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Demand increases for computer-science and technology majors

BY MICHELLE KIM | FEBRUARY 25, 2013 5:00 AM

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University officials are working to increase the number of students majoring in computer-information technology.

According to a press release from the Learning Net, U.S. companies are having trouble filling vacancies with U.S. technology workers.

Despite the increasing demands for workers, enrollment in the field unstable. Officials at each of Iowa’s regent universities recognize the need to recruit more students to study computer science and information technology to fill increasing vacancies in the workforce.

Alberto Segre, the head of the University of Iowa Computer Science Department, said students carry a huge misconception about the field.

Computational thinking is normally understood as thinking like a computer scientist, but he said it’s more than that.

“It’s a shame for undergraduates and graduates today without an exposure of computational thinking,” Segre said. “It’s not just the skill of using computers, but there hasn’t been a field that hasn’t been used by computation.”

Today, roughly 500 students study in the UI Computer Science Department, which is divided into two majors of around 300 people in computer science and 200 in informatics.

Segre said there was a large number of students in the field in the 1990s, and then there was a large drop. The pattern of growing and dropping has been continual.

“It’s a national phenomenon,” Segre said. “It’s waves of interest. Now, numbers increased to 30 percent of the last two years, but I don’t know how many later.”

Johnny Wong, a professor and associate head of the Computer Science Department at Iowa State University, said computer-science skills assist students in virtually any subject.

“The field of computer-information technology is similar to reading, writing, and arithmetic,” he said. “Computational thinking is a very important, too, for highly skilled workers of any modern society.”

There are roughly 200 computer-science students at the University of Northern Iowa and roughly 120 pre-computer-science, 190 computer-science, and 180 software-engineering majors at ISU.

Jaehyung Kim, a third-year computer-science major at the UI, said he plans to apply the skills he’s learned when he moves into the medical field.

“I realized the field is completely different from what I understood in the first place,” he said.

According to a U.S. Department of Labor report, employment in the field of computer and information research is anticipated to grow by 19 percent between 2010 and 2020.

Students who graduate with the skills and knowledge in this field not only face numerous job opportunities, they also receive good pay.

The U.S. Department of Labor reports the median annual wage for the field was $100,660 in May 2010, the lowest 10 percent earning less than $57,630 and the top 10 percent earning more than $153,120.

However, companies are concerned about the quality and appropriate measure of minimum training requirements of the workers, which brings difficulties when finding a proficient worker.

“The issue here is U.S. students,” Segre said. “If we leave the foreign students aside and look at the U.S.-based students, not a lot of them gravitate toward computer science and engineering.”

One UI official says there are not enough specialized people in the United States currently to fill those jobs.

“Technology companies are looking for highly skilled people,” said UI computer-science Professor James Cremer. “Their offense is they cannot recruit people from the U.S.”

One way in which the federal government responds to this need is by issuing temporary visas to skilled foreign workers in order to fill the vacancies.

Wong recognizes that higher-education institutions need to recruit more students who are interested in computer science and information technology.

“We should continue to recruit more undergraduate and graduate students in the computer and information technology field and computer science to solve the IT workforce shortage,” Wong said. “For the meantime, it might mitigate the shortage problem by providing working visas for some highly skilled foreign workers.”


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