesse Squires’ iPaint uPaint finger painting app is gaining global attention.

“Touch-screen devices just beg to be scribbled on,” said Squires, a senior computer science major from Jeffersonville, Indiana. “People want to touch them and interact with them. It’s a childlike, mesmerizing thing.”

The App Store released Squires’ first app, iPaint uPaint, on January 11. It is available for 99 cents at the App Store; developers such as Squires receive 70 percent of revenue from sales of their apps. Just two weeks after launching, iPaint uPaint has been downloaded by iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch users in 13 countries.

Squires developed the app as his final project in an iOS programming class, a new course taught by associate professor of computer science Don Roberts during the Fall 2011 semester.

“Since the iPhone and Android have been released, there has been a huge surge of developers for mobile devices,” Squires said. “The iOS programming class at UE taught me the skills I needed to become a successful developer — while still in school.”

Creating iPaint uPaint took nearly two months. “There were some days and nights of pretty intense programming,” Squires recalled. “I remember one day when I started working at 10:00 a.m. and finished at 7:00 the next morning.”

The result of Squires’ efforts is an app that allows users to create virtual masterpieces on the screen of their iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. What differentiates iPaint uPaint from other finger-painting apps, says Squires, is the ability to connect with friends’ devices via Bluetooth and paint together.

Users can change the color of the background and brush, as well as the transparency and thickness. iPaint uPaint also features a “shake and erase” function like an Etch-a-Sketch. Users can share their finished paintings via Twitter, e-mail them to a friend, or save them to a photo album.

Squires plans to continue developing apps and hopes to attend graduate school after graduating from UE in May. As for his final project in last semester’s programming course. “I got an A,” he said with a laugh.