The number of degrees awarded in computer science, information technology, computer engineering and management information systems in Florida has increased the past three years by more than 30 percent – from 947 to 1,292 – thanks to a partnership of three universities known as CSIT-TEAm.

CSIT-TEAm, established in 2013 by the Florida Board of Governors, aims to increase the number of qualified graduates for jobs in the computer science fields, which last year most employers couldn’t completely fill. According to a White House report, in 2015 there were more than 600,000 high-paying tech jobs in the nation and not enough people to fill them. By 2018, it’s projected that 51 percent of all STEM jobs will be in computer science-related fields.

The CSIT-TEAm partner institutions – the University of Central Florida, the University of South Florida and Florida International University – comprise the Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Research Universities that represent the state’s three largest metropolitan areas (Orlando, Tampa Bay and Miami). They’ve been working together to tear down barriers to success, create evidence-based best curriculum practices, and provide students more opportunities regardless of geography.

CSIT-TEAm’s quick success is a key reason why the National Science Foundation recently awarded the partnership a $5 million grant, enough to help hundreds of academically talented, financially needy students get degrees in four high-tech, in-demand disciplines.

The NSF program, known as Florida IT Pathways to Success, intends to increase engagement, retention and graduation of 453 students who will receive a variety of enhanced educational opportunities, including fellowships exceeding $3 million.

At UCF, that means the grant will provide fellowships to 151 students, including 36 four-year fellowships offered to full-time, first-time-in-college students who join UCF during the first two years of the grant, and 115 one-year fellowships offered to full-time seniors during their last year of study at UCF.

“The NSF grant expands UCF’s existing, proven student-retention efforts and professional pathway efforts in place that include the EXCEL program and the Young Entrepreneurs and Scholars program,” said Michael Georgiopoulos, dean of UCF College of Engineering & Computer Science.

EXCEL and YES are long-time programs at UCF supported by NSF, with an excellent track record of helping students graduate and guiding students to explore various career paths.

The new grant is welcome news for UCF engineering and computer science students.

Felix Anthony Sosa was able to enroll in FIU’s “Natural Language Processing” course and have it count toward his UCF computer science degree thanks to the CSIT-TEAm partnership. The course is not offered at UCF.

“I chose UCF because of the strength of its computer science program and the faculty researchers in the field I want to pursue: artificial intelligence,” Sosa said. “FIU’s Natural Language Processing online course gave me exposure to a possible career option that I never would have considered. The consortium is important because it expands students’ career options and increases access to more faculty.”

The online course proved to be a convenience for Sosa, he said, adding that his FIU professor was available to him for questions and feedback through Skype chats.

“Having more elective courses available means a student can reach graduation faster and have a wider variety of courses to choose from” said Mostafa Bassiouni, professor of computer science and CSIT-TEAm project director at UCF.  “The online-support offerings help students reach their education and career goals.”

Bassiouni said the consortium means students get access to high-quality, evidence-based practices focused on building community and providing faculty, industry and peer mentorship to retain these students until graduation. The program as a whole is focused on expanding career readiness and making graduates ideal candidates for a growing, robust tech field.

Each university in CSIT-TEAm offers students in computer science online curricula and other resources such as virtual career fairs and a Common Internships Portal to computer science, IT, computer engineering, and the management information systems major – offerings that the Florida Board of Governors evaluated as “Terrific Best Practices.”

The UCF College of Engineering & Computer Science is among the nation’s top producers of engineers and computer scientists. In 2016, UCF awarded 190 computer science degrees, 90 computer engineering degrees and 205 information technology degrees.

UCF is home to the three-time national champion Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition Team, and its Programming Team ranks third in the nation and 28th in the world among 10,000 teams. Last year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency designated UCF as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Security Education.

Learn more about the consortium: