California University of Pennsylvania

Cal U Grant Addresses Workforce Needs

Two professors will train afterschool program providers in the areas of cryptography and computer programming. 


Dr. Pratibha Menon (left) and Dr. Lisa Kovalchick will administer the PAsmart Advancing Grant. 

Jobs requiring a computing degree are in red-hot demand and projected to stay that way for at least several years. 

Two professors at Cal U have received a grant that will help Pennsylvania meet that workforce-development need. 

Dr. Lisa Kovalchick and Dr. Pratibha Menon, who teach in the computer information systems program, recently received a PAsmart Advancing Grant to help fill what the commonwealth predicts will be 300,000 jobs related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by 2026. 

The grant, for $172,155, will help train providers of afterschool programs in the areas of computer programming and cryptography — secure information and communication techniques that rely on mathematical concepts. 

“The expected number of computer science jobs, or even just computing in general, is expected to increase dramatically in the next 10 to 20 years,” Kovalchick said. “We don’t have the interest to fulfill that. We don’t have enough graduates. We want to change that.” 

Advancing grants encourage partnerships among local education agencies, higher education institutions, businesses and other computer science/STEM-focused organizations. 

Cal U is partnering with the Pennsylvania Statewide Afterschool/Youth Development Network (PSAYDN), Intermediate Unit 1 and the PA STEM Girls Collaborative Project to administer the grant, which targets underserved populations. 

Menon and Kovalchick will provide three daylong sessions using three STEM training programs, developed by the University of Chicago, MIT and Carnegie Mellon University. 

Crypto Club teaches cryptography and math skills; Scratch teaches coding and also encourages collaboration and teamwork, necessary 21st century skills; and the Alice Project teaches fundamental programming skills. 

Participants will receive a $100 stipend and curriculum materials to implement programming for their organizations. 

The PSAYDN and IU1 will serve as training locations. Harrisburg dates are Sept. 16, Sept. 30 and Oct. 14. IU1 dates are Oct. 9, Oct. 21 and Oct. 25. For registration information, email kovalchick@calu.edu or complete the online form.

Engaging minds at a young age in a computing field is important, Kovalchick and Menon said. 

“I work with schools and nonprofits in the western Pennsylvania region, and you can see the disparity in access to computing education,” Menon said. 

“Some children have access to high-quality computing education as early as kindergarten, but not every child in the region has that exposure, and those students get left behind. This tech divide only widens in high school and college. We want to start early and close this opportunity gap so that we have more people from all regions to work in computing fields.” 

Kovalchick, who is the collaborative lead for the PA STEM Girls Collaborative, also wants to encourage more diversity in the sciences.

“My bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. are in computer science, and with every degree, I was often the only female in the room,” she said.  

 
“Even now, I’m sometimes the only female in the room. So I want to get more girls involved, but also kids in general. We know that students are figuring out their majors in middle school, so we want to get younger students interested in computing before they choose something else.”


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