There’s a nice article in the New York Times, online edition, today that touches on several STEM talent expansion issues (New Programs Aim to Lure Young Into Digital Jobs, by Steve Lohr). At the heart of this story, though not explored much, America’s economic need for people who can leverage computational tools and methods is juxtaposed against the way computer science is portrayed to today’s students. The article uses a couple tiny case studies of people whose careers use computers in a central way but who came at computing through non-standard directions. (This means that they weren’t computer science majors, first; their primary passion lay outside the CS major.)
As a STEM educator (who is not a computer scientist), the article hurt a bit to read. On the one hand, it made me want to start wading into this area by helping developing the type of classes for junior high and high school students that are described in the article. On the other hand, I know that I should defer in this regard to my colleagues in computer science. Shouldn’t I? Or are they the people who are responsible for drying up the supply of American talent in computer science? Sure, they might point the finger at lawyers and financiers whose high-salary careers seem to be attracting students away from computer science, but what has been their response?
Reading this article makes me more certain that we should no leave science and technology education up to the scientists and technologists. We should not sit back and hope that our local computer science department takes the time and effort required to create and offer a course that presents computation to young people in a holistic way that’s integrated with topics from the ‘real world’ (as opposed to ins-and-outs of some programming language or other). We’re perfectly justified in leaving them behind if they think their way is the Right Way to train future computer scientists.
I’ll get off this train of thought now, as I’m risking taking this post away from what I’d originally intended it to be: a shout out and thumbs-up about a nice article on STEM talent expansion efforts.