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Wyo Tech School Founder Eric Trowbridge to Speak at National Tech Summit

in News/Technology
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Eric Trowbridge, the founder of a Cheyenne technology school aimed at introducing students to computer programming, plans to tell attendees at a national technology conference that technology can work in rural America.

Trowbridge, founder and CEO of the Array Technology and Design School, will be one of the speakers at the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit in Salt Lake City at the end of January.

The Cheyenne high school graduate said he plans to tell the more than 20,000 people expected to attend that the technology industry can find a home in rural states like Wyoming.

“The message is that technology can work in rural America,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “It’s a very different animal from doing technology in big cities. The challenge we have in running technology in rural American is … for technology to thrive, you have to have really smart people, you have to have people who understand computer science and programming and graphic design and that’s kind of hard to come by in states like Wyoming.”

But with schools like Array, residents can be trained in the skills needed to sustain a successful technology sector, Trowbridge said.

The state can help with such efforts by making sure it creates a welcoming atmosphere for people who may want to pursue a technology-based career, he said.

“The number one mission should be to try to create the most fertile soil possible so when these seeds get planted, they grow into companies, entrepreneurship,” he said. 

“The things we’re working on now (are) the cultural piece. Having young adults who are in this space, people who want to transition into technology, being able to go see shows and go to restaurants and have that experience,” he said.

The state has made major advances toward welcoming the technology field in recent years, Trowbridge said, through steps such as mandating computer science education for all public school students.

Trowbridge said Wyoming has a history of being the first state in the nation to take bold steps, such as giving women the right to vote, electing a woman as governor and having the first national park and monument.

“It’s not about changing Wyoming, it’s about tapping into our roots,” he said. “It’s in our nature to be pioneers and drivers and cowboys and cowgirls.”

Trowbridge credited much of the state’s progress go former Gov. Matt Mead, who he said recognized the need to make technology the “fourth leg” of the state’s economic base, joining energy, agriculture and tourism.

The resulting boost helped move the state from its reliance on historic industries, he said.

“I think we got too comfortable, we didn’t innovate,” he said. “We just thought things were going to be the way that they were.”

The opportunities for economic diversification offered by the technology industry will help the state overcome the problems it has faced because of its reliance on the energy industry, Trowbridge said.

“At the end of the day, as scary as it is, we have to get off of it because a lot of people get hurt when we go into that bust cycle,” he said. “People lose their jobs and they leave Wyoming.”

‘Girls Who Code’ chapter to open in Cheyenne

in News/Technology
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By Cowboy State Daily

Cheyenne company teaching the art of computer programming is launching a Cheyenne chapter of a national organization aimed at encouraging girls to further their computer skills.

The Array School last week hosted an “Hour of Code” to announce the creation of a Cheyenne chapter of “Girls Who Code.”

“It’s for girls who are interested in furthering their computer science knowledge and skills,” said Amy Surdam, of Array School. “So we’re excited to offer that to the Cheyenne community.”

The group’s first function will be a 15-week program that will begin in January with space for 15 students.Surdam said the Array School already has applications from 35 girls seeking spots in the program.

“And there’s still a week open for applications to come in,” she said. “So now we’re going to have the difficult challenge of how do we select the 15 (students) or how do we double the class size.”

The group is working now with 15 computers donated by Cheyenne residents, which were on display during the “Hour of Code,” during which both boys and girls were invited to try their hand at computer programming.

Microsoft is also lending a hand in creation of a “Girls Who Code” chapter in Cheyenne, said Ben McCain, a program manager for the company.

“We’re trying deeply to integrate ourselves with these types of efforts,” he said. “Not just in Cheyenne, but all across the country and throughout the world. Getting kids involved in programming and computer science as early as possible is really pivotal because in today’s economy, every industry revolves around this. There really is no industry that is not affected in some way by computer science and coding.”

Computer standards to get another look in Riverton meeting

in News/Education
Wyoming computer science standards in K-12 education
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By Becky Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Eric Trowbridge understands the importance of a computer science education.

