Wyola elementary students attend a Looney the Robot presentation. Photo courtesy of Levi C. Flinn, Big Horn County News.

In the fall of 2013, our family foundation funded a three-year program with MSU’s computer science department. We saw the need for more CS graduates in the state, and the opportunity that computer science presents for high-paying jobs and a stronger economy. With these objectives in mind, we created a three-pronged approach to introduce students to CS prior to college, anticipating that this will increase enrollment in CS majors at the college level.

In those three years:

  • MSU’s Hunter Lloyd gave Looney the Robot presentations to over 200 K-12 schools in the state to encourage studying high tech at a young age. These assemblies reached over 31,000 students in Montana’s public and private schools.
  • The Joy and Beauty of Computing class was taught at 5 public high schools around the state and is offered online at Montana Digital Academy. 225 students have participated in this course so far, many receiving dual-enrollment college credit. Four new high schools, both public and private, plan to incorporate this class in the near future.
  • 27 Montana middle and high school teachers participated in a one-week, two-credit course in the Master of Science in Science Education program, where they learned the rudiments of computational thinking and were equipped to teach the Joy and Beauty of Computing to their students at their respective schools.

Three years later, I am incredibly pleased with the results. At MSU alone, the number of CS majors has increased by 57%, with a record enrollment of 539 total graduate and undergraduates this fall. U of M’s computer science program is also reporting an increase in enrollees in their CS classes.

I love that we’ve been able to reach so many students in Montana’s schools with this program. Presenting the field of computer science to over 31,000 students, along with providing 27 teachers and 225 students the chance to study computing, has yielded astounding success, but it is also only the beginning. It is my hope that we can continue to make strides to offer computer science in every high school, for every student, in Montana.