To paraphrase a popular Van Morrison song, “My momma told me there’d be weeks like this.”
As Annmarie Levins mentioned in her blog post earlier this week, I just moved to Cambridge from Washington State, joining Annmarie’s Microsoft Innovation & Policy Center New England (MIPC-NE) team as Director of Technology Community Engagement.
In my first week here, I’ve learned a few things:
- Fall really is spectacular here in New England;
- Rents here in Cambridge are certainly a little pricier than Bellevue, WA, my former home;
- Being a Red Sox fan is WAY more fun than being a fan of the Seattle Mariners; and
- This community is passionate about a LOT of things, in addition to the Red Sox.
That last point was driven home yesterday when a standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 participated in our MIPC-NE inaugural event here at the NERD. The topic: Why teaching computer science in Massachusetts high schools is essential to the future economic health of the Commonwealth and our nation as a whole.
Although our event started early the morning after the Sox’ Game 5 World Series victory over the Cardinals, the conversation among teachers, tech professionals, policy makers and others was spirited and as focused as David Ortiz at the plate.
I’d like to thank our panelists for helping frame the debate. Allyson Knox, Microsoft’s director of Education Policy & Programs, opened the event with a great overview of the opportunities and challenges before us. Allyson was followed by Linda Noonan, executive director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education; Pat Yongpradit, director of education, Code.org; Steve Vinter, engineering director at Google and co-founder of MassCAN; and Jim Stanton, executive director of MassCAN and senior project manager at Education Development Center, Inc.
Rather than attempt to summarize their key points, here’s a link to the slides Allyson, Linda, Pat and Jim used to set context for the lively conversation that followed, and to some photos that capture the spirit of the event. It was especially great to hear directly from several high school and community college computer science teachers who certainly helped keep the discussion grounded in the reality for students and teachers today.
I also appreciated hearing from Gregory Bialecki, the state’s Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, who discussed how important it is to the state’s economy to continue to attract tech employers like Microsoft, Google and others by providing access to a highly skilled workforce, and from State Senator Karen Spilka, who implored the audience to get their state legislators involved in pushing for computer science standards in our schools.
Finally, it was gratifying for me to see how committed Microsoft is to this issue, as Annmarie presented Heather Johnson Carey of the MassTLC Education Foundation a check for $350,000 to help fund the expansion of computer science education in Massachusetts. We made this investment because we are confident that the Ed Foundation’s collaboration with MassCAN and others will lead to systemic change we need to ensure our students are prepared for 21st century jobs.
As Annmarie mentioned in her blog post, the goal of our new Innovation & Policy Center is to connect communities in tech, business, academia and government, to catalyze important discussions such as the one we had yesterday and most importantly, to contribute to solutions that directly impact the health and vitality of our regional economy.
We accomplished the first two objectives in this inaugural event for our team, but as the conversation made clear, there’s MUCH more work to be done in integrating and expanding computer science education in our state’s schools.
We’ll keep the conversation going. We are already discussing how we can bring greater attention and focus to this issue during Computer Science Education Week, December 9-15. If you’d like to get involved in this issue, please feel to contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or our other panelists to find out how you can help prepare our kids for 21st Century jobs. You can also join the conversation around this topic on twitter at #STEMinMA.
If you’d like to learn more about this topic, I encourage you to:
- Read about the National Talent Strategy that Microsoft Executive Vice President and General Counsel Brad Smith proposed last year, and Microsoft’s TEALS computer science education program;
- Check out the new, super helpful website http://code.org/ and sign up for “hour of code”;
- Learn about online resources available to help kids learn to code;
- Contact MassCAN to see how you can help.
Finally, my thanks to all of you for such a warm welcome to the community. Yesterday’s event confirmed for me that I’ve made the right decision in transferring coasts. While somewhat of a slow learner, after one week here I have learned how to end a conversation or a blog post:
Cathy Wissink is the newly appointed Director of Technology Community Engagement for the Microsoft Innovation & Policy Center New England. Cathy joined Microsoft in 2000 and most recently was director of Global Government Affairs within our Legal and Corporate Affairs organization. In her new role, Cathy is responsible for connecting key stakeholders across the tech/business/academic/government communities, catalyzing the right kinds of conversations, and ensuring Microsoft is contributing positively to solutions that enhance our quality of life in Massachusetts. You can connect with Cathy directly at email@example.com.