By Guest Columnist KARA GRADY, a vice president at LexisNexis Risk Solutions
A group of 25 companies presented before the U.S. Committee on Education and the Workforce at a July 25 innovation showcase that recognized outstanding education programs from across the country. During a day that included oral testimony and a question/answer session with members of Congress, staff and the public, one Atlanta company highlighted the need for a nationwide focus on computer science education.
Because of LexisNexis Risk Solutions’ results with educating and empowering the next generation of technologists, the company was invited by U.S. Rep. Karen Handel (Ga.-6) to present Tomorrow’s Technologists – a free, four-week coding and mentoring program funded by the company and offered in partnership with Technology Association of Georgia Education Collaborative(TAG-Ed) and Higher Ground Education.
The goal of the program is to expose high school students to computer science fundamentals, principles, big data and analytics, career planning, technology careers and digital citizenship through a curriculum designed to spark an interest in this field. Twenty-nine high school students from across metro Atlanta were selected to participate in this month-long camp and were introduced to five computer coding languages, game/animation creation, website creation, big data simulations and app development
Through this experience, LexisNexis Risk Solutions strives to help participants build confidence in their technological aptitude and gain a sense of accomplishment. The students have a chance to work in a collaborative setting and develop a better understanding of the importance of teamwork in an IT environment. The camp also provides an opportunity for them to test their problem-solving skills, which are important in all aspects of life.
At the conclusion of the camp on July 20, participant teams developed a final project and presented their work to a panel of LexisNexis Risk Solutions’ judges with awards presented for Best Project Concept and Best Presentation. During a graduation ceremony, the students were gifted with the personal computer they used throughout the camp. In addition, they will continue to benefit from mentoring and access to senior technology experts throughout their high school years and possible internships with the company while in college
In D.C., Tomorrow’s Technologists was touted for its innovative approach to help solve an educational problem that could impact the future success of U.S. students and as an example of how companies can collaborate with nonprofits to impact the lives of individuals in their communities.
“We know that programs like this camp are critical to filling the gap in skills development and workforce readiness,” said Errika Moore, executive director, TAG-Ed. “We truly value industry collaboration opportunities with thought-leading organizations like LexisNexis Risk Solutions because it’s vital to the success of our students and ensuring that they’re ready for the future.”
It’s a fundamental belief at LexisNexis Risk Solutions that all students should have access to technology and programming education in schools, just as they study reading, writing and math. These courses should no longer just be supplemental but should be considered as a core part of the high school curriculum. School administrators agree. In a recent Gallup Poll, 71 percent of Georgia principals surveyed stated that computer science is just as or more important than required core courses.
Yet, while many Georgia high schools offer introductory technology courses, only 154 of the state’s 956 high schools offer Advanced Placement (AP) computer science classes. Importantly, minority and female students are significantly underrepresented in computer science classes and among students taking AP exams, leaving them at a disadvantage for individual economic opportunity and social mobility later in life.
It is critical that this educational gap is closed, especially in Georgia, where tech job openings represent a $1.8 billion opportunity in annual salaries, and there is an acute shortage of students with computer science knowledge and experience.
“The camp was a fantastic opportunity to create and build skills that I didn’t have,” said James Bunting, Tucker High School student and member of the award-winning Best Project Concept team. “Tomorrow’s Technologists opened the door for me to learn more about coding and data analysis. I can apply these skills to mechanical engineering, my area of study. Coding is now more approachable and is within my reach.”
But it is not just the students who gain. Whether through involvement with Tomorrow’s Technologists, CodeDay, 48in48 or numerous other initiatives to foster learning and skill development in technology, LexisNexis Risk Solutions discovered the company benefits, as well. Employees enjoy the opportunity to mentor students and share their passion they have for technology and the difference it has made in their lives.
LexisNexis Risk Solutions, as part of the RELX Group, was recently named one of Forbes’ Top 100 Innovative Companies in the World. They want to bring this same innovative spirit to help Georgia students close the tech skills gap and to encourage other companies to do the same. And if through these community programs, there is an increase the number of students who want to pursue careers in technology, everyone wins.
Note to readers: LexisNexis Risk Solutions is a global provider of data technology and advanced analytics leader, headquartered in Atlanta. The company employs more than 1,500 individuals in Atlanta, 40 percent of whom are technologists.