Grant Helps CSU Prepare Students to do Computer Modeling

COLUMBUS, Ga. - Columbus State University has garnered a $100,000 grant to develop a specially designed computer science curriculum to provide local defense contractors with employees skilled in computer modeling, simulation and gaming.

The initiative, called “Project STEADI” (Simulation Technology Education Assisting the Defense Industry), is yet another public-private partnership for the Columbus area. This initiative started about a year ago and includes CSU, Fort Benning, the Greater Columbus Georgia Chamber of Commerce, the Columbus Development Authority and several local defense contractors, some of which are located in the technology incubator inside CSU’s Cunningham Center.

The grant comes from the University System of Georgia through ICAPP (Intellectual Capital Partnership Program). This is the second ICAPP program to start at CSU, which originally helped develop the economic development concept in 1996 to provide computer-savvy employees for TSYS.

Project STEADI will build on a CSU computer science program that teaches students the theory, design and programming techniques required for producing games software. That knowledge is used for the fun video games that are so popular today, but also for training, simulations, modeling and games that have underlying uses, such as the Army recruitment game found online at www.americasarmy.com.

“We got a group together to brainstorm ideas,” said Wayne Summers, chair of CSU’s TSYS Department of Computer Science. “The defense industry said they were having a difficult time attracting people to help do simulations for them.”

The problem quickly turned into an opportunity, with the burgeoning gaming program already in place, the strong community support, and the resources available in the Cunningham Center.

John Fuller, a former chief of staff at Fort Benning, will lead the first phase of the project, which will involve working with local defense contractors to fully define the depth and breadth of their needs.

“It’s a win-win proposition for everyone that’s involved in it,” Fuller said. His experience in the Army, as well as with local defense and homeland security contractors, has shown him the need in this area for employees with sophisticated computer skills.

Modeling, gaming and simulators are used extensively by all of the military services in training for combat. Using a computer-driven trainer instead of a real tank or plane allows for better training at reduced costs, without any wear and tear on the actual combat vehicles or systems, he said.

“They have become irreplaceable components of the training and preparedness strategies in all services,” Fuller said. “The reality for the military and the defense industry is that with the proliferation of training devices comes the need for more people educated in the technology disciplines that support these systems. And, that's where we are today — trying to speed up the production of young talent from our colleges and universities to meet this growing demand.”

Fuller estimates there are several hundred employees currently in the Valley area with ties to this kind of technology and training. “Not only is the current demand for individuals with this talent growing, it will dramatically accelerate when the Armor School now at Fort Knox relocates to Fort Benning,” he said.