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JMU is committed to producing an addition 467 bachelor degrees in the program over the next 20 years.

JMU is one of 11 schools included in the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Tech Talent Investment Program. The program provides funding to increase the number of degrees awarded in the field of computer science with the goal of generating 25,000 degrees by 2039. 

Bob Kolvoord, dean of the College of Integrated Science and Engineering, said there’s a large, unmet need for people with technical skills in Virginia. The recent addition of an Amazon Headquarters in Northern Virginia is expected to bring 25,000 jobs to the region and is one of the reasons JMU was included in the TTIP program. 

$14 million dollars will be invested in JMU’s computer science department over a 20-year period. Sharon Simmons, dean of the computer science department, said computing is a part of “everything we do now,” and the money will help expand the program at JMU.

“With this money, we are going to be able to add some undergraduate research labs, some facilities for things like embedded systems, mobile applications and other areas of computer science — we haven’t had spaces to really explore those topics as much as we would like to,” Simmons said.  

Currently, the department of computer science at JMU awards approximately 102 degrees each year. With TTIP funding, the number can increase to 127 annually.  

“The computer science program has doubled in the number of majors in the last six years or so, and we’re going to be able to add some faculty members and also renovate some spaces to really provide cutting-edge classroom and laboratory space to go with the really great faculty that we have and the new folks we will be hiring,” Kolvoord said. 

The average annual wage for people who work at Amazon is  $150,000. For Ben Kettler, a sophomore geographic science and intelligence analysis double major, it’s “reassuring” that there’s a high demand for people with skills in technological fields after college.     

“I think that anything technologically based is really on the rise right now, so it’s definitely important to have more people interested in it,” Kettler said. “One of the great ways to do that is to advertise more degrees and to get a lot more people educated.”

According to the Computing Technology Industry Association, Virginia has the third-highest concentration of technology workers in the country. Some positions for the Amazon headquarters include software development, engineering, machine learning and user experience design.   

The number of computer science graduates in Virginia has more than doubled in the past 10 years. With TTIP funding, JMU is committed to continuing that trend and producing an additional 467 bachelor degrees over the next 20 years. 

“From my perspective, this is really exciting news,” Kolvoord said. “I think it’s recognition that JMU has a role to play in this and that we are really excited to be able to be at the table, and we’re going to make some noise.”

Contact Mitchell Sasser at sassermp@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.