Virginia Tech prepares to grow computer science grads
The state is investing nearly $1 billion in technology education, and Virginia Tech will be the largest recipient — along with bearing responsibility for producing more than 16,000 computer science degree-holders over the next two decades.
Gov. Ralph Northam announced in November that 11 state colleges and universities will receive $961.5 million through the commonwealth’s Tech Talent Investment Program, established in response to the workforce needs of Amazon.com Inc. and other tech companies.
The goal is to create 31,000 trained computer scientists by 2040.
Virginia Tech will receive $545 million in long-term funding to help educate half of those new students, generating 5,911 bachelor’s degrees and 10,324 master’s degrees from its main Blacksburg campus and its forthcoming Innovation Campus in Alexandria.
“What makes this pipeline so unique is that it’s an investment in our people,” says Peter Blake, director of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. “It’s a commitment to hiring more faculty, upgrading equipment and laboratories, and developing partnership agreements with academic institutions.”
Tech will hire “on the order of 60 to 70 new faculty members,” says Julia Ross, dean of the Virginia Tech College of Engineering. “This will be a broad-based expansion of our operation, but it will be very narrowly focused on computer science and engineering.”
At the master’s degree level, Ross says, the additional funding will allow Tech to develop new “frontiers of computing” — with concentrations in artificial intelligence, data analytics, cybersecurity and machine learning. Most graduate students will study at the Innovation Campus, just a couple of Metro stops from Amazon’s in-progress HQ2 East Coast headquarters, which spurred the state initiative.
Ross emphasizes, though, that the pipeline isn’t just about the online shopping giant, which Virginia lured with promises of a well-trained workforce. The move will also help the state address a shortage of tech talent felt across the nation.
“There are 11,000 unfulfilled jobs in computer science and related fields right now, just in the D.C. area,” says Lindsey Haugh, director of communications for the College of Engineering, citing the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“There are a host of different jobs available, and there isn’t the workforce to fill those positions,” Ross says. “As we graduate a larger number of students and they move into the workforce, this will enable different companies to move much more quickly.”