$300,000 grant triggers reboot of Saint Vincent’s IT efforts

Westmoreland County is about to become more computer friendly.

Saint Vincent College received approximately $317,000 in state grants to build an IT ecosystem in the county.

Over the next few months, Unity College will develop a plan to make computing more accessible to students and teachers. Although the ecosystem is based in Westmoreland County, it will also impact Fayette and Somerset counties and the Philadelphia area.

Brother Norman Hipps, a math professor at St. Vincent, envisions a system that will prepare students for the job market and higher education. Whether or not students choose to pursue computer-related careers, the field will benefit them, he said.

“It has great value just to help young people think and solve problems with the kind of logic that unfortunately is not as strong as I think it should be in many schools,” said said Hipps.

Research supports Hipps’ claim. According to several studies, computer education increases college enrollment, problem-solving skills, and the likelihood of employment.

Hipps plans to build connections and partnerships between school districts, Saint Vincent College, Carnegie Mellon’s Computer Science Academy, Westmoreland Intermediate Unit, Westmoreland-Fayette Workforce Investment Board, and Economic Growth Connection.

There will be three streams, he said.

First, it will expand access and opportunity through targeted outreach. This goal will be achieved, in part, by sponsoring a computer camp for college girls. During camp, the girls will build worlds and tell stories through programming.

“Women are woefully underrepresented in computing, and we think it’s important to start (in the field) young,” Hipps said.

Saint Vincent will also continue to host a math, science, and technology camp for middle schoolers in the Philadelphia area, and the college will begin offering the camp to high schoolers as well.

The second component focuses on educators. Currently, opportunities for computer science teachers from different school districts to collaborate are limited, Hipps said.

Meeting dates will be scheduled for the summer and Saturdays for local teachers who have been trained by the Carnegie Mellon Computer Science Academy. Carnegie Mellon interns will be invited to collaborate.

Finally, there will be a dual-enrollment cybersecurity course that students can take in high school or Saint Vincent.

Wendy Lint, a computer science teacher at Greater Latrobe Senior High School, sees an opportunity to give Westmoreland students a “one up” when pursuing any profession.

“I can’t even think of a college major that wouldn’t benefit from having kids take a basic programming class,” she said.

Plans for the project have been in the works since last summer. In June, Governor Tom Wolf’s office announced that St. Vincent was one of 42 educational institutions to receive a total of $20 million in PAsmart Advancing grants for STEM and computer science programs.

Maddie Aiken is editor of Tribune-Review. You can contact Maddie by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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