A recently published position paper by Microsoft calls on the government to take steps that would increase the number of high school graduates interested in pursuing STEM degrees and careers. However, the company isn’t content to leave it at that. Taking a more direct approach, Microsoft is sending its employees into the classrooms to serve as volunteer computer science instructors for a year to encourage students’ interest in the subject enough to consider making a career out of it.
Steven Edouard is one of the employees who heeded the call. He now works as a Computer Science teacher at Rainier Beach High School in Seattle four days a week. He is one of 110 participants in the philanthropic project overseen by the company’s general counsel Brad Smith.
Participation requires teaching at least two hour-long classes a week, with many taking on as many as five. Schools attempt to schedule the classes for the morning to allow the engineers to return to their regular jobs for the remainder of the day. Those who choose to take on teaching get a small stipend to offset expenses associated with participating in the program.
The program started as a grass-roots effort by Kevin Wang, a Microsoft engineer with a master’s degree in education from Harvard.
In 2009, he began volunteering as a computer science teacher at a Seattle public high school on his way to work. After executives at Microsoft caught wind of what he was doing, they put financial support behind the effort — which is known as Technology Education and Literacy in Schools, or TEALS — and let Wang run it full time.
Initially only schools in the Seattle area were targeted, but now there are Microsoft volunteers heading up classrooms in the other parts of Washington State as well as in North Dakota, Utah and California. Next year a school in Minnesota will become a beneficiary when Park Christian school in Moorehead will begin to offer a CS class taught by a Microsoft employee.
Microsoft wants other big technology companies to back the effort so it can broaden the number of outside engineers involved.
“I think education and bringing more people into the field is something all technology companies agree on,” said Alyssa Caulley, a Google software engineer, who, along with a Microsoft volunteer, is teaching a computer science class at Woodside High School in Woodside, Calif.
Although the Microsoft engineers fill a need which arises from a dearth of well-qualified Computer Science teachers, their lack of teaching certification presents a problem. This means that a professional teacher often needs to be on hand during lessons to keep schools from violating district requirements.