September 14, 2009

Computer Science Constructs Common Cause

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

Since the infamous dot-com bubble burst at the beginning of the century enrolment in Computer Science programs has declined everywhere. This decline has been so dramatic that there are real shortages of graduates to fill positions in the IT industry, right now and for the foreseeable future. In 1999 there were 140 students in the first year of our program at Dawson College. Last year there were 46. Universities and colleges around North America have been developing programs to encourage enrolment in Computer Science, and I had the feeling that the time had come for Dawson College to take steps to ensure our survival.

One step that was already in place was to prepare our students to be successful at a job in a real company. All of the English CEGEPS are focusing on teaching how to write software for a business environment. Students learn to support the business model and web-presence of their employers or clients. Amongst our goals are to have students walk into a company and do the following tasks:

  1. Work on programming company-specific applications,
  2. Work on supporting companies’ website and e-commerce,
  3. Work with a company’s databases

All CEGEP programs are competency based which is different from the universities which follow a more theoretical curriculum.

Things got moving from here when I was approached by one of our teachers Carmen Legendre to put together a recruiting presentation using our graduates and industry representatives to go directly into high schools to promote a career in programming and the value of a CEGEP education to attain it. I thought the idea had merit and passed it on to our dean Diane Gauvin who set up a meeting with Dawson personnel and Louise Paul of the Quebec-Canada Entente to discuss ways of making this project a reality. Louise said from the start that more was needed than just a recruitment ‘road show’.

… to encourage students to seriously consider a career in the IT industry and to get the right education for it is our common cause.

The ball was in my court to come up with other activities to enlarge and deepen the project. What we proposed to enrich the high school presentations was a series of YouTube videos to be created by professionals as well as the development of a website where secondary students could go to find out about careers in computer science. A fourth component of the original proposal was the creation of a CD Rom that guidance counselors could use to present IT to students as a possible career choice.

The other English language CEGEPS offering Computer Science Technology were also contacted, and in November 2008 we met with the chairs of the departments from Vanier, Champlain and John Abbott, who came on board with the project, followed by Heritage College. This was the first time that the coordinators of the departments of Computer Science in Anglophone CEGEPS had ever met! This collaborative venture received Canada Quebec Entente funding for the 2009-10 academic year, given that the strategies which prove to be the most effective could serve as a model for other technical programs.

The crux of the project is to introduce careers in the IT field to grade 8, 9, and 10 students and their parents. To that end we plan to produce a number of videos highlighting the different types of work our graduates perform in the workplace. A web site will be set up as place where high school students and their parents can learn more about IT. Each college will mount an interactive IT event aimed at these same students to raise their awareness of IT. There will be special emphasis on women and minorities in the IT field.

What this experience has taught me to date is the value of networking. I know that once the departments of Computer Science from around the province have acted in unison, we won’t easily drift apart. Using IT to coordinate our activities can prove to be beneficial to all! While our project will be developing media about the IT industry I am sure that there is a lot of material already produced for the same purpose as ours. Your company or your school may have developed recruiting videos. Your industry association may have developed programs for students. Whatever you may have and if you are willing to share it, we would like to see it and possibly include it in our project. This is another opportunity for all to profit from IT communication. Everything that we produce we will share as well.

Wherever you are, Canada, the US, or elsewhere, doesn’t matter; to encourage students to seriously consider a career in the IT industry and to get the right education for it is our common cause. Use the Reader Response feature below to share your views with colleagues or contact me directly by clicking on my byline in this article.

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