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032318-mdn-computer-science

From left, Mike Malkowski, Steph Martinez and Jake Adducci, software engineers at NISC, could be among the company employees asked to assist with a computer science course at Mandan High School. The school will partner with the Mandan computer software and hardware developer this fall to offer a computer science introduction course through Microsoft's Technology Education and Literacy in Schools program. 

Mandan High School will join the growing pool of schools offering computer science courses with the help of a Microsoft program.

Only 40 percent of U.S. schools offer computer science courses, according to a 2016 report done in partnership with Google and Gallup.

And yet the demand for computer science professionals continues to grow. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer and information technology jobs are projected to increase 13 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations.

In North Dakota, only about eight high schools offer one or more computer science courses in their school buildings, according to data from the state Department of Public Instruction: Bismarck High School, Legacy High School, Fargo's South High School, Strasburg High School, New England High School, North Border-Walhalla High School, Montpelier High School and Tioga High School.

Last spring, state lawmakers passed a bill that allows "one unit of computer science approved by the superintendent of public instruction" to be included as one of three units of mathematics required for high school graduation.

The state continues to push for computer science education, announcing earlier this year an expanded partnership with Microsoft's TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) program. DPI encouraged schools to sign up and 18 schools next year will offer computer science courses through TEALS, including Mandan High School.

It's been about eight years since Mandan has offered a computer science class to students, according to Jeff Lind, assistant superintendent for Mandan Public Schools. Previous computer science and IT courses saw dwindling participation, and the district struggled to find qualified instructors.

Lind said he's excited about the TEALS program, which will train a current Mandan High School classroom instructor to become qualified to teach these courses.

"It is a world of opportunities for kids in a field that is going to be increasing in demand over time," Lind said. "Hopefully, this is one of the areas we can prepare kids for a future career — at least give them the opportunity to explore a potential area of interest that we haven't had up until this point for a while."

The semester-long introduction to computer science course, which will be offered this fall, will be based on introductory computer science curriculum offered at the University of California, Berkeley. The class partners teachers with tech industry professionals.

Mandan Public Schools has identified the National Information Solutions Cooperative, of Mandan, as a partner for the program and is exploring details of what the course will look like.

NISC is an IT company that develops software primarily for utility cooperatives and telecommunications companies in the United States, according to its website. It employs more than 1,200 people in St. Louis, Mo., Mandan, Shawano, Wis., and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Kari Reichert, vice president people services at NISC, said Lind contacted her to see if the company would be interested in a partnership.

"I think that we know there are initiatives like this, but this is the first time we've been approached to participate and we're pretty excited about it. It sounds like a good opportunity," Reichert said.

Mandan High School teacher Kelsey Brashears will teach the course in the fall. Brashears teaches a variety of engineering and technology courses at the high school and said in an emailed response that she believes having this course available will be beneficial for high school students by allowing them to explore this career field before entering college.

"We know that we have a need for IT education. We know we have a need for technical talent in the workplace, and I think that starts with colleges and even down into high schools," Reichert said. "We also know that we're going to have to work together to solve this problem, (and) we want to be a part of that solution."

Mark Andreson, principal at Mandan High School, said he thinks the course will be valuable to students, and he has had several students who, in the past, have expressed interest in computer science and IT classes.

"I think with the technology industry, there are so many opportunities with the CS and IT degrees. If kids don't have an opportunity to be exposed to those types of things at the high school level, I think you're doing them a disservice," Andreson said.

Previously, the school offered computer science courses online or through dual credit courses at Bismarck State College, according to Andreson.

"Having (these courses) back on our campus is a real positive for us," he said.

The introduction to computer science class will be able to enroll a minimum of 15 students, and Andreson said he hopes participation will expand so the school can eventually add an Advanced Placement computer science course.

Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com.

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