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Published March 14 2013

Microsoft, state of ND form 'Digital Alliance'

FARGO – North Dakota’s governor and Microsoft officials announced a public-private partnership Thursday that a company official said will help narrow the “opportunity gap” for young people who lack access to technology education, especially in rural areas.

The “Digital Alliance” – touted as the first of its kind in the country – will bring Microsoft training and resources to the state’s students to boost skills in education, employability and entrepreneurship, with a specific focus on science, technology, engineering and math.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple said state officials hope the alliance “will be the beginning of a major step forward in technology access, education improvement, training for students and as well as all our residents and our small businesses.”

Career opportunities in the state are exploding, “and people are looking for a way to develop their knowledge and their skills to take advantage of these opportunities,” Dalrymple said during a press conference at Microsoft’s Fargo campus.

Don Morton, site manager at Microsoft Fargo, said a majority of present and future jobs will be technology jobs, but unfortunately there’s an opportunity gap in the country that “gets especially wide in the rural parts of our state.”

“We want to address that education gap, and we have some tools and some ideas to make sure that those young people that don’t have access to technology education can keep up with those young people that do have access,” he said.

Kristin Rhodes, Micro-soft’s general manager of U.S. education, called the alliance “a very bold move” that’s part of Microsoft’s global YouthSpark initiative, designed to create 50 million opportunities for youths in the U.S. alone.

“So this will be a phenomenal opportunity to showcase that right here in North Dakota,” she said.

Microsoft, which Morton said employs about 1,600 people in North Dakota, has formed alliances in other states.

“But truly, at this comprehensive level, this is the first,” Rhodes said.

Microsoft officials did not provide a cost figure for the company’s initial three-year commitment. Rhodes said much of its contribution will be in-kind work.

Implementation has already started and will ramp up over the next three years, with programs being made available in K-12 schools, colleges and universities, adult learning centers, job service centers and local libraries, the governor’s office said.

One such program is Microsoft’s Technology Education and Literacy in Schools, in which Microsoft engineers agree to teach Computer Science 101 classes in high schools that have no one to teach the class, or to assist teachers in schools that do.

Morton said the program is already in place at Park Christian School in Moorhead, and Microsoft is in discussions with West Fargo schools. The company also is looking at offering TEALS remotely to rural schools from the Fargo campus, he said.

Rhodes also cited Kodu, a visual programming language that allows small children to create computer games, as a program that will help give students a strong foundation in STEM fields.

Anna Scheeler, a sophomore at Davies High School in Fargo, has taken part the past two years in the DigiGirlz program that will be expanded through the alliance.

“It helps girls realize how beneficial technology really is and how it’s going to be our future for this generation,” she said.

Programs offered

Some of the programs offered through North Dakota’s “Digital Alliance” with Microsoft include:

•DigiGirlz, which teaches high school girls about careers in technology and provides hands-on computer and technology workshops.

•IT Academy, an online certification program to help students learn technology skills and gain industry-recognized credentials helpful in landing jobs in STEM-related field.

•DreamSpark, which supports technical education by providing access to Microsoft software for leaning, teaching and research purposes. Students can create an account and download software for free, while educational institutions can subscribe to get access.

Source: North Dakota Governor’s Office, Microsoft

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528