The untapped reserves that will keep us competitive


[ ABOVE: Shaundra Daily performs alongside her virtual character. Daily designs innovative new technologies that bring together sensors and machine learning with theories of human learning. ]

We can broaden the talent pipeline by encouraging minorities and women to pursue computing


The information revolution has connected nearly 3 billion people through the Internet, put computers in our pockets, and could soon even drive our cars for us. Computers have transformed virtually every aspect of modern life, and the pace is quickening.

It’s clear that we need more tech-savvy graduates across the nation and in South Carolina. Companies are already having difficulty filling all the jobs that require computing expertise. As more businesses open, the state’s demand for programmers, systems analysts and information technology managers will continue to grow, from the Upstate’s automotive industry to Charleston’s “Silicon Harbor.”

The only way we will remain competitive is to use all of our available assets. The good news is that we have a historic opportunity to access untapped reserves. We can broaden the pipeline that supplies talent to the workforce by encouraging minorities and women to pursue the lucrative, plentiful and rewarding jobs that could await them in computing.

Increasing diversity is the right thing to do for a lot of reasons, but one of the most powerful is spelled out in the nation’s shifting demographic trends.

Consider this:

  • The number of racial and ethnic minorities rose more than 90 percent during the 2000s, and the population of white males is aging.
  • Women occupy almost half the jobs in the United States economy, but hold fewer than a quarter of jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
  • On top of all that, foreign nationals have had difficulties securing visas since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.


Add it all up, and the United States could be headed for a cliff. Companies will either have to fill STEM jobs with a more diverse workforce, or leave them unfilled.

Of course, no one is more affected by the lack of diversity than minorities and women. As a nation, we’re cutting huge chunks of the populace out of some of the highest-paying and in-demand jobs.


The salary potential for graduates with bachelor’s degrees in computer science and engineering ranked seventh highest among college majors with an early career salary of $66,700 and a mid-career salary of $112,600, according to a recent report from

Maybe even more important is that computing offers some of the most rewarding work on the planet. With expertise in computing, you can make a feature film, teach job skills in virtual reality and design apps that help users stay healthy and save money. The possibilities are virtually endless.

But it all begins with preparing a diverse pool of students before they enter the workplace, and we have some work to do. Fewer than a fifth of undergraduate degrees in computer science go to women. Racial and ethnic minorities receive only 28 percent of bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields.

We can begin to reverse the trend by paving new pathways that lead students to computing as early as elementary school. Legos and robots work well for some students, but we need to broaden our efforts.

My colleagues and I have found encouraging results through dance in our work at a Greenville elementary school. We have students try dance moves in real life and then program a computer character to do the same moves. While part of our goal was to encourage girls to learn computational thinking, we have found that the activities have energized both male and female students.

It is also important that we begin teaching students the skills they will need to do well in a more diverse workplace.

Clemson University professor Alison Leonard uses a motion capture suit in her research on engaging students in computer programming.
Clemson University professor Alison Leonard uses a motion capture suit in her research on engaging students in computer programming.

My collaborators and I have had success with Scratch, a free program for ages 8 and up. Students can tell stories by manipulating images of themselves, recordings of their own voices and images they find on the Internet. It’s a great primer to learn computational thinking, but the storytelling also helps build self-awareness and empathy.

As people become more self-aware, they come to understand themselves better and develop a greater ability to empathize. These are the building blocks for forming healthy relationships in a diverse workplace.

I’m also excited about the new Dr. Phinnize J. Fisher Middle School, the first middle school in Greenville County to base its curriculum on science, technology, engineering, arts and math. Adding arts to the STEM mix will help reach a more diverse student pool.

We’ve taken a few baby steps, but our work is just getting started. As we move forward, we should support new and innovative programs that help bring everyone to the table to solve our world’s most pressing challenges.

Too much is at stake to leave entire groups behind. Diversity is our competitive advantage.


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