The global competition for skills and jobs is escalating, especially in computer science, math, and engineering. According to the Council on Competitiveness, about 70,000 of the one million U.S. college graduates each year earn engineering degrees. China and India produce 6.4 million graduates a year, nearly one million of which are in engineering.
U.S. educators and industry leaders must advance our competitiveness by keeping the innovation pipeline fortified with fresh ideas and talent. Technological advancements depend on encouraging top students to be the next researchers, developers, and problem solvers. A critical part of this mission is a stronger commitment from corporate leadership to work closely with institutions of higher education on multiple levels-helping to prepare students for the workforce.
One example: IBM's partnership with IHEs and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) to promote technology through the International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC). The ACM-ICPC provides a meeting ground for elite computer programmers, giving them the chance to hone skills using open standards and see how advanced open-source technologies are being adopted by businesses and organizations.
This month, 88 elite university teams, narrowed down from a pool of more than 6,000 teams from 82 countries, will compete in the ACM-ICPC World Finals in Tokyo, Japan. The silence will be deafening on the contest floor as the world's brightest programmers huddle around one computer, tackling eight to 10 real-world programming challenges under a five-hour deadline. The first team to solve the most problems correctly will emerge as ICPC champions, earning scholarships and other prizes.
This year during contest week, finalists can cross over into virtual worlds as they experience Second Life, a global 3-D Internet environment that many businesses are already using to train employees, conduct meetings, and reach consumers.
The practical skills learned-teamwork, technological problem solving, working under pressure, etc.-will positively impact students' future careers and the technology we will use every day in the near future.
Women and minorities continue to be underrepresented in computer science and engineering fields. It is our duty, and in our best interests, to attract and encourage a diverse pool of workers. Whether it's through classroom interaction, mentoring networks, or other initiatives, academic and business leaders must reach out to our successors and serve as role models for them.
We can encourage students who haven't traditionally considered studying science and technology to realize this: The tech sector offers thriving careers through which they can play a major role in securing global communities, improvements in health care, and positive change in world affairs. A report from The Council on Competitiveness (www.compete.org) states that jobs for skilled problem solvers in IT increased by 513,000 from 1999 to 2004. There are jobs available, and we want students to take advantage of these opportunities.
We need to accurately portray the IT field as one that will be the architect of solutions to problems across all industries, as the intersection of business and technology becomes clearer. It's important for all college students with a passion for innovation to understand that technology is becoming more pervasive, less costly, and more useful in business. Societal advancements are coming from a fusion of several different disciplines, including services science, which combines computer science and engineering, business, and social sciences together into one field.
Our hope is that IHEs will work with corporations to make grooming future employees a priority at a younger age. A commitment today can help pave the way for technological advancement tomorrow.
Gina Poole is vice president of innovation and university relations at IBM. William Poucher is a professor of computer science at Baylor University (Texas) and executive director of the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest.