WWU Receives $1 million NSF Grant to Prepare Students for Careers in Computer Science and Math

by John Thompson, Office of Communications and Marketing

Two Western Washington University faculty members have been awarded a five-year, $1 million S-STEM grant from the National Science Foundation to prepare students for careers in computer science and math and to support women, underrepresented minorities, and first-generation students in their pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in those programs at WWU.

The grant will fund the CS/M Scholars Program, provide scholarships to about 40 students per year for up to four years, help students explore career opportunities in these fields and engage in professional development to prepare them for successful technical careers.  In addition, CS/M Scholars will benefit from mentoring from upperclassmen with the same majors, CS and math faculty, recent WWU alumni now working in those fields, and more senior industry professionals. 

The huge number of unfilled tech jobs in this state represent an enormous opportunity, said David Hartenstine, professor of Mathematics at Western and the principal investigator for the grant which he co-wrote with Perry Fizzano, WWU professor of Computer Science.

Fizzano, who has seen his department triple in size in the last five years due to increased student demand and a boost of state funding to support that need, echoed Hartenstine’s comments.

“A recent report said that 45,000 technical jobs in Washington state will go unfilled this year due to a lack of qualified candidates. Many of these jobs are high-paying and have the potential to be the start of very satisfying careers,” said Fizzano. 

The previous S-STEM program was also overseen by Fizzano and Hartenstine, and while the previous program was successful in many ways, Hartenstine said they learned from those experience to enact changes in the new program. 

“For example, it seems obvious in retrospect, but it’s easier for students to relate to people not that much older than they are, and connections with alumni can have a powerful impact.  We’re particularly excited about involving some recent WWU computer science and math alumni in a formal way in the new program,” said Hartenstine. 

More than 20 recent WWU alumni, now engaged in a wide variety of technical endeavors, will help mentor the CS/M Scholars. 

While scholarships won’t be awarded until September 2018, recruiting for the first cohort will begin toward the end of 2017.  Interested high school students are encouraged to apply early to WWU.  More information about the program can be found at https://cse.wwu.edu/computer-science/csm-scholars.

For more information on the new grant or its goals, contact David Hartenstine at david.hartenstine@wwu.edu or Perry Fizzano at perry.fizzano@wwu.edu.

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Tuesday, September 5, 2017 - 9:14am