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Facebook donation sends virtual reality headsets to high schools throughout Arkansas

by Brian Fanney | August 29, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

Each of the more than 360 public high schools in Arkansas will soon have at least one virtual reality headset thanks to a second donation from Facebook Inc.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Monday that the social media giant would be building on a January gift with another 550 virtual reality kits. Earlier this year, Facebook donated about 400 virtual reality kits to the state's poorest high schools.

As he made the announcement in Lakeside High School in Hot Springs, Hutchinson touted his initiative to require every high school to offer computer science education and fund teacher training.

"If you learn this, I guarantee you're going to get a good-paying job," the governor told an auditorium full of students. "And when you do, do me a favor. Build that app. You can build it anywhere, but then create those jobs here in Arkansas and build your future in this state."

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Hutchinson said his initiative had captured the attention of Facebook, the parent company of Oculus. Facebook donated the Oculus virtual reality kits, which include computers, cameras, headsets and other equipment.

They will be used to administer Facebook's Techstart program, which aims to give students access to high-quality computer science and virtual reality education in order to generate interest in computer science careers and provide instruction for students.

Techstart operates in Washington, D.C., the San Francisco Bay Area and Arkansas, according to its website.

Anthony Owen, computer science coordinator for the state Department of Education, told students that Facebook officials were present at the EAST Conference in March. EAST stands for Environmental and Spatial Technology. The EAST Initiative's annual conference, which is focused on student achievement, is held in Hot Springs.

"They decided they wanted to come in and see what Arkansas students were doing with their technology," Owen said.

The Facebook officials left impressed, he told students.

"Because of the work our teachers are doing and the students are doing under their guidance, we are being recognized by companies such as Facebook that continue to commit resources to Arkansas and its students," he said.

With Monday's gift, the company has donated more than $1.3 million to the state, according to a news release.

"We don't want you just to play games on this," Owen said. "We want you to create games on this. We want somebody in this audience to become the next millionaire or billionaire based on what they create for virtual reality."

In January, Erin Egan, vice president of U.S. public policy for Facebook, said the Arkansas announcement marked the beginning of a national program.

"We looked around the country in which states were really interested in bringing computer science to the classroom," Egan told reporters at the time. "Gov. Hutchinson has been a leader there and so it was natural for us to pick Arkansas as the first state for us to launch this Techstart initiative."

That announcement had been made at Little Rock Central High School.

Facebook isn't the only technology company to work with Arkansas on its computer science initiative.

In December, Microsoft Corp. and the state pledged to work together on what they called a digital alliance aimed at promoting computer science education and economic development across Arkansas.

Monday's announcement was part of Hutchinson's fifth statewide coding tour. He has visited more than 50 high schools encouraging students to take computer science courses and touting job prospects for the field.

During his speech to students, the governor told Lakeside students about his trip in May 2015 to Silicon Valley.

"I was knocking on doors. I was telling what we've got going in Arkansas, saying you ought to locate here," Hutchinson said. "It took me just a little while to figure out there's only one thing they wanted from me or from us and that is the talent we have. They said, 'Can you send you computer coders out here? We would love to give them a job.' And I said that's not what we have in mind. We want to create those jobs here so you can stay in the state that you love."

Metro on 08/29/2017

Print Headline: Virtual reality headsets going to high schools throughout state


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