This past spring of 2019 was the launch of the Tech Scholars Program (TSP); a series of workshops for LaGuardia students interested in the field of technology. Our cohort included students from different cultural backgrounds and majors of study.
Through the TSP, students learned the importance of team collaboration, effective communication, and strong presentation and leadership skills for internship readiness.
The implementation of the program was made possible through cross-collaborations between nearly 20 staff and faculty members from almost every division. For instance, the Center for Career and Professional Development’s CUNY LEADs Advisor Wendy Nicholson facilitated workshops on soft skills development, which she rebranded as ME Skills (Master of Excellence skills) noting: “Soft skills are essential in today’s workforce. However, ‘soft’ connotes less-than or not as important. By reframing them as “ME Skills”, students not only embrace them for their importance, but take ownership as well.”
Similarly, Professor Santo Trapani (Business and Technology) led students through soft skills development workshops touching on topics like “knowing and engaging your audience”, “owning your accent” etc.
In addition, faculty co-leader, Javier Serna, Assistant Professor (Business and Technology), guided students through their weekly activities and provided feedback on their progress over the semester.
The TSP invited industry leaders and LaGuardia Alumni currently working in tech to participate in panel discussions, exposing students to the norms and work culture of the tech industry. With this, students formed a better understanding of the demands that arise in the field.
In conjunction to “ME Skills”, we also wanted students to hone their hard skills. Under the training and supervision of faculty, students worked on one of two projects: Coding and Data Analytics. The coding team was led by Yun Ye, Associate Professor in Mathematics-Engineering-Computer-Science. Yun’s students surveyed more than one hundred different tech job descriptions, and calculated the most sought-out skill sets based on word frequency. For example, an employer may emphasize: “preferred qualifications include: excellent communication skills, demonstration of strong leadership, etc.”; or perhaps something more hard-skills related like “proficient in Java, relational database systems, etc.” Students utilized this information to determine the kinds of skills they need to develop to become a competitive candidate in the tech field.
The Data Analytics team was led by Professor Rajendra Bhika (Business and Technology). Students placed in this team received training on Microsoft’s Excel and learned to manipulate data sets from the U.S. Census Bureau for New York City. Students created outputs addressing questions like “What general themes does the data communicate about the residents of NYC?” and “What doesn’t the data tell us about New York City’s population?” By addressing these questions, students engaged in deep personal reflection and compared their individual experiences to what the data revealed about NYC’s residents.
By the end of the program, Scholars were able to use the skills they had learned to give well-informed presentations that modeled real-world tech projects.