Now hiring: Computer science faculty
Virginia universities are getting ready for Amazon.com Inc.’s arrival, which will require the schools to produce thousands of computer scientists and engineers during the next two decades.
In November, Gov. Ralph Northam announced the Tech Talent Investment Program, which allocates $16.6 million to 11 state colleges and universities to help graduate 31,000 more computer science degree-holders by 2040. With Amazon planning to hire about 25,000 people during the next decade to work at HQ2 in Crystal City, the program will fulfill Virginia’s promise of a well-educated workforce.
But at the same time, universities will feel more pressure to hire qualified faculty when less than 5% of science and engineering graduates nationwide are receiving doctoral degrees, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Nonetheless, George Mason University and Virginia Tech plan to hire dozens of computer science and engineering educators this decade, without sacrificing industry experience or educational standards.
Tech expects to hire 25 more graduate-level faculty members for its Alexandria-based Innovation Campus by 2030, but the main thrust is in Blacksburg, where the university plans to double the number of computer science faculty to 80 or 90 during the next eight years.
Also, says Cal Ribbens, head of Tech’s computer science department, “there’s a ripple effect in the undergraduate level all across campus.” Increased computer engineering enrollment will require more math and physics faculty, he adds.
GMU, meanwhile, has already seen a spike in students in computer-related majors, with its engineering enrollment doubling since 2012. Mason has hired 91 full-time engineering faculty members since 2015 and anticipates hiring 100 more educators during the next five years.
Both schools have similar recruitment and retention approaches: offering competitive salaries and selling applicants on location and opportunities.
“We plan to do everything we can to be very aggressive,” says Ken Ball, dean of GMU’s Volgenau School of Engineering. “It is very competitive.”
Some money will come from state funds; TTIP is allocating $7.3 million to Virginia Tech and $3.2 million to GMU, and Tech expects to tap into the $20 million Commonwealth Cyber Initiative fund. Mason uses research funding to provide stipends to make faculty salaries more competitive, Ball says. But private donations to create endowed faculty positions are also critical.
“Virginia Tech is always working to engage with supporters whose philanthropy makes endowed professor positions possible,” Ribbens says.