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Computer Science Comes to North Idaho

August 01, 2016

This article was written by Jeffe Selle and appeared in the Coeur d'Alene Press on March 10, 2016.

After four years of planning, the University of Idaho and North Idaho College will now offer a baccalaureate program in computer science.

Dr. Charles Buck, from the University of Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene campus, said he is thrilled to see the project finally coming to fruition.

Buck said he set out four years ago to raise the awareness of technology training opportunities in Coeur d’Alene which included eventually starting a local degree program in the computer sciences.

Just this week, that vision became a reality when the Joint Finance and Appropriation Committee in the Idaho Legislature voted to fund a joint degree effort between the university and NIC.

When voting on the funding, Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said the program addresses educational opportunities necessary for students in North Idaho and it is vital to the growing number of businesses in North Idaho that can put the computer science students to work in well-paying jobs.

“We are hopeful that it will be the first step to creating a pipeline for employers in North Idaho,” Keough said. “It will be a big boost for the economy and educational offerings in the area.”

Buck said the local legislators were key to successfully starting the new program. In fact, he said, some of the legislators, like Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, wanted to fund the program before it was even ready to go.

"They picked it up and ran it across the finish line," Buck said, adding he is grateful for all the work they put into the project.

“I have had several businesses tell me that the only impediment to further growth is the lack of workforce, and this program would solve it,” Malek said in a prepared statement.

“Cybersecurity needs to be more of an emphasis in North Idaho, and expanding accessibility to computer science degrees is the first step toward that.”

Buck said there are several key technology businesses that have been helping to develop the program. He mentioned Greg Green, owner of FatBeam, and many other tech companies provided internships and other support to get the project up and running.

He said Shawn Swanby, CEO of Ednetics in Post Falls was also instrumental.

“Our business has much more expansion potential than we can realize given the restraints in the workforce,” Swanby wrote in a prepared statement. “A bachelor’s degree program in computer science will be a game-changer.”

Probably one of the most dedicated supporters of the project was Steve Meyer, owner of Intermax Networks. Buck said when he arrived in Coeur d’Alene five years ago, Meyer asked him “How are we going to bring a computer science program to Coeur d’Alene?”

Meyer said software development is the fastest-growing job sector in the country, with some of the highest salaries.

"This is great news for North Idaho,” Meyer said in a press release. “Computer engineering and software development is behind most new technology achievements whether it be in robotics, big data or medical research. It is hard to grow software companies here because we don't have the talent base. This U of I program is a giant leap forward, not only for North Idaho but for all of Idaho."

The Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee allocated $950,000 to the project, which will provide for five staff members and the required equipment for the program to operate. The proposal will fund the creation of the third year of the degree with the expectation that the funding for the fourth year will be passed in the next legislative session.

The program is set to start the third year of the computer science degree in the 2016-2017 school year and have the fourth ready by the 2017-2018 academic year, Buck said.

The Legislature and colleges predict once the program is fully in place two to three years from now, enrollment will be around 150-200 students.

About the University of Idaho

The University of Idaho, home of the Vandals, is Idaho’s land-grant, national research university. From its residential campus in Moscow, U of I serves the state of Idaho through educational centers in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, nine research and Extension centers, plus Extension offices in 42 counties. Home to nearly 12,000 students statewide, U of I is a leader in student-centered learning and excels at interdisciplinary research, service to businesses and communities, and in advancing diversity, citizenship and global outreach. U of I competes in the Big Sky Conference. Learn more at uidaho.edu