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NSF boosts funding of Tuskegee-based, statewide computer science ed project by $200K

September 23, 2019

Contact: Michael Tullier, APR, Office of Communications, Public Relations and Marketing
 

Three students sitting at computers
Some of Alabama’s high school students
who have learned how to code as part
of their involvement in ECS4Alabama.

ECS4Alabama — an ongoing, year-round project designed to provide underserved high school students in Alabama with greater access to computer science education — is receiving an additional $200,000 in funding from the National Science Foundation.

The project, based at Tuskegee University and under the leadership of principal investigator Dr. Mohammed Qazi, trains in-service high school teachers throughout Alabama to teach “Exploring Computer Science” (ECS) — an introductory, but rigorous, true computer science course.

“Our focus is not to turn every student into a computer scientist,” Qazi explained, “but rather to give today’s students an opportunity to gain invaluable computing skills that will benefit them professionally and make them more marketable to the workforce — regardless of the career path they choose.”

Qazi, who also serves as a professor in Tuskegee’s Department of Mathematics, launched the program in fall 2016 through an initial $1 million NSF grant. Earlier this year, the Alabama State Department of Education invested an additional $150,000 grant to train 12 more teachers. That combined funding has allowed ECS4Alabama to train 72 teachers through summer institutes and year-round professional development, and who in turn have enhanced computer science knowledge and skills for nearly 3,500 students in 72 Alabama high schools during the last two years.

“Compared to two years ago, the availability of computer science programs at these 72 Alabama high schools was practically nonexistent,” Qazi pointed out. “Today, through these teachers’ commitment, and thanks to the support of their principals and other administrators, ECS4Alabama is opening many doors for students across the state — many of whom come from communities underrepresented in the computer science industry.”

Map showing location of high schools being reached by ECS4Alabama.
ECS4Alabama efforts now span a total
of 72 Alabama high schools, many of
which serve rural areas where the
subject of computer science has been
drastically under-taught.

Qazi noted that a recently passed state law mandate that every Alabama high school offer a computer science course by 2023. The Tuskegee-led ECS4Alabama, he said, is giving its partner schools an advantage by helping them meet the state’s new requirements early.

Ultimately, Qazi expects ECS4Aabama to help remedy the drastic lack of diversity in the computer science-related industry — a setting where minorities currently constitute only 13% of the computing workforce.

“This project targets Alabama high schools who have largely racially diverse student bodies,” he said. “We must diversify this sector — both in terms of ethnicity and gender — so that professionals from all backgrounds are able to contribute at all levels of the high-tech sector.”

ECS4Alabama partners include the University of Alabama, Auburn University, the Exploring Computer Science Team, A+ College Ready, the National Science Foundation and the Alabama State Department of Education. For more information on the project, visit https://www.ecs4alabama.org.

© 2019, Tuskegee University