By JEREMY WAHR
Capital News Service
LANSING — High school students who train for the tech industry gain improved computer literacy and higher wages, state officials say.
They are also likely to pass advanced placement computer exams, according to the Talent and Economic Development Department.
The agency promotes the Technology Education and Literacy in Schools program that pairs tech industry professionals with high school teachers to prepare students for technology careers. The program has 21 schools, 59 volunteers and 33 tech companies participating this year in Michigan.
The four classes offered under the program are: Introduction to Computer Sciences, AP Computer Sciences A, AP Computer Science Principles and Advanced Topics and Projects in Computer Science.
Students from East Lansing High School voiced criticism and praise of the classes.
“There is a difference between teaching and knowing material,” said Eleanor Carr, a senior. “It’s interesting to see the volunteers grow as instructors during the school year.”
Having advanced placement computer sciences courses is new and unique, Carr said. The program has different instructors teach students every day, and having the program causes the school to stand out, Carr said.
One student found fault with the pacing of the class.
“The class has a lot of potential, but it doesn’t live up to expectations,” said Kathryn McVay, a sophomore. “It’s taught well, but it could be taught at a faster pace.”
The program has lead to interesting more students in computer sciences, said Cecilia Anderson, a mathematics teacher at East Lansing High who oversees the classes. This is Anderson’s first year working with the volunteers, and the school’s second year overall.
“Last year, we had a small group of students that became thoroughly excited by programming,” Anderson said. “Students involved in the program headed their own competitive team, the first in the school’s history, and took home second place at a state competition.”
Students who took the one of the advanced placement classes last year were able to intern for tech companies over the summer, Anderson said. The current AP Computer Sciences A class is full, with 30 students, and no dropouts.
Material from the AP Computer Sciences A class was used to create the AP Introduction to Computer Science Principles class, Anderson said. The advanced placement intro class is now offered at East Lansing High, which complements the other subjects. Anderson said that the class taps into the creativity of the students, with one example being a project where the students played Battleship using two computers and processing software.
The AP Introduction to Computer Science Principles class is offered at Ludington High School as well, said Eric Venglar, a science teacher at Ludington High. This is the first year that Ludington High has been involved in the program.
Volunteers don’t physically come to the school, but they use webcams to assist in the class over the internet, Venglar said. This creates a virtual classroom where students can interact with the teacher and the volunteers.
“It’s a unique situation, but it’s great that the volunteers are available to answer questions,” Venglar said. “If I don’t know the answer to something, the volunteers do, and they can provide the answer and give real-world experience at the same time.”
The tech industry is a commonly-used umbrella term that covers information technology careers, computer engineering careers and cybersecurity careers.
The priority of the program is to build and grow the presence of computer classes in high schools by training teachers, said Andrew Spiece, the Michigan regional manager for the program. Students are introduced to computer sciences through these classes, which could lead to them pursuing a career in the tech industry, he said.
Business Facilities, a magazine that covers economic growth, ranks Michigan third in the nation for growth potential of the cybersecurity industry.
The program is a great way for students to begin their paths into the professional world, said Jeremy Hendges, the interim director of the Talent and Economic Development Department.
Tech industry careers are growing with more than 270,000 jobs projected in Michigan by 2024, Hendges said. Business and education partnerships that train students with the skills they need to work in these desirable careers are critical to closing the state’s talent gap, he said.
Workers with computer science degrees earn 40 percent on average more than other degree-holders, according to the department.
The Technology Education and Literacy in Schools program was founded in 2009 by Kevin Wang, a former high school computer teacher and Microsoft engineer. It is a nationwide program operated by Microsoft Philanthropies, a grant agency. In Michigan, the program is promoted by the Talent and Economic Development Department.
Since 2009, employees from hundreds of companies across the country have volunteered through the program to serve more than 37,000 students across the country, according to the department.