Greenfield Community College to join statewide effort to diversify participation in information technology

January 12, 2009

AMHERST, Mass. – Greenfield Community College has been awarded grant funding as part of a project to bring more women and underrepresented minorities into information technology (IT) and computing education and careers throughout Massachusetts. The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded a $1.9 million grant to the University of Massachusetts Amherst to extend the Commonwealth Alliance for Information Technology Education (CAITE) for an additional 2 years and to add 6 additional institutions to the existing alliance. Greenfield Community College is a member of the alliance.

“Greenfield Community College plays a key role in this statewide alliance,” said Doug Wilkins, GCC Professor of Information Technology. “By collaborating with other campuses, we can reach more potential students and strengthen and expand our local efforts to open up computing education to those who may not have considered it an option.”

“This new funding allows us to expand this project at a time when many people are choosing to pursue education at our public institutions and invest in their own economic futures,” said Rick Adrion, CAITE director and professor of computer science at UMass Amherst. “Information technology remains a vital industry in Massachusetts, and IT is crucial to almost all industry sectors. Employers are seeking workers that represent the diversity of the population.”

CAITE works to raise awareness of and preparation for information technology and computing careers and educational pathways, especially among groups that are underrepresented in the Massachusetts innovation economy; that is, economically, academically, and socially disadvantaged residents.

Since CAITE began its work less than 2 years ago, more than 5,000 students and educators have participated in more than 30 activities—from career days and college fairs for high school students, to workshops for teachers and guidance counselors.

The new grant funding offers the unique opportunity for CAITE to work with more than half of Massachusetts’ public campuses, including three-fifths of the community colleges, to expand the educational pipeline and create clearer and more nurturing paths from high school, through community college, and into four-year programs. These efforts will dovetail with the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education’s efforts to institute the MassTransfer program and better community college transfer options.

“The Massachusetts economy has depended on keeping out-of-state students in the Commonwealth after graduation and attracting degree-holding immigrants, but these numbers are declining rapidly,” said Adrion. “That’s why we decided to focus on resident students attending public institutions—they tend to stay in state in larger numbers after graduation.”

Community colleges are the centerpiece of CAITE because of the central role they play in reaching underserved populations and in acting as a gateway to careers and further higher education.

“Community colleges offer a real opportunity to bring highly capable people into information technology education and the workforce who, for a variety of reasons, have been prevented from participating fully in the knowledge economy,” said Adrion.

GCC will use the funding to work with area high school faculty to closely align high school computer-related curricula with regional community college and baccalaureate programs through the development and maintenance of formal articulation agreements offering students advance credit at low or no cost. Professor Wilkins will also work with UMass to create and maintain innovative community college program articulations from GCC Computer Information Systems and Computer Science programs to the University and will identify and support 2-4 second year community college students to serve as peer mentors.

CAITE builds on partnerships with the Commonwealth Information Technology Initiative (CITI), BATEC, regional Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation and Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) programs, also funded by NSF, and other initiatives focused on information technology education and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) pipeline issues.

CAITE is one of 10 NSF BPC Alliances across the nation, each of which is a broad partnership of institutions and organizations that focus on particular strategies and/or groups underrepresented in computing. CAITE is one of two statewide alliances and the only alliance that focuses on community colleges as a gateway to IT education for many Massachusetts students.

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