Pitt-Johnstown president speaks CODE for a Digital Economy

Tammy Barbin

posted September 27, 2017


NOTE: The following story appeared in the Pittsburgh Technology Council publication Made in PA, Summer 2017 edition.


It is well-known that the changing global economy, especially in the last quarter of the 20th century, adversely impacted Johnstown and other “Rust Belt” cities as they were battered by the loss of manufacturing, coal, and steel industries, loss of population, stagnant wages, well-paying jobs, growing blight, rising poverty, disease and other ills.

But Pitt-Johnstown president, Dr. Jem Spectar believes that the same global economy is now ushering an unparalleled wave of opportunity for individuals and communities to gain and utilize new skills to empower and even enrich themselves, transcending the limitations of geography while challenging the weathered “rust belt” brand.

And he is further convinced that education, specifically – preparing our youth for the new language for the 21st century – is a critical cog to the community’s revitalization.

To help guide the greater-Johnstown community through this course-change, Dr. Spectar launched an ambitious 21st Century workforce capacity coding and digital literacy initiative as a call to action to add tech skills to the knowledge base of area students and infuse Cambria County’s talented workforce with techno literacy skills.

“Everyone deserves to be ready to compete and thrive in the unfolding 21st century world,” Dr. Spectar explains. “Knowledge that was once bottled up in places like Silicon Valley is dispersing to the garage-next-door where the next app that creates jobs for our community, helps revitalize our neighborhoods and changes the world is developed. Unless we reverse course and meet the growing needs for talent, our national and economic security may be jeopardized.”   

The need for coding education is critically important to workforce competitiveness for the Johnstown area and beyond.  According to code.org, there are currently 517,393 open computing jobs nationwide and more than 17,000 in Pennsylvania alone. Last year, only 42,969 computer science students graduated into the workforce.

The Department of Labor predicts that 1.3 million new computer science related jobs will be created by 2022, positions that today are earning average salaries of $83,233 per year. 

CODE (Coding Outreach for a Digital Economy) was launched in Johnstown and neighboring elementary schools to bring digital literacy to the community, to promote widespread interest in computer science in K-12 and to support entities who advance coding literacy as a necessity, a right and a freely accessible good for all K-12 children in our region.

Working with partner school districts, including Somerset, Forest Hills and Johnstown, CODE has helped deliver computer coding instruction to more than 1000 elementary students, in after-school, in-school and summer camp programs since its fall 2016 launch.

This pilot project will serve as a model for the broader Code for the Commonwealth and Country initiative that Dr. Spectar hopes will foster the resurgence of the Greater Johnstown region as a national model for the development of coding and digital literacy across the K-16 and beyond.

Dr. Spectar’s goal is to bring the basics of coding, a language skill that is as essential as reading and writing, to every child, in every nook and cranny of the Greater Johnstown region, transforming the so-called “Rust Belt” into a hotspot in the new digital economy with great jobs for our people.

On campus, and under the leadership of Dr. Gerald Zahorchak, former PA Secretary of Education, Pitt-Johnstown is also taking steps to better prepare education majors to assimilate coding literacy into the K-12 curriculum, requiring mastery of STEM and digital literacy.

“Over the long term, young people in this region will have the same kind of opportunities that people in other parts of the country are enjoying and they will be able to compete for the jobs of the future.”


The University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown is marking its 90th anniversary well as the 50th year of the campus in its Richland Township location. Pitt-Johnstown was founded in 1927 and is the first and largest regional campus of the University of Pittsburgh. Pitt-Johnstown is recognized by the Princeton Review as a “Best in the Northeast” college, by G.I. Jobs as a “Military Friendly School,” and by Pennsylvania Business Central as a "Top 100 Organization.” The distinctive combination of Pitt-Johnstown’s people, programs, and place results in exceptional performance in preparing students for career and professional success. Pitt-Johnstown is the regional leader, educating for success in the Real World.