Posted by Conor Griffith BUSINESS EDITOR The Morgantown News on Aug 04, 2019
MORGANTOWN — The West Virginia University Extension Service — with some help from Google and the National 4-H Council — hopes to ramp up computer science education in rural communities throughout the Mountain State.
Google and the National 4-H Council recently announced the $6 million Computer Science Innovator grant. This is intended to help students across 20 states learn skills needed to approach problems in fundamentally different ways, covering a variety of disciplines from business to agriculture to the arts. The WVU Extension Service received $250,000 of these funds with which it plans to equip 4-H educators with new resources. These include curriculum development, training and new devices, in addition to access to Google experts.
The end goal is to expand computer science offerings throughout West Virginia, particularly for rural youths, first-generation college students, minorities and women and girls.

“When I’m teaching throughout West Virginia, I see the need to enhance STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) career opportunities and ways that STEM can enhance other careers, too. We know that there are many jobs available in these fields, but we lack individuals who have training and education. This is particularly true for computer science,” said said Jennifer Robertson-Honecker, WVU Extension Service STEM specialist. She was also principal investigator on the Google and National 4-H CS Innovator and CS Career Pathways grants.

“Based on feedback from youths, parents and teachers, we know that the activities and outreach we provide help to fill a very critical need, while encouraging curiosity in STEM-related fields,” she said.

This grant also will allow the Extension Service to bring in a visiting instructor to reach more youths in the state such as Joshua Meadows, a former WVU STEM ambassador. His focus is on the delivery of computer science via STEM programming for youths and training for educators, after-school care providers and youth volunteers.

The idea behind a visiting instructor like Meadows is to deliver programming both online and through hands-on activities. This navigates around West Virginia’s rugged geography and lack of reliable internet connection in some places, thus enabling more unique learning experiences and opportunities for more students.

Decklan Thomas is a 4-H’er from Preston County who attended the first WVU Code Camp in 2018. During camp, his interest in computer science grew and he started to explore the possibility of dedicated studies in the field. Originally, Thomas was set on becoming a diesel mechanic, but changed when he attended a national training for 4-H teens in Utah, where he experienced coding for the first time. His interest in computer science has gone from casual to that of a career and now teaches other youths how to code.

“I wanted to be a diesel mechanic mainly because it’s something simple — this wire looks burnt or this fuse box is wrong,” Thomas said. “And, it’s the same thing with coding. You see something wrong, then fix it — and end up with something amazing.”

Thomas said he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of becoming a diesel mechanic, but he is also exploring other career alternatives, such as becoming a biomedical engineer or even going into the U.S. Navy.

“This grant couldn’t come at a more appropriate time. Through STEM programming, we are piquing students’ interest in this exciting field and providing them with opportunities to explore career paths through computer science. So, this is a natural fit for WVU Extension Service to fulfill this need,” said WVU Extension Service Interim Dean Sue Day-Perroots. “Thanks to this partnership with Google and National 4-H, the training and knowledge our state’s citizens will be receiving will ultimately allow West Virginia to flourish in the technology realm—a crucial piece of the state’s prosperity.”

While STEM surges to the forefront of education and the back-to-school clock winds down, there is another reason the timing is important.

Earlier this year, Governor Jim Justice signed Senate Bill 267 into law. This legislation made West Virginia the first state in the nation to require that students have access to computer science education before graduating from high school.

Business Editor Conor Griffith can be reached by at 304-395-3168 or by email at


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