Reading, Writing and Robots: Schools Get Creative to Interest Students in IT


The number of engineers graduating annually from U.S. universities trails the numbers of like graduates in India and China, a worrying statistic that presents "the greatest single threat to American prosperity," says Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter, co-author of a Competitiveness Index produced by the national Council on Competitiveness.


While the U.S. still turns out highly educated graduates, other countries are doing a better job of modifying their educational systems to ensure that grads possess the skills they will need to meet the needs of shifting global economies, Porter says in a recent internetnews.com article.


According to UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute, the number of incoming U.S. college freshmen intending to major in computer science dropped by 70 percent between 2000 and 2005. Christine Bullen of the Stevens School of Technology Management says that pessimism after the dot-com bust and the inaccurate perception that the bulk of U.S. IT jobs are being shipped overseas "communicated to young people that there were no career opportunities in IT."


In an IT Business Edge interview, Bullen calls upon companies, universities and the government to work together to promote IT as a career. Government incentives to study IT in countries like India and China "shows a real commitment...to establish a valuable workforce in technology fields," she says.


Some U.S. colleges are trying to address this IT shortfall by jazzing up computer science course offerings, which have traditionally been as dry as Melba toast. Georgia Tech, for instance, offers a class in which robotics students program inexpensive machines called the Scribbler to dance, make music and navigate obstacle courses.


Several experts interviewed for a recent MSNBC story say that the Scribbler is a great way to make computing more accessible and, yes, fun. Georgia Tech will allow more students to take the Scribbler class next semester and will also expand the program to two other Georgia schools. Microsoft contributed $1 million to fund the program at Georgia Tech and at Bryn Mawr.