Chancey Bush
CU-Boulder hoping to increase student interest in computing

The University of Colorado is hosting the fourth annual Scalable Game Design Summer Institute as part of a campus-wide effort to increase student interest in computer science.

More than 40 educators from eight states are learning how to create video games using the AgentSheets program, created by Alexander Repenning, a computer science professor at CU and director of the institute.

Repenning said by teaching K through 12 students to make video games, they’re giving students a fun and easy way to learn about computing.

“This is the early point in the workforce pipeline where the interest in science, in general, and in computer science starts to fade,” Reppenning said. “Especially female and minority students who conclude that ‘science is not for me.'”

The institute comes less than a month after celebrating 47 computer science graduates who all reported having jobs lined up following commencement.

James Martin, chair of CU’s computer science department, said the success of recent graduates will help increase interest in the program but it’s still not enough.

“There’s been about a 10 percent increase per year in enrollment across the country and CU mirrors that pretty closely,” Martin said. “We’re seeing progress but we’re just not there yet.”

Boulder Valley teacher Mark Savignano has attended the last three institutes and said he’s already seeing the benefits of showing students how fun computing can be.

One of Savignano’s classes created iPhone apps that they could actually put on their phones, he said.

“This is so relevant to them because they have grown up with technology all their life,” Savignano said. “They’re making something they like and they get to see it as a potential career.”

Fred Gluck, of the Science Discovery Program, said making career connections is an important to gaining interest in computing.

“They like to play video games, so making them is even better,” Gluck said. “But you’d be surprised at how students react, even young students, when they realize how many things they can use computing for — like eco systems and healthcare solutions.”

The university is planning to launch a new bachelor’s of arts degree in computer science that will be offered through the College of Arts and Sciences as a way of breaking down stereotypes that may be discouraging students, Martin said.

“A lot of people think computing is just for nerds who sit in a dark room and write code all day long,” Martin said. “We’re hoping the new degree will make the curriculum less intimidating.”

There are currently 300 computer science students, Martin said, and only 50 of them are women — about 17 percent. Martin said he hopes the new program will also reach more female students to diversify the industry.

Martin said they’re encouraging students interested in energy, healthcare, international affairs and other sciences to look at technology in a new way and find the benefits of a computer science degree.

The new degree — which will be in addition to the current computer science curriculum offered through the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences — is expected to be offered during the 2013-2014 academic year, Martin said.

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