Business Matters

Mason’s Deb Crawford explains university’s role in tech talent pipeline

Dr. Deb Crawford, Vice President for Research at George Mason University. Photo by Lathan Goumas/Strategic Communications

George Mason University’s Deborah Crawford appeared on the “Kojo Nnamdi Show” on WAMU-88.5 FM on Thursday as part of a panel discussing the impact of Amazon’s arrival on the technology skills shortage in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area.

Crawford, who is Mason’s vice president for research, innovation and economic impact, said she had no doubt that Mason and the other regional universities working together with local business leaders will help meet the demand.

“At Mason, we’re very excited about Amazon’s arrival,” said Crawford, who was joined for the hour-long broadcast by Jason Miller, chief executive of the Greater Washington Partnership; Evan Lesser, founder and president of Clearance Jobs; and Stuart Anderson, executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy. “Mason is a research university. Part of our mission is working with corporations in the region and also creating new tech ventures. We’re very excited about the possibilities Amazon brings, particularly in the consumer market.”

Noting that the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area trails only the San Francisco Bay area and New York City in tech talent size, Miller said regional universities like Mason will be critical in the “up-skilling and re-skilling” of the workforce to equip them with the technical skills necessary in today’s digital economy.

“We know that universities, community colleges and the K-12 system need to do more,” Miller said. “The one thing we’ve done is bring together the 12 largest universities in Maryland, Virginia and the District to really focus on the digital tech skills that employers across all industries and across all job types need today.”

Amazon’s second headquarters in Crystal City is expected to bring more than 25,000 high-paying jobs to Northern Virginia.

“Our students are very excited about the employment opportunities that are arising,” Crawford said. “As a result, we’ve seen tremendous growth in enrollment in our tech programs, both in undergraduate and graduate levels.”

Mason plans to invest $250 million in its Arlington Campus over the next five years, adding 1,000 faculty members and enlarging the campus to 1.2 million square feet. The number of students enrolled in computing majors is expected to more than double to 15,000 by 2024, Crawford said. Additionally, Mason plans to expand its online presence, allowing working adults the opportunity to complete a college degree, while also making sure that education remains accessible and affordable to community college students who transfer to Mason through programs like the ADVANCE partnership with Northern Virginia Community College.

“I think the biggest challenge,” Crawford said, “is just producing the number of new tech workers that employers need.”