SAIL Alliance

Service-focused Alliance for Innovative Leadership (SAIL) to broaden participation in computing

The rapidly emerging global economy is profoundly affecting the employment patterns and the professional lives of graduates. While it has been widely reported that despite intensifying competition, off-shoring between developed and developing countries can benefit both parties, many American students have shunned disciplines such as computer sciences and engineering because they fear that job opportunities and salaries in these fields will decline. However, the average salaries for jobs in these disciplines are quite high. In this proposal we focus on scaling up specific, successful projects identified across the participating institutions. The focus is on educating our future workforce to understand such issues in a global context is becoming a highly sought-after experience and a critical differentiator in the employability of our students, often testing their ability to bridge discipline-specific theoretical research issues with real-world practice. In order to compete in this emerging global economy, we need to provide students with higher-order technological skills blended with emerging social needs across the globe to provide much needed experiences to thrive in the future as well as to be frontline contributors to our nations’ technological workforce. While interestingly, globalization seems to have driven down the barriers to business process assimilation for large businesses, the still tall and impregnable language-based ethnic barriers still exist in several countries. For example, there is a need to design software solutions that will work across countries, languages and cultures, which makes them better prepared for their careers. Hence software engineers work with linguists and sociologists to realize such projects.

When such solution architectures are coupled with appropriately localized data and translated into user interface elements, the application is truly global in its reach. Hence, software systems designers must pursue the implementation of unique culture-sensitive and language-sensitive parts of a product – which can be very time-consuming and expensive to operate if not correctly identified and accounted for early in the design process. Thus, the future of an information technology career is not in merely our ability to graduate good application programmers skilled in a particular language or system – these skills have now become commodities that can be outsourced. It is more in our ability to graduate students who are comfortable with the theory, can blend it with necessary practice by understanding the business and cultural issues involved, while being able to effectively share, communicate, articulate and advance their ideas for an innovative product and/or solution. This proposal specifically addresses the inculcation of this perspective among the teacher-student teams. Irrespective of the students’ intended majors, the project will prepare them to work in a global market place.

Several independent organizational and governmental reports have highlighted the need to enhance our science and technology enterprise so that we can successfully compete, prosper, and be secure in the global community. In the recently released National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report, the first action item on the panel’s list of recommendations was to improve K-12 science and math education. A National Science and Technology Council report encourages particular attention to seeking out talent in groups currently under-represented in the scientific, technical and engineering (ST&E) workforce (click here). Research has shown the potential effectiveness of inquirybased instruction in math and science, where students learn primarily by project driven experimentation to test ideas and answer questions. Active pursuit of inculcating skills and enhancing student training as proposed by this proposal is unique and promises to engage our teachers and students with appropriate hands-on, fun-filled yet rigorous, math and science activities. Over the past three years the PI and his team have participated in various programs that drive recruitment in the computing discipline. These programs have shown that when youth acquire knowledge and develop critical skills, they become selfdirecting, productive, and contributing members of our society. Encouraging such programs to spread across distressed rural communities will prepare both teachers and students to establish their own unique identities, develop a competitive edge, foster entrepreneurial spirit, and establish successful academic futures that can positively impact their lives and communities. This is the key focus of the SAIL alliance.

Our main objective is to use a project-driven approach to support the understanding by teachers and students of the widespread impacts of computing in support of our industries in general, and in particular, the compelling need for understanding and leveraging the globalized nature of information technology related activities. This will allow teachers and students to experience, understand, and derive long-lasting benefits with regard to future job opportunities and prepare successfully for jobs in the ever widening scope for economic and workforce development brought forth by our growing dependence on IT infrastructures. As teachers are empowered with the knowledge and trained to utilize and leverage it effectively, they pass it on to their students who then become more valuable to the workforce. Therefore, the end result is that students can aspire to successfully attain an appropriate college degree – that is rapidly becoming a dire necessity for entry into the job market in many areas, and those who would otherwise not be afforded an opportunity are given the necessary qualifications to excel and to obtain higher paying skills-based jobs. We would like to strongly emphasize that there is sufficient opportunity given the shortage in qualified technology workers and small business entrepreneurs in Arkansas, especially in the rural and distressed areas, and beyond.