U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., speaks April 13 at Des Moines Area Community College's Urban Campus in Des Moines. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)
Even more Iowa students will have the opportunity to prepare for careers in technology through a specialized program at Des Moines Area Community College after current trainees exceeded expectations, college officials say.
More than a dozen DMACC students are just a couple of months from being ready to enter the tech field through an 18-month technology career training program called TechWise, which is backed by Google. DMACC is partnering with education technology company TalentSprint on the program.
The community college, only one of two across the country included in the program, placed 13 students in TechWise’s first cohort after its national launch in February 2022. U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna of Silicon Valley in California joined representatives from DMACC, TechWise and TalentSprint in celebrating the program’s success in April.
Khanna said during the event in April that Iowa was a “logical” place to center the TechWise program. “… Iowa, with the extraordinary tradition in science and technology that you have, with the extraordinary community college system they do have, with the belief that you have in partnering with business and private industry, you can help lead this economic renaissance, technology renaissance, for the nation,” he said.
Members of the first cohort are currently working on applications to apprenticeships ahead of their completion of training in September.
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Computer science students make up the majority of DMACC program participants, Joel Lundstrom, provost at the DMACC Carroll Campus, said. Training is completed on top of normal classes, and students work with mentors from TalentSprint, Google and DMACC to learn the skills required for software engineering.
The program is free and participants receive a $5,000 scholarship to help with basic expenses while studying.
Teaching on how to build a tech resume, participate in interviews and other job skills is also offered.
“Out of all the programs I’ve worked with in 20-plus years in higher ed, this is the most unique one with the most opportunity for students,” Lundstrom said.
DMACC’s participation in the program has already expanded, DMACC President Rob Denson said in an interview. The program originally slotted around 10 spots in the second cohort for DMACC students, but after seeing how passionate and hardworking the first cohort of students were from the community college, that number was raised to 32.
Around 120 students from eight colleges are involved in the second round of training.
The third cohort has not been announced yet, but Lundstrom said he’s optimistic DMACC will have the same level of participation in the program and is hoping to provide more opportunities for students.
“Google has been impressed with the quality of our students,” Denson said, “and that’s a nice independent verification of how good a job you’re doing.”
These students also come from diverse backgrounds, Lundstrom said, from young people just recently graduated from high school to nontraditional students switching jobs or working to learn new skills. TechWise was designed to train students from underrepresented groups in order to help them enter a career in technology, and takes diversity into consideration when going over applications.
The interview process was rigorous, Lundstrom said, with applicants having to take an online assessment and coding test and participate in an interview.
In their efforts to help create a prepared and passionate pool of applicants, Lundstrom said he and others at DMACC held informational sessions and reached out to students and encouraged them to check out the program. Some said they were unsure if they were skilled enough to apply — what Lundstrom called “imposter syndrome” — but had their interest piqued after hearing about what the program entailed.
Technology companies have increasingly began turning to community colleges for skilled workers, Lundstrom said, rather than focusing mainly on four-year universities.
The program will provide more job opportunities for DMACC students, Lundstrom said, hopefully in Iowa. According to the Iowa Area Development Group, the state’s technology industry employs more than 76,000 people and makes up almost $10.7 billion of the state’s GDP.
“I think some students will move on to other opportunities, but a lot will stay local, and that really helps us complete our mission,” Lundstrom said.
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