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C Spire Convenes Roundtable Forum on Computer Science Education in Schools

Part of comprehensive Tech Movement initiative aimed at developing Mississippi’s tech workforce of future

Ridgeland, Miss., (December 1, 2017) – C Spire hosted an educational roundtable forum Friday with teachers, researchers and education experts to explore ways to improve and accelerate efforts in Mississippi to advance teacher skills, professional development and classroom instruction in computer science.

The forum brought together staff from Mississippi State University’s Research and Curriculum unit (RCU), the Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program supported by Microsoft Philanthropies and the Global Teaching Project examining the latest efforts to boost computer science education in schools while exploring ways to help teachers develop the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in the classroom.

Representatives from several public and private school districts also participated in the forum with C Spire to identify new strategies and tactics to help accelerate plans to get more of the state’s high schools tooffer an accredited Advanced Placement computer science course to students as soon as possible.

“With the shortage of qualified information technology professionals growing every day, we need to move decisively and quickly to equip teachers and inspire students to pursue computer science education and career paths that will help us meet the needs of our new digital economy,” said Carla Lewis, the C Spire CIO who organized the forum.

Lewis said teacher training also is a critical piece of the computer science education puzzle and one that C Spire hopes to address by combining forces with the Mississippi Department of Education’s Computer Science for Mississippi (CS4MS) pilot program administered by MSU’s RCU unit.

Workers with a background in computer science are in high demand and short supply in Mississippi. Employers currently have over 1,200 unfilled job openings due to the serious shortage of trained, qualified IT workers, Lewis said. The average salary for qualified IT workers is nearly $69,000 a year, almost double the statewide average.

Nationwide, new research estimates the current shortage of 607,708 IT workers will balloon to over 1 million software developers in the U.S. by 2020. “The inventor of the next big thing, the latest app or cutting-edge software may be sitting in a classroom waiting to be inspired and encouraged to become a leader in the digital economy,” Lewis said.

Besides today’s forum, C Spire is doing its part to encourage high school students to pursue a degree and career in information technology and computer science. The company has hosted two computer coding challenges this year for high school students across the state, reaching 43 high schools and over 200 students.

The day-long C3 program teaches students to use critical thinking and problem solving skills to solve a fresh computer coding challenge during the competition. Teams compete for college scholarships and other tech-related prizes. C Spire assigns employees with IT backgrounds and experience to help each team navigate the challenge.

Lewis said the company-sponsored coding challenges and support for other public and private non-profit programs like the Base Camp Coding Academy are designed to help C Spire deliver on its promise to help create and retain a 21st century technology workforce in its region.

The forum and the coding challenges can serve as an important first step to increase interest in computer science, according to Lewis. In 2016, only 16 students in the state took the AP computer science exam and only three schools statewide offered the AP computer science course in 2015-16, according to Code.org, a computer science education advocacy group.

Some progress is being made. This year, 105 Mississippi high school students successfully completed the AP computer science exam, a 650 percent increase from 2016. And 52 Mississippi school districts participated in the second year of the joint MDE and RDU CS4MS pilot program, reaching more than 15,000 students.

Workforce development is a key part of the broader C Spire Tech Movement initiative designed to leverage the company’s technology leadership and investments to help transform its service areas.

Other elements of the program include creation of a state-of-the-art digital customer care platform for customers and team members, massive deployment of broadband internet for homes and businesses and other leadership initiatives to drive innovation and development of a 21st century technology workforce.

“We live in a software-defined world where code and the internet directly impacts every aspect of our lives,” Lewis said. “Computer science drives innovation and creates jobs in our economy, but we need to do more to encourage schools to offer courses, equip teachers and enable young people to pursue IT careers and computer science degrees.”

About C Spire
C Spire is a leading technology company committed to transforming Mississippi through the C Spire Tech Movement, which includes the massive deployment of broadband internet to homes and small businesses, a state-of-the-art digital experience for its customers and team members, technology innovation leadership and the creation and retention of a 21st century technology workforce in its region. The company provides world-class, customer-inspired wireless communications, 1 Gigabit consumer Internet access as well as a full suite of dedicated Internet, wireless, IP Voice, data and cloud services for businesses. This news release and other announcements are available at www.cspire.com/news. For more information about C Spire, visit www.cspire.com or follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cspire or Twitter at www.twitter.com/cspire.