Cracking the Code to Social Mobility by Infusing Tech Skills Into CU Denver’s Curriculum

Computing Across the Curriculum Task Force Report Launches

April 21, 2022

What do data science and equity have in common? A new report from CU Denver’s Interdisciplinary Computing Task Force (ICTF) answers this question while accelerating the university’s progress towards achieving its strategic goals of becoming an equity-serving institution and a “university for life.”  

As part of the implementation of the 2030 Strategic Plan, the university tasked the ICTF with developing a vision and program plan for preparing students to thrive in a workforce that prioritizes computing skills. Douglas Sicker, CU Denver’s chief computing officer, chaired the task force alongside 15 combined students, faculty, and staff. Released today, their report, titled “Computing Across the Curriculum,” provides recommendations for how CU Denver can achieve these goals by infusing computing throughout the university’s curriculum. 

An Opportunity for Social Mobility 

Over the next 10 years, Colorado will add 5.7 million new jobs, most of which will require computing skills, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. Employers are willing to pay a high price for workers with these skills; median wages for computer and information technology occupations are more than twice the median wages for other occupations, data shows. However, access to these jobs is not evenly distributed. Nearly 80% of all Denver workers with computing skills are white, while the city’s overall population is only 65% white, per the U.S. Census Bureau. 

With a diverse student population and home in one of America’s hotbeds of innovation, CU Denver—already ranked first in the state for social mobility—is uniquely positioned to capitalize on the opportunity to promote social mobility while increasing the university’s impact. How? By creating a new generation of diverse tech talent. 

“Social mobility requires more than just getting a job. It takes developing the skills that keep you in demand by differentiating yourself from the rest of the workforce. Not only do employers place a premium on computing skills, but because of advancements in technology, computing is now a foundational part of every industry,” said Sicker.  

Changing the Face of Computing at CU Denver 

Before developing its recommendations, the ICTF assessed the university’s current state with input from students, faculty, staff, and administrators across all schools and colleges. Through surveys and one-on-one interviews, the task force gathered insights from more than 230 students, faculty, and staff. 

The task force’s research revealed several key needs impacting the university’s ability to deliver computing skills to more students, such as the noticeable gap in internet and device access between white students and students of color. 

With the university’s goals and needs in mind, the task force put forward an approach of simultaneously infusing computing skills across the university’s curriculum while adding academic offerings specifically related to computing-led fields. The recommendations come as the university has unveiled several initiatives designed to prepare students for careers in some of the economy’s most in-demand fields, such as launching new degree programs in data science and cybersecurity. 

“Every single field of work requires some level of computational thinking today – whether it be automating formulas in Excel or utilizing blockchain tools to manage product supply chains,” said Kenny Sisco, IT director for the College of Engineering, Design and Computing and ICTF member. 

“We’re not saying everyone should learn to code,” Sicker added. “What we’re saying is, let’s make sure all students develop the computing skills that will best serve them in their discipline.” 

Current students see the value of this approach. “Every step of the way with my learning, computing has allowed me to advance my understanding of different topics by opening new doors of opportunities for hand-on experiences,” said Aman Tewolde, a student who serves as IT Services developer for the College of Engineering, Design and Computing.

At the center of the report is a set of six “high-value projects” that the task force recommends the university pursue over the next three years. The task force’s primary recommendation: Developing a virtual hub of computing and technology strategy to ensure the university stays at the cutting-edge of computing education. 

The report’s other recommendations include: 

  • Developing sets of computational competencies that will enable the university to equip all students with in-demand skills 
  • Developing and delivering innovative academic programming to expand upon the university’s broader computational competencies 
  • Complementing students’ in-class learning with more comprehensive and accessible support as well as experiential learning opportunities 
  • Investing in the faculty, staff, and graduate students who will play a direct role in helping the university realize its computing ambitions  
  • Investing in the university’s technology infrastructure 

“There is a lot of work yet to do, but by working toward the idea that computing can be an impactful driver of social mobility for our students, this report moves us one step closer to realizing our ambitions of becoming an equity-serving institution and a university for life,” said Mitch Morecraft, CU Denver’s director of Strategic Plan Implementation. 

The Interdisciplinary Computing Task Force consists of the following members:  

  • Douglas Sicker, Chief Computing Officer 
  • Lois Brink, Professor, College of Architecture and Planning 
  • Chris Edmundson, Program Director, Office of Information Technology  
  • Dawn Gregg, Directort, Business School   
  • Daniel Griner, Director, Inworks 
  • Audrey Hendricks, Associate Professor, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences 
  • Kendall Hunter, Associate Professor, College of Engineering, Design and Computing  
  • Sheila Huss, Associate Professor, School of Public Affairs  
  • Mark Karger, Senior Project Manager, Chancellor’s Office 
  • Chilli Kellaway, Design Innovation Team Member, Comcast Center 
  • Bryan Leister, Associate Professor, College of Arts and Media  
  • David Lowry, Interim Chief Information Officer, Office of Information Technology  
  • Mitch Morecraft, Director of Strategic Plan Implementation, Chancellor’s Office 
  • Joseph Murdock, Instructor, Business School  
  • Kent Seidel, Associate Professor, School of Education & Human Development  
  • Kenneth Sisco, Director, College of Engineering, Design and Computing