Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s focus on computer coding and so-called STEM education in Arkansas has led to a first-of-its-kind public-private deal with technology giant Microsoft Corp.
In a crowded press conference at the Governor’s Conference Room in the State Capitol, Hutchinson and Microsoft Executive Fred Humphries on Monday (Dec. 12) signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work on an alliance to support digital literacy, entrepreneurship and youth involvement in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. The alliance will also promote and establish initiatives focused on economic development across the state.
Under this relationship, Microsoft will commit resources and invest in programs to support students, teachers and administrators, entrepreneurs, and other community members across the state. The partnership will also help foster entrepreneurship by offering free software and training for qualifying business startups.
Gov. Hutchinson, who has made a computer coding a focus of his administration’s education, workforce and economic development efforts, said the pact with Microsoft will keep the “energy” going on computer science legislation and other STEM-related initiatives that are currently underway in Arkansas.
“STEM education and computer coding has impacted the lives of students across the state,” Hutchinson said told an audience of about 75 people gathered at the press event. “And what is important to me is that we keep up the momentum. And you keep up the momentum by being a leader in computer science education, by keeping up the energy among our students, teachers, administrators and the private sector as well.”
Hutchinson said during his computer coding tour to schools across the state, he witnessed some schools already are involved in computer education programs but others needed help from the state and private sector in coming up to speed. He said Microsoft will bring its global technology expertise and “practical world” experience to Arkansas students statewide.
“That’s what Microsoft offers in the partnership,” he said.
Humphries, vice president of Microsoft’s government affairs in Washington, D.C., said the partnership with Arkansas is the first “digital alliance” announced in the 50 states. The Microsoft executive said the governor’s computer coding initiatives, which include the goal of putting 6,000 computer coders into the Arkansas economy and the creation of Computer Science Task Force to develop a comprehensive computer science framework for grades K-12, caught the attention of the West Coast tech world.
“Gov. Hutchinson has been undoubtedly a leader when it comes to computer science, and making computer science count here in the state of Arkansas,” said Humphries. “What we are talking about is workforce skills … for all of Arkansas.”
In response to questions from reporters, Humphries and other Microsoft officials at the event said several U.S. cities had initiated similar partnerships with the Redlands, Calif.-based technology giant but Arkansas was the first state to do so.
Under the partnership, Microsoft will host its DigiCamp and YouthSpark Live event for students, along with its BizSpark training session for Arkansas startups. In addition, Microsoft will work with the Arkansas Department of Education to grow its TEALS Initiative, which pairs computer science professionals with computer science teachers to teach high school computer science courses.
However, the MOU does not include any financial terms or arrangements, and the state of Arkansas and Microsoft will each pay any fees, associated costs and expenses of their own employees, contractors and consultants in connection with the partnership. The agreement will expire after two years, but either party can terminate the deal without cause after a 30-day notice.
Although the MOU will not directly financially benefit Microsoft or the state, Humphries did say the Arkansas program and other similar company initiatives do help the tech giant in its diversity efforts and efforts to develop and recruit highly-qualified tech workers across the U.S. to Silicon Valley.