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Virginia Invests Money to Train More Computer Scientists

The College of William & Mary committed to producing 930 more graduates with degrees in computer science over the next 20 years, with the state allocating more than $1.3 million a year to help the college reach its goal.

(TNS) — As part of a statewide tech talent initiative, William & Mary committed to producing 930 more graduates with degrees in computer science over the next 20 years. On Nov. 7, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam allocated more than $1.3 million a year, beginning next year, to the college to help it reach its goal.

With the help of the Tech Talent Investment Program, Virginia plans to produce at least 25,000 to 31,000 more graduates with degrees in computer science and related fields in the next 20 years. Ten other schools including Virginia Tech, George Mason and the University of Virginia, were also awarded funding.

The new workforce will help fill jobs in tech companies around the state as well as at Amazon, according to Northam. The tech giant announced plans to bring a second headquarters to Northern Virginia in the coming years.

This year, the state will give $1.5 million in capital support to W&M and the Higher Education Equipment Trust Fund has promised $300,000 each year for the first three years of the program.

More than half a million dollars from the state earlier in the year allowed the college to hire three full-time faculty for its new data science major.

Next year’s funding from the state will allow the college to add new faculty to its computer science department and slowly increase its graduates from its baseline of 62 to 67 this year, 72 in 2021 and 121 graduates in 10 years.

Sam Jones, the senior vice president for finance and administration, said the additional funding will pay for the salary and benefits of new faculty and for startup costs of any additional equipment needed to support the program.

“We haven’t pinned down yet exactly how many new faculty there will be. Definitely the idea is we want more majors, so we want more students to major in computer science and therefore be available for the workforce,” Jones said. “You’ve got to kind of feed that pipeline early.”

In 2010, W&M had just 12 computer science graduates, according to a news release. The graduating class of 2018 had between 60 and 75 computer science bachelor’s degrees. Jones said the money will also help satisfy the increased student demand.

Robert Michael Lewis, the computer science chair and associate professor, said enrollment pressure for the field is a phenomenon across the country. Computer science itself is so broad it presents opportunities to work in artificial intelligence, software engineering, cybersecurity and other emerging fields.

“It’s really more a matter now of just focusing on finding human needs that can be addressed by computing. Before you had to have all of the infrastructure, that’s not here anymore,” Lewis said. “Everyone’s got a computer, everyone’s got a cell phone. The field has gotten so big and so broad, it’s really exciting.”

W&M’s doctoral computer science department is one of few in the country that’s not at a school that has a school of engineering, he said. But employers value the skills students who came from an institution with strength in the liberal arts can offer.

“It’s the ability to communicate. They can recruit technical talent all over the world but it’s harder to find the technical talent they can send out to talk to clients and lead teams,” Lewis said. “The ability to see problems from multiple angles, that’s what they really value.”

©2019 The Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg, Va.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.