As chief executive officer of The Array School of Design & Technology, a private school in Cheyenne, he oversees a computer training program that includes teaching web development and coding for students 17 years and older. 

“It’s not a question of how important it is to the future; it is the future,” Trowbridge said of computer technology. “Every bit of the future for Wyoming is going to require computer science skills. If you do not know 20 to 25 years from now how to talk to computers, how to write code, you will not have a job.  Plain and simple.”

A big step toward this future will occur at 8 a.m. April 25, when the State Board of Education considers Wyoming’s draft K-12 computer science standards during its meeting in Riverton, he said. 

“Adopting the standards will put Wyoming at the top of all states for developing such a K-12 program in computer science,” Trowbridge said. 

Wyoming is believed to be the first state to have such standards. Standards were developed after the Wyoming Legislature passed a bill in 2018 to require all public schools to offer a computer science education to K-12 students by the 2022-23 school year. They must be ready for implementation.

The Legislature’s action is a “leapfrog moment,” Trowbridge said. “Wyoming has been so far behind in (computer education); to jump ahead is a pioneering (move) that no one else has done before. We’re no longer the caboose.”

The Wyoming Department of Education organized a Standards Review Committee about a year ago in response to the legislation. The committee, made up of educators statewide, developed content and performance standards, which outline what to teach in each grade.

When the Education Department presented proposed standards to the Wyoming State Board of Education for approval at a meeting on March 21, the day ended with the standards left in limbo. While many who attended supported the standards, many others, notably other educators, took exception to the proposal and said the standards were too complex and would overwhelm overburdened teachers.

Others questioned the cost of implementation, estimated at $12.3 million, given the fact no extra funding was made available to put the standards in place.

The state board then rejected two proposals, one to approve the standards as submitted and another to send them back to the education agency for more work. Instead, the board directed the Standards Review Committee to keep working before the board’s April 25 meeting.

“I am incredibly disappointed,” Trowbridge said, adding that the move would water down the standards.  “We literally are putting it in a trash bag and throwing it out the window.”

But Walt Wilcox, chairman of the State Board of Education, said the board’s action should not be seen as opposition to the standards, but instead as allowing more time to study ways to put them in place.

“No one is opposed to it (computer science standards), not the board or educators,” he said. “They are opposed to not having plans (in place) to do it.”

A lot of concern comes from elementary teachers who have not been taught how to teach the subject, Wilcox said. He pointed out the University of Wyoming and the state’s community colleges are just now putting in place an introductory certification track for teachers in computer science and programming.

“Some teachers are feeling overwhelmed and unprepared wondering how (the standards) will get taught,” he said.

Others against adoption said they worried about what other subjects they would need to scuttle to provide time for the new standards.

The review committee has met once since the March 21 meeting, said Kari Eakins, the Wyoming Department of Education’s Chief Policy Officer.

During that meeting in Lander, “the review committee met consensus and felt like they were able to meet concerns,” she said.  

There will be another public comment period before April 25, she said. If the state board approves the standards, they will go to Gov. Mark Gordon for a 90-day review and for his decision.

“We’re doing something that Wyoming has never done before – adding a content area to the common core of knowledge,” Eakins said. “We are in a little bit of uncharted territory.”

Right now, as far as having enough time to implement the standards, the process is in “safe territory,” she said.

Wyoming State Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, supports the standards.

“The standards really reflect what we’re trying to get after,” she said.

Ellis, a member of the Joint Education Committee that sponsored the 2018 legislation, said she was surprised and a little concerned about the outcome of the March 21 meeting and added legislators need to be kept informed about the process.

Wyoming’s students could lead the computer science field if the standards are adopted and if graduates can find places to work, Trowbridge said. 

He noted Array, formed in 2016, has placed 80 percent of its 33 graduates in computer-related jobs in Wyoming within 180 days of graduation. Their starting salaries are about $48,000 a year.  But it hasn’t been easy because tech presence is not that strong in the state, Trowbridge said. 

“If we don’t pass (the standards), we will never be able to recruit tech companies to create the jobs,” Trowbridge said.

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