SPEARFISH | Black Hills State University was awarded a $785,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to support South Dakota high schools in implementing computer science courses, the university announced this week.

Ben Sayler, director of the Sanford Science Education Center and professor of physical science and mathematics at BHSU, serves as the project’s principal investigator. He said the new project, “Expanding Pathways into Computer Science across South Dakota,” will build upon previous work also funded by the National Science Foundation with an expanded focus: reaching rural regions and underserved students throughout the state, including those on or near Native American reservations. The project begins Sunday.

The new project grew from the university’s partnership with five school districts — Belle Fourche, Douglas, Lead-Deadwood, Rapid City and Spearfish. Over the past two years, BHSU and its project partners worked with 10 high school teachers to implement a yearlong computer science course, according to a release. A total of 450 students in the Black Hills have now taken that course and continue to enroll annually.

“Computer science is all around us,” Sayler said in the release. “We spend so much time interacting with computers and mobile devices, and there are excellent career opportunities in this field.”

BHSU has legacy of educating teachers and continues to graduate the highest number of education graduates of any university in South Dakota. Sayler said the connections and experience BHSU has working with teachers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines is helpful in supporting the addition of new computer sciences courses in school districts.

The project uses a nationally disseminated high school curriculum called “Exploring Computer Science,” which includes six modules taught over the course of one academic year. Modules include: coding, analyzing large data sets, problem-solving, human-computer interactions and web design.