University of Utah computer science program hopes to diversify with $15 million donation

    Heather Kahlert once took her daughter, then 13, to a meeting at developer training camp.

    Her daughter quickly “fell in love” with computer programming, she said. To get her eighth graders into a full-time developer training program, Kahlert moved her to homeschooling.

    At the age of 14, her daughter received job offers for well-paid developer positions, says Kahlert.

    Now, as vice president of the Kahlert Foundation, Kahlert oversees a new $15 million donation to the University of Utah’s School of Computing, which will be named after her family.

    “We want to make sure everyone has access to that kind of education and just expand it, make it easy,” Kahlert said in an interview before the donation was announced on Thursday. see more, enhance it.

    This donation follows a previous $15 million donation made by the Price family last year as a start-up fund to build a $120 million building for computer science students, the first. Give them their own space.

    Utah has more tech jobs than workers, and the industry — here and nationally — is dominated by men. The percentage of women receiving degrees in computer science nationally peaked in 1985 to 1986 at 36%, then dropped to just 18% between 2010 and 2011, according to the Center for Education Statistics. Nation. It has grown slowly since then.

    Through her philanthropy and connections with members of Utah’s tech community, Kahlert found a “bottleneck” in hiring for tech and computer jobs, and found How to help Beehive State produce more tech-savvy workers.

    (Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

    Previously, she launched the Kahlert Initiative in Technology, a certificate program in the US that allows students of any major to earn a digital literacy certificate.

    Computer science is the most popular major in the United States, but like many programs in the United States, there is a marked gender disparity among undergraduates.

    [Read more: $15 million to the University of Utah and $25 million to Utah Valley University will expand computer science programs]

    The percentage of students who identify as women in undergraduate programs has increased from 12% in the fall of 2012 to 19% this fall. The major had 1,822 total enrollments for the fall, including students who did not declare their intention to study computer science.

    Mary Hall, director of the School of Computing at the University of Utah, said the increase was not coincidental.

    The Utah Comprehensive Computing Center, funded by a grant from the Northeast Comprehensive Computing Center, is focused on recruiting and supporting a diverse student base.

    The goal of the grant is to change the field within five years – the program has been around for two years.

    “We want people who are developing technology to represent people who use technology, and everyone uses technology,” says Hall.

    Some strategies for faculty diversification include recruiting students from more communities, providing more support, such as mentoring, and providing more choices about how students learn.

    For example, the school has a new, “more people-focused” software development major that involves working with customers, Hall said, reaching a different group of students who might not be as interested. The job is only focused on programming.

    “The University of Utah is really helping to highlight women,” says Kahlert.

    (Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

    Hall says the alignment between the goals of the School of Computing and the Kahlert Foundation is perfect.

    With the new donation, the school plans to provide more support to students through efforts like the Bridge Program – a two-week accelerated course offered to science students for the first time. computer this summer.

    Hall said the program is meant to give some students who are less confident in their abilities more training, learn about the field, and build relationships with other students and faculty before entering the classroom. semester begins. She wishes to have sustainable funding for it.

    Hall said the faculty’s faculty will also grow, with 12 new faculty members in 2022 and eight more planned for 2023. The United States has seen an unprecedented increase in size college class size, with 5,400 new freshmen enrolling in the fall semester.

    Kahlert describes the donation as a way to support Utah’s education for tech workers so they can serve the community.

    “We wanted to grow our relationship with industry and build an ecosystem for computers in Utah,” Hall said.

    The University of Utah was one of the original four “nodes” of the computer network that later evolved into the internet. Dean of Engineering Richard Brown noted Thursday that the U.S. program is also recognized as the birthplace of computer graphics.

    “By funding the School of Computing, the Kahlert Foundation is securing the future of one of the University of Utah’s oldest faculties,” Brown said.

    [Read more: Whatever happened to … the ubiquitous digital ‘Utah teapot’?]

    Hall said the school’s legacy is “impressive,” but considering the development of the program, “I believe that when the hundred-year history of the School of Computing is written down, this period, 2022, is that. , would be equally important.”

    US computer science students used to teach in the Merrill Engineering Building, which is more than 60 years old, but it’s really dilapidated and the classes are too small. While graduates continue to use that building, undergraduates study in classrooms on campus, mostly in the social and behavioral health building.

    Last year, the US appointed three notable engineering alumni to lead the fundraising effort for the new building: Adobe’s John Warnock, Pixar’s Ed Catmull, and Shane Robison, who has led at Apple, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard and Fusion-io.

    Leto Sapunar is a Report to the US Union membership includes business responsibility and sustainability for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant will help him continue writing stories like this; Please consider giving a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.

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