Photo courtesy UTEP
The University of Texas at El Paso is launching a new program – the Microsoft Teacher Computer Science Academy – to increase the number of high school students who take computing courses by increasing the number of computer science teachers, with financial support from Microsoft.
The funding is thanks to Microsoft’s TechSpark, an initiative which aims to expand economic opportunity in the Borderplex region as well as five other communities throughout the country.
Microsoft will fund 14 full scholarships this year for high school math or computer and technology education (CTE) teachers to become qualified to teach computer science at high schools in the El Paso region.
Computer Science is an increasingly important skillset for students to have, yet, fewer than 2% of Texas high school students were enrolled in computer science courses in the ’16-’17 academic year.
When Microsoft President Brad Smith visited El Paso in October 2019, he highlighted the need to build a pipeline of qualified computer science teachers to address this low enrollment in computer science courses. Microsoft’s Technology and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program supports the training of computer science teachers and is in 19 high schools in the region this academic year.
Following Smith’s visit, UTEP President Heather Wilson asked faculty members if it was possible to build on Microsoft’s initiative and design a graduate-level certificate at UTEP that would give high school math teachers the education they need to be able to teach coding, AP computer science, or dual credit computer science courses.
The UTEP Computer Science Department and the UTEP College of Education designed the new program.
“The cost for the 18-credit high school teacher program is about $7,500 per teacher for a high-quality program,” President Wilson said. “We are grateful for the Microsoft scholarships for the first cohort of students because we want every high school in the region to have at least one qualified computer science teacher.”
UTEP’s pilot program establishes two pathways. The initial phase prepares teachers who are already teaching high school math or computer technology to become certified as computer science teachers.
The second phase helps teachers obtain a graduate certificate to teach in dual-credit computer science courses.
Teachers who accept the scholarships agree to continue to teach in public schools in West Texas (Region 19) for at least two years. This “scholarship-for-service” model ensures that local high school students can benefit from the increased number of certified computer science teachers.
Scholarship applications are available on the UTEP Computer Science webpage. Applications will be reviewed in February on a rolling basis until all scholarships have been awarded.
UTEP and Microsoft will promote this program through the Borderplex Tech Council, the Regional Career and Technology Advisory Council, and UTEP’s strong relationship with regional school districts and superintendents.
The UTEP program team – led by Ann Gates, Ph.D., professor and chair of UTEP’s Computer Science Department, and Elsa Villa, Ph.D., associate director of the Center for Education Research and Policy in the College of Education – will also work with teacher advocates to recruit teachers.
“Estimates are that between 3% and 8% of students nationwide have taken a computer science course before graduating from high school,” UTEP President Heather Wilson said. “By focusing on advanced education for high school math teachers, El Paso could become a national leader in preparing high school students for a computerized world. This is a very high leverage strategy.”
The long-term goal of this program is to help address the shortage of computer science professionals in the workforce. According to Code.org, only 45% of high schools teach computer science nationwide, but 67% of all new jobs in Science Technology, Engineering and Math are in computing.
Today, there are almost 500,000 open computing positions in the United States and only 61,642 computer science graduates who entered the workforce last year.
The Computer Science Department at UTEP has been responsive to industry needs. There are more than 1,000 students studying computer science at UTEP and the University has grown the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in computer science by 135% and master’s degrees in computer science by 48% since 2015.