BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Bridgewater-Raritan High School welcomed New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy Monday to make an announcement about a new plan to aid schools, including BRHS, in establishing advanced computer science programs.
“This is one impressive school,” he said, standing at a podium in the school library.
The governor was in Somerset County to announce his “Computer Science for All State Plan,” which includes $2 million in grant money to help schools establish advanced, high-quality computer science programs. Murphy is projecting the grant money will be distributed among 44 school districts statewide.
The plan was drafted with the guidance of the state’s Computer Science Advisory Board, which includes a variety of educators and stakeholders. It contains five key goals, including developing rigorous computer science standards for all students in grades kindergarten through 12.
Two of the goals are focused on setting professional standards by implementing learning opportunities for educators, and strengthening the teacher pipeline by increasing the number of qualified teachers in the computer science field. Building awareness and partnerships by engaging families, students, educators and community stakeholders is the fourth goal.
The final objective is to establish a data-driven metric for evaluating the progress of the program and finding and closing gaps.
The conference opened with BRHS mathematics and computer science teacher Kenneth Mascola explaining how the $70,000 grant the district received this year from the Computer Science for All program has impacted the high school community. Much of the grant money, he said, went toward the purchase of new computers, which allowed the school to open up courses to more students.
Currently, BRHS has five teachers teaching 16 sections of computer science, and serving 332 students in four different course offerings.
“In particular,” Mascola said, “the Computer Science for All grant has allowed BRHS to build a partnership with Rutgers University to create our fourth computer science course, Advanced Topics in Computer Science. This is equivalent to a second semester college course in data structures.”
Mascola noted that computer science is a continually growing field of study, which has an increasing number of jobs, yet a growing lack of diversity in the workplace.
“I have 38 amazing students enrolled in this new course, “ he said, “with one-third of them being female.”
While focused on the expansion of computer science courses in general, as noted by Mascola, there is also an emphasis on diversity in the field.
“As we look to the future, we will continue to expand our computer science offerings and work to further increase our diversity,” he said.
The next step at BRHS is to make the program more accessible to everyone by creating an introductory computer science program.
“We are actively looking to engage more students from our Bridgewater-Raritan population in computer science,” said Mascola, “particularly females, bilingual students and minorities who have been traditionally under-represented in the field of computer science.”
An award-winning computer science student, Meher Mankikar re-enforced the diversity concerns.
“Despite the rising prevalence of computer science and its integration into fields from medicine to finance, there continues to be a severe lack of female representation in STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] fields,” Mankikar said. “Technological innovation requires the collaboration of individuals with different backgrounds and skill sets.”
She added that the lack of females in these fields is, “Hindering our ability to move forward as a society and create comprehensive solutions for all.”
Those concerns and the intention to focus grant money on specific segments of students was reiterated by Murphy.
“It’s not the only factor,” said the governor, “ but need is a factor, so measures of poverty, such as the free and reduced lunch program, will continue to be considered as these grants go out.”
The governor called computer science and technology integral to our future workforce and our entire society.
“Expanding and improving computer science programs in our public schools will help provide our students with the critical thinking skills they need to succeed in today’s global economy,” he said.
Murphy said he also looks at the investment in STEM programs as an investment in the economic success of the state. He said that as he spoke with CEOs across the state and the nation, the one word that he heard over and over was talent.
“These companies are going to locate where the talent to fill key jobs exists,” he said.
Murphy told the educators, administrators and elected officials at BRHS that, according to the Computer Science for All State Plan, more than 500,000 computing jobs remain nationwide, with more than 15,000 in the Garden State alone. Although the jobs offer an average salary of $107,260 in New Jersey, only 1,642 computer science majors graduated from the state’s universities in 2017.