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Many institutions of higher learning are building a strong and nimble talent pipeline to serve the industry as momentum builds behind the tech industry in Greater Phoenix.

High-Tech Momentum:

Educational institutions in Greater Phoenix are driving innovation and technology know-how

by Savannah King

In the U.S., the Hispanic population makes up 16 percent of the workforce but only 6 percent of the national STEM workforce. In places like Arizona, where the Hispanic population is more than 30 percent and tech-based opportunities abound, statistics like this are fueling efforts to bring more women and minorities into STEM fields.

With so much momentum building behind the tech industry in Greater Phoenix, many institutions of higher learning are building a strong and nimble talent pipeline to serve the industry for years to come.

More than 40 universities and higher education institutions are in the region including: Arizona State University, Grand Canyon University, Maricopa Community Colleges, Northern Arizona University, University of Arizona and University of Phoenix. The Greater Phoenix region is well educated with more than 85 percent of the population having a high school diploma and more than 29 percent having earned at least a bachelor’s degree.

With nearly 72,000 students across the university’s five campuses, Arizona State University has been ranked the most innovative university in the country for the last four years in a row. The university was also ranked No. 5 by the Wall Street Journal for having the best qualified graduates.

In August, The National Science Foundation awarded Phoenix College, part of the Maricopa County Community College District, $1.5 million to support minority STEM education. ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences researchers will collaborate with Phoenix College to develop Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CURE). By incorporating multidisciplinary CUREs into STEM curriculum throughout the district, the program is expected to impact more than 3,000 community college students. Maricopa Community Colleges is the largest public community college system in the U.S. and has more than 190,000 students enrolled each year at its 10 campuses.

Innovation is part and parcel for educational programs in the region. Beyond traditional four- and two-year degree programs, the area is home to several non-traditional, career-based training schools.

In Phoenix’s Warehouse District, technology’s talent gap is being further reduced by Galvanize, a software development training school with eight campuses across the U.S. The 50,000-sq.- ft. campus opened in early 2017 and has since become a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity through its co working and startup incubation, and world-class technology education programs focusing on coding, web development and data science. Galvanize offers both full- and part-time immersive programs on campus.

“It can take somebody with limited tech skills, relatively close to entry level, and put them in a position to become a junior developer or software engineer in six months,” says Galvanize General Manager Diana Vowels. “We have two distinct programs: software engineering and data science. Our placements run in the 90 percent range for our students getting placed within six months of graduation, and the average starting salary we’re seeing in Phoenix is about $75,000. These are great starting salaries. I like to say it’s a short-term program. It’s an intense program with tremendous outcomes.” Woz U, inspired by Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak, is a career-based program specializing in technology. The coding school works with traditional universities, businesses and other local agencies to help its students advance their careers and fill the technology gap in the workforce. With several programs offered at the Scottsdale campus, as well as online programs, students can refine their coding skill sets and better position themselves to contribute to companies. The school has an 80 percent placement rate for graduates.

“The tech industry in the Phoenix area provides a vast array of opportunities for students to continue their career path post graduation with employment at one of our local businesses. The technology-focused culture inspires students, as they gain their education through our programs that prepare them to be a part of the innovative spirit that continues to rise locally,” says Chris Coleman, president of Woz U. Of course, getting the opportunity to meet “The Woz” himself is often inspirational for the students at Woz U. “Steve is very passionate about education,” Coleman says. “As a Woz U founder and active member of our board of directors, he is a tremendous visionary with a wealth of experience, which is a valuable resource for the company as we work together to advance Woz U’s education offerings. It’s a great thrill for students when Steve is at our Phoenix campus. They can interact with him and discuss the projects they are working on as part of the program.”

Early Exposure

Woz U Education is a separate sector of the coding school that works with K-12 students to “instill a tech-based mindset,” says Coleman. The program is currently working with students in 10 Arizona school districts.

“Our career-centric approach to education enables us to equip students with the tools and resources to work with prominent companies in Arizona such as GoDaddy, Axway, GlobalTranz and Infosys,” says Coleman.

The Phoenix Coding Academy is an innovative public high school that’s focused on computer coding and multiple technology pathways. In addition to earning a high school diploma, students can take Career and Technical Education (CTE) classes in pathways such as software design, networking, information security, engineering and entrepreneurship. Students receive inquiry-based instruction and participate in job-shadowing and internships with local companies.

Seth Buete, principal of the Phoenix Coding Academy, says the need for the school became apparent in 2014 when the district learned more tech companies were moving to the region and of the national under-representation of women and minorities in STEM careers. The academy’s district is 85 percent Hispanic. “There are a lot of tech companies opening here. There are national companies relocating and there’s explosive growth of all companies using technology,” says Buete. “So, it’s not just tech companies, but everyone using technology. We saw this as an opportunity, especially in Phoenix, because of the growth locally, we can get our students a four-year head start toward a career in these fields.”

Currently, some 300 students are enrolled in grades 9 through 11, with additional grades and students being added each year.

“I want our students to go out into the community and focus on connecting through internships and mentor programs and on job training,” says Buete. “I want these companies to see what our students can do and start bragging about it. They have a lot of great ideas and are excited for opportunities. A lot of times, especially low income neighborhood students, they don’t see the opportunities, and I want to make sure they know the doors are open.”

Greater Phoenix: The Connected Place

Greater Phoenix’s nationally ranked schools and globally renowned universities are preparing a talented workforce for the in-demand jobs of today and tomorrow.

Read the 2018-2019: Greater Phoenix: The Connected Place publication