MCLA Students Serve Computer Science Internships to Help Fill Growing Need for Software Developers


NORTH ADAMS, MA - Computer science students at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) serve internships throughout the region where they develop software for a variety of businesses and organizations. Despite a poor economy, these real-life experiences help them find jobs in this growing field, according to MCLA professors.

According to DARPA, the research and development office for the U.S. Department of Defense, the downward trend in college graduates with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is particularly pronounced in computer science.

"While computers and Internet connectivity become daily fixtures in the lives of Americans, we are steadily losing the engineering talent to program these systems," DARPA stated in a January 2010 report. In addition, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that the industry is having difficulty finding software engineering talent to develop and maintain their software systems.

"I think it's fair to say that certainly just looking at the numbers - compared to the U.S. - India, Pakistan and China are pretty systematically churning out computer science engineers at a much faster rate that we're capable of doing at this point. We've got a little bit of catching up to do," said David Eve, MCLA computer science professor.

Eve said that students who major in computer science learn skills that will make them immediately employable upon graduation in the fields that have the most opportunities: They focus on software development, with a substantial amount of other areas for context and breadth.

According to Mike Dalton, chair of MCLA's computer science department, the purpose of MCLA's program is to teach skills that will make students immediately employable upon graduation in the fields that have the most opportunities. Therefore, the program focuses on software development, with a substantial amount of the other areas for context and breadth.

"Even during tough times, people still buy software," Dalton said.

To help students become as employable as possible, a goal of the computer science program is to partner with various companies and organizations in the region so the students might develop software for them.

"It's really important for the students to gain real-life experience," Eve said. "You go through the degree program and you will get the foundation. You will get the building blocks. You go through a number of different exercises and you're developing proficiency, but I think employers really want to see what you can do."

This summer, for example, two students are serving an internship with the Massachusetts Woodlands Institute and the Kinerson Group on a secure Web interface. They are developing software that helps groups monitor their properties and what's happening in terms of forest management plans.

"When they're done, they will be able to point to these projects and say, 'This is a real-life application and I played a significant role in designing and developing this data base with this Web interface,'" Eve said. "That's something that I think will be a difference for the students out there trying to compete in the job market. They'll know what they're doing when they graduate. It's an important step."