SAS is going to high school.
The Cary software company is expanding a pilot programming course taught at Apex High School to nine other high schools this academic year.
Seven of the newly added schools are in North Carolina, including Cary High School and the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, and one each is in Florida and Alabama. The course will be available to high schools across the country beginning in January.
“I do think it is something that can be successful nationwide,” said Julie Oster, director of Apex High’s information technology-oriented curriculum. “It’s a skill that is in high demand … because SAS is used in so many industries. Statistical analysis is now everywhere.”
John Garrison, a senior at Apex High who took the SAS course last year, said it opened his eyes to the power of data. “It really allows for a lot of statistical analysis,” he said. “It’s a great platform for learning.”
The teen said he found the “syntax” of SAS — the basics of the programming language — easy. But it was harder to determine the best ways to process and manipulate data, which is at the heart of the company’s business intelligence and analytics software.
SAS, which has more than 4,000 workers in Cary, views the course as a way of doing good — enriching student curricula — as well as helping itself by spreading the word about the company and training what is potentially a new generation of SAS programmers.
That’s important because demand for SAS programmers exceeds supply. Demand is especially high at pharmaceutical and financial services companies that use SAS software.
The high school program is an extension of the company’s efforts to teach SAS skills at the university level.
That includes helping to develop N.C. State University’s master’s degree program in analytics and a data mining certificate program at Oklahoma State University.
Nor is SAS’s push into high schools unique. More schools are offering information technology curricula, and IT companies are eager to work with them. Cisco Systems courses were taken by 2,939 students at 47 high schools in North Carolina from October 2006 to October 2007, the company said.
“The same courses I’m teaching at high school, you can actually take at a community college or university,” said Geof Duncan, who teaches two Cisco courses — network engineering technology I and II — at Knightdale High School.
The first course teaches students to set up a wired or wireless network in a home or small office. The advanced course teaches skills such as configuring routers. Combined, the two courses are the equivalent of one college course.
Leslie Keller, the Apex teacher who worked with SAS to adapt its adult certification program for the high school level, views the course as useful even for students who don’t pursue a career in IT.
“All programming language is problem-solving and critical thinking, regardless of what the programming language is,” she said. “In addition, SAS offers a broader perspective and appreciation of data and how it can be beneficial and how it can be used.”
SAS’s sophisticated business intelligence and analytics software isn’t easily explained in a few words, but Keller has a pat description: “SAS takes data and turns it into useful information. It analyzes the data, creates reports from the data in many, many different ways.”
For years SAS has been approached by high schools interested in teaching SAS programming. Until now the company didn’t have a course to offer them, said Caroline McCullen, director of SAS education initiatives
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