Two million dollar “Choose Ohio First” grant awarded to Kent State computer science department

Kent State won a competitive $2 million grant from Choose Ohio First, a program that awards Ohio schools with scholarship funding to increase enrollment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degree programs.

Kent State’s computer science department will be using the grant money to advance underprivileged students to succeed in the job market by thinking outside of the box when it comes to admissions.

“We have to think about redesigning even our admission criteria,” said Javed Khan, chairperson of the computer science department at Kent State and writer of the Choose Ohio First grant. “Our admission criteria is very biased towards competency-based things; you have to score high on the ACT or SAT, but that’s not the only story of success. The other 50% of the story of success is drive and interest.”

Khan said the grant money will allow Kent State to acknowledge outside factors when considering admissions for students.

“Huge amounts of students may have the drive, but because of external factors they may have not learned math exactly to the level (of admission), but that doesn’t mean they have a lack of interest,” Khan said. “Drive is a really important factor, maybe as good as current competency.”

Kent State will also be matching a portion of the grant money, according to Director of Sponsored Programs Lori Burchard.

“It will be additional support for the students who are receiving the scholarships,” said Burchard. “Plus potentially administrative support for some of these programs to support the students through advising and mentoring.”

The grant will also be used to support a program for education students that certifies them to teach computer science. Khan said there is a lack of teachers who are qualified to teach computer science, which makes it hard to prepare students for the college level.

The grant also supports current computer science students by allowing students a co-op program working with professionals and engaging students in computer science research labs.

Computer science undergraduate students will have training at the University’s well-equipped training labs. Prior to this grant, the training labs were primarily used for graduate students.

Kahn said this opportunity will give undergraduate students a real workplace-like environment where they can get a new perspective outside of the classroom. He also hopes that this will encourage computer science students to pursue more advanced degrees.

Students will also get the opportunity to work alongside computer science professionals in a co-op program. This allows students to get a further understanding for the workplace in their future careers.

Many staff members at Kent State are hoping this grant will draw attention to the skilled computer science program at the university. Kent State competed for this grant against every school in Ohio and was awarded the second highest amount of money to a public school.

“What a lot of folks don’t know is that Kent State has a very strong computer science program and department with a lot of very good faculty,” said Paul DiCorleto, vice president of Research and Sponsored Programs.

DiCorleto said there is a huge need for computer science jobs in Ohio. Ohio has one of the largest job openings in the computer science field compared to other states.

“If you combine all the STEM areas, including engineering, computer science has two times more job openings,” said Khan. “Investing in the computer science area is investing in the lifeline of most of the other educational groups that are growing; there is a need for programmers everywhere.” 

Mimi Freeman is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected]