The University of Utah claimed its place in the history of technology as one of the original four “nodes” of the computer network that then evolved into the Internet.
But 50 years later, the state’s flagship school doesn’t have a dedicated space for the thousands of students who want to study computer science and be part of the next big development.
âWe have interested students and graduates are in great demand,â said Richard Brown, dean of the US College of Engineering, which includes the School of Computing. âWe just don’t have proper places to put them so they can learn. “
It’s an acute problem for the largest major on campus and in a state with the country’s fastest growing tech economy, according to a recent report. With the expansion of Silicon Slopes, it has grown into a $ 20 billion a year industry here.
âWe certainly don’t want to limit the number of students,â Brown added.
READ. is now working on a solution that, like a computer, will involve 1s and 0s. He announced last week that he had received a donation of $ 15 million as seed money to build a $ 120 million building for and finally to house computer science students, giving them their own space for the first time decades after the university connected to ARPANET in 1969.
The historic gift is the largest ever offered to the College of Engineering, coming from the distinguished Price family known for their business acumen, whose patriarch is also a former engineering student (as well as a former U.S. Ambassador ).
“We are pleased to lend our support to this effort so crucial to Utah’s growing economy,” John Price said in a statement, with funds coming jointly from him and his wife, Marcia.
The demand for graduates is so high, in fact, that Utah Valley University followed the announcement by unveiling its own competitive plans days later to also construct a new engineering building on its campus in Orem. And that’s still not enough to fill all the vacancies here on the pitch.
Together, the U. and UVU have approximately 3,400 computer science students, U. having the largest share of 2,000 of them.
The fundraising campaign will be led by three notable engineering alumni who have left their mark: Adobe’s John Warnock, Pixar’s Ed Catmull, and Shane Robison, who has led at Apple, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard and Fusion-io. .
The hope is that the next and bigger generation of computer science students won’t finish their studies in random rooms across campus like they did.
“We have no more space”
Last fall, the introductory computer programming class at U. had 465 students. It was a recordâ¦ until this fall.
This semester, there are 696 students enrolled. That’s a 50% increase – 231 more students interested in the program – in just one year, Brown said.
âIt’s really exponential growth,â he added. “It’s getting bigger and bigger every year.”
The school has an engineering building – named after Warnock – which was constructed in 2007. It is filled by the college’s other six engineering departments (with the exception of computer science), which have also all grown larger.
Computer science students were using the 61-year-old Merrill Engineering Building, but it’s literally falling apart and the classrooms are way too small. Students graduating from the program continue to use these – making do with pre-World Wide Web space – with up to 200 students per class.
But the undergraduate cohort completely passed it. They were therefore transferred to other classrooms on campus, mainly in the social and behavioral health building.
The auditoriums still aren’t big enough there either, even with the group split in half. Students sit on the floor and in the aisles to fit in, Brown said. Folding tables, designed for taking notes, also don’t have enough space to put a computer, making them virtually useless for the work they do. And the technological connections there are older than anything they study.
âIt’s just a mess,â Brown said. “It’s not working. We need space. We are running out of space.
The computer science and computer engineering programs there, combined, serve nearly 2,000 students in total. (Computer engineering overlaps some of the computer science classes, so they are often counted together although they are separate fields.)
Some students get frustrated and drop out of the program or transfer because they can’t take the classes or can’t learn effectively even when they do. And there are also more students who have shown interest, but who have resisted. It is stifling.
More jobs than graduates
Even with the limitations, the United States still forms the largest number of tech workers of any higher education institution in the state. Of the eight public colleges and universities here, it accounts for 46% of computer science or computer engineering degrees.
The UVU comes close, with 1,435 students, combined, in computer science and engineering technology. It still has 830 students in information systems and technology and technology management.
Both schools believe that expanding and creating space for these students will allow them to excel and attract more to a greedy field of programmers and software technicians.
The way Brown sees it, it’s a cycle that won’t stop spinning anytime soon.
âThe more graduate students we get in this field, the more the industry hires, the more businesses grow and the more graduates they need,â he said.
Brown said cramped or sidelined students don’t serve the state’s economy and the âtalent-hungryâ tech companies that increasingly drive it. This has changed dramatically over the past 15 to 20 years. And Brown believes he will get even bigger and faster over the next decade.
A report released this year by Cyberstates, which monitors industry across the country, shows Utah’s tech sector makes up 12% of the state’s economy and 10% of the workforce – employing 152,000 people, including accountants, managers and salespeople, in addition to engineers.
He also cites the silicon slopes of Utah in Utah County as the fastest growing tech sector in the country. This year alone it is expected to increase by 6%. There are currently 8,132 companies.
Brown said he spoke to tech leaders here who told him they were opening offices in other states or hiring employees elsewhere because they couldn’t find enough in Utah. There are 4,000 vacancies here, according to UVU, with four times as many jobs as there are computer science graduates each year in the state.
Silicon Slopes executives, for their part, have pushed for more computer education.
âIt actually becomes a constraint on business growth here,â Brown said. âAnd we can help you. It’s an exciting time to be in engineering and computer science and in Utah. “
There is still work to be done to diversify the workforce and bring more voices to technology. Computer workers in Utah are 1% black, compared to 2% in other occupations; 7% Latino, compared to 13%; and 21% female versus 46%, according to Cyberstates.
Brown said this will be a big part of the expansion initiative.
At UVU, a $ 25 million donation for its building comes from Scott Smith, co-founder of Qualtrics, a Provo-based customer experience software company, and his wife, Karen. (The other Qualtrics co-founder is Ryan Smith, now owner of the Utah Jazz basketball team).
UVU President Astrid Tuminez said in a statement that âthe generosity will benefit thousands of students, many of whom have not yet been born. They will change people’s lives and help fill a critical need to increase the number of engineers in Utah today and in the future.
Orem University also said that “space is at a premium” there, with hallways being converted into meeting spaces for students and IT professors and no actual space designed for the technology they need and that they use.
With a new building on its campus, the U. predicts that it will be able to double its number of computer science and engineering graduates, with 3,200 for the first year that the new space is opened – an expected completion schedule is set for fall 2024. It will include a financial technology center and an area specializing in cybersecurity. (It currently has a data science center that does not have a home.)
There will also be more opportunities to learn about artificial intelligence and robotics, seen as the next frontier in business.
The UVU building will likely open a year later, in the fall of 2025. Both schools will seek funding from the state legislature, as well as donors.
This means that for both schools there will likely be another freshman class who will likely complete their studies before construction is complete.
Yet it fulfills a mission the state really began to invest in in early 2000, said Brown, under the government of the day. Mike Leavitt – who vowed to spend more time in Silicon Valley at the time, studying how it was structured, than the Governor of California did.
Around this time, Leavitt sat down with Warnock, who worked there, and asked him how to make Utah equally attractive to the industry. Warnock urged the governor to focus on computer science education. Student interest has tripled in the meantime and today. (Even Warnock came back here.)
Now they just need more space to teach them.