LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday signed a memorandum of understanding with Microsoft that calls for the technology company to partner with the state on initiatives to promote education in the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, fields.
Hutchinson and Fred Humphries, Microsoft’s vice president of U.S. government affairs, signed the memorandum in a ceremony at the state Capitol.
The governor said his initiative to have computer science taught in every public high school in Arkansas has impacted the lives of students across the state, “and what’s important to me is that we keep up the momentum.”
“This partnership that we are announcing today with Microsoft … will bring in greater resources, private-sector resources, to our schools that will allow more partnerships, expand those partnerships, and … increase the energy that we have already in Arkansas for computer science education,” Hutchinson said.
Humphries said Arkansas is the first state to have such an agreement with Microsoft. He said he did not have an estimate of what the company’s financial investment in the state would be.
“There’s a significant number of jobs that are open at Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Walmart … but the skill set’s not there,” he said. “And so what do we want to do? We want to invest here and in states where they’ve shown leadership.
Humprhies said Hutchinson’s computer science initiative caught the company’s eye.
“It was a big deal to make computer science count as a part of the core requirement of all of the state of Arkansas. When that took place, that got our attention. (We) said, ‘Hey, this is a place we need to look to potentially invest in,’” he said.
Under the nonbinding agreement, the company and the state are to form a “digital alliance” to establish and promote Microsoft initiatives in Arkansas including:
• YouthSpark, a program that brings together teachers, school administrators, school technology officers, non-governmental organizations and others for a day of professional learning focusing on technology education.
• YouthSpark Live, an event that brings young people together to identify skills they need to achieve their goals, figure out how technology can aid them and get connected to relevant programs.
• DigiGirlz Camp, which gives high school girls an opportunity to learn about STEM fields, meet STEM industry professional and Microsoft employees and participate in hands-on computer and technology workshops.
• BizSpark, a program that provides free software, support and visibility for start-up companies.
• Community Connections Program, which helps connect business organizations with Microsoft partners to educate small businesses on how current technology solutions can help them operate more efficiently and grow.
• Microsoft Classroom, an online program that allows teachers and students to leverage Microsoft Office 365 to consumer and create content, communicate with each other and collaborate on tasks.
• School Data Sync, a service in Office 365 Education that helps schools automate creation and management of online classrooms.
• Office Online Messaging, an online service that offers free web versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote and other software programs.