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Posted Jun 26, 2012

AETC Commissioner Helps Prepare Students for the Computer Industry

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Social networking giant FACEBOOK has been in the news a lot recently as the company's IPO made its founders into billionaires. Websites like Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Amazon have become imbedded in our everyday lives. Despite the obvious financial rewards available in the business of computing however, remarkably few American students are pursuing college degrees in the field. "There are tens of thousands of students graduating from college each year and searching desperately for jobs," says Les Barnett, Director of the Center for Forensics, Information Technology & Security (C.F.I.T.S.) at the University of South Alabama. "Computing IS, IT and CS majors are going to work right away and making very good money. Our placement rate for our IS, IT and CS graduates here at USA is close to a hundred percent." According to Bureau of Labor statistics, U.S. companies are creating jobs for 140,000 computing majors every year, but our colleges and universities are only graduating 45,000 to 50,000, a large percentage of which are students from overseas - mostly China, India and Pakistan. Companies also look to China, India and Pakistan for the other 90,000 new employees they need each year, which is a tremendous added cost due to federal paperwork, travel and compensation costs. Barnett says the shortage of American students in the computer sciences could be a threat to national security. The Department of Defense needs American graduates and there aren't enough of them. The solution is to increase the number of Americans qualified for — and interested in — obtaining computer science, information science and information technology degrees. That means improving education in STEM subjects - science, technology, engineering and math — in our K-12 classrooms. This has been a goal of state departments of education in Alabama and around the country for several years. Now, Barnett says, USA's Center for Forensics, Information Technology & Security is launching a new program to help. "Teachers and principals know that they can improve the interest of students in STEM subjects — and their test scores - with special activities such as classroom visits by industry professionals, field trips to places like Huntsville's Space Camp and the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, robotics camps and similar activities," Barnett says. "What they don't know is how to measure the results of these activities when there so many variables involved. When an activity costs money and resources, schools want to know where they will find the best return on their investment." Next school year, Barnett's center will work with five partner schools to measure student test scores before and after specific activities are introduced in classrooms. Each kind of activity — camps, field trips, school visits — can be tested to observe which is the most effective in terms of results and investment of time and money. This intervention efficacy tool was developed by C.F.I.T.S. last year by working with the partner schools, and other partners from government and industry. Partners in USA's efforts reflect the high degree of interest the U.S. Department of Defense has in improving STEM education and preparing students for computer science careers. They include the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC) at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville; USA's Air Force ROTC; and the National Defense Education Program. More than eighty industry professionals are also involved in the C.F.I.T.S. partnership with schools. C.F.I.T.S. is located in Shelby Hall in the School of Computing at the University of South Alabama. The work of C.F.I.T.S. was recognized last year by the National Security Agency and U.S. Department of Homeland Security as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Systems Security Education. Barnett says Alec Yasinsac, Dean of the School of Computer and Information Sciences at University of South Alabama, deserves credit for creating an atmosphere of innovation that serves students and the community. Barnett ran his own company in the Mobile area for many years before retiring to become involved in education, including his work at C.F.I.T.S. and his position on the Alabama Educational Television Commission (AETC). He sees education as the key to workforce development and a healthy economy. “If we prepare our students to leave high school well-prepared for college so they can succeed in computers and engineering and these other high-demand skills, they’ll have the tools to make Alabama’s economy grow and prosper. “ For more information on C.F.I.T.S. contact: Les Barnett 251-461-1601 hlbarnett@usouthal.edu

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