By Sepp Jannotta

MSU NEWS SERVICE

BOZEMAN – RightNow Technologies founder Greg Gianforte has pledged to give Montana State University more than $200,000 over three years to initiate three programs to recruit students into computer science and help meet the state’s demand for high-tech workers.

The gift from the Gianforte Family Foundation comes on the heels of the Montana Economic Development Summit in Butte in September, during which Gianforte said there is demand for at least 400 computer science jobs per year in Montana with starting salaries of $45,000-$85,000.

“We have an opportunity to have a very vibrant high-tech industry that creates good-paying jobs for our kids,” Gianforte said. “But right now we just don’t have enough students graduating with the computer science degrees to fill those jobs.”

Beginning with Gianforte’s gift of $80,400 for the first year, the MSU Computer Science Department will pursue three initiatives to help recruit more high school students into the ranks of degree-seeking computer scientists:

Looking to interest students in computer science, Hunter Lloyd, teaching professor and robotics specialist, will make 50 presentations per year at high schools and junior high schools in Montana with Looney, his custom programmable robot, as his sidekick to give presentations aimed at inspiring students to pursue computer science degrees.
John Paxton, professor and department head of MSU’s Computer Science Department, will offer an introductory college course, “The Joy and Beauty of Computing,” to Bozeman High School students as a dual-enrollment course through Gallatin College MSU for college credit. Paxton will then hand the course over to a BHS teacher in future years and offer the curriculum statewide for other interested high schools.
Lloyd will develop a one-week course on computational thinking and robotics for MSU’s Master of Science in Science Education program, to train junior high and high school science and math teachers in ways that can bring computer science into the classroom.

Brett Gunnink, dean of MSU’s College of Engineering, said MSU’s initiatives would be an important complement to Gianforte’s own efforts to spur interest in computer science through the codemontana.org project. Codemontana.org offers all Montana high school students the ability to learn computer programming while competing for prizes through a self-paced, online course developed specifically for high school students.

“Our goal is simple – to produce more high-tech-ready graduates,” Gunnink said.
Both Gunnink and Paxton said the Computer Science Department is also taking a number of steps to boost the success rate of those who choose a computer science major, notably the upcoming opening of a state-of-the-art, active-learning computer lab.

“In the long run,” Gunnink said, “we are confident that, along with a continued expansion of our high-tech economy, we’ll see our partnerships with industry strengthen and MSU will be a leader in educating Montanans to fill those jobs.”