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A new program helps students majoring in computer science and cybersecurity at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock find local internships and apprenticeships.

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This year the University of Arkansas at Little Rock partnered with the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences (ACDS) to create a support pathway, giving tiered support to computer science and cybersecurity majors to advance their career development.

The initiative, launched in January, benefits local workforce needs by providing an on-ramp for recruiting and hiring young talent as well as providing experiential learning and pay to learners.

What’s the need: As a metropolitan university, UA Little Rock strives to support its students with economic mobility, and providing paid experiential learning opportunities gives learners a leg up in the job search, explains Albert Baker, chair of computer science at the university. Baker, through conversations with Bill Yoder, executive director, and Lonnie Emard, director of apprenticeships at ACDS, helped establish the support pathway.

UA Little Rock has 352 students in the computer science department (which includes cybersecurity), and “about 80 percent or so of our students, when they graduate, they stay in Arkansas,” Baker says. “So having an opportunity to get affiliated with, have exposure with, have work experience with Arkansas companies is, I think, even a bigger deal for students at UA Little Rock.”

Students who hold paid internships receive, on average, more job offers than their peers who do not, making experiential learning a key component in career development.

How it works: The program has three tiers: scholarships, internships and apprenticeships.

The university will provide endowed scholarships to support first- and second-year students studying computer science and cybersecurity to encourage them in their academic pursuits. At present, the department awards between six and eight scholarships and hopes to offer more in the future.

After their sophomore year, students can apply for an internship. Students will go through a competitive application process, including a technical assessment and interviews, before being matched with a host employer.

Internships last for three months, and ACDS will provide the intern’s $15-per-hour wages—paid for through federal grants—so there is no cost to the host organization. Students also receive career coaching.

Internships Stop the Brain Drain

Local business organizations across the nation are encouraging employers to host college interns to provide hands-on training and bridge workforce gaps.

Arkansas loses about 21 percent of its four-year college graduates, with a significant portion of those lost grads going to Texas, Tennessee and Missouri, according to a Washington Post data analysis.

By senior year, students can apply for an apprenticeship. Apprentices will be full-time employees for at least one year, receiving a competitive salary and on-the-job training from a mentor. Because the role is full-time, participating in an apprenticeship may increase a student’s time to degree, so the opportunity will be marketed to second-semester seniors, Baker says.

What’s different: While there are several job boards where students can find internships, ACDS’s portal connects students to more than 130 employers who hire cybersecurity and computer science professionals in Arkansas.

“If you’re just starting, ‘I’m going to try and find an internship’—it’s a daunting task,” Baker says. “I think that the opportunities for our students to land positions in their field in Arkansas is really great.”

Student apprentices may also be eligible for academic credit while they’re in the program, creating an additional value add for their work.

The next steps: The program launched early this year, and UA Little Rock is focused on targeted messaging to promote the opportunity to current and potential new students. Since January, six students have applied for internships and three companies have come on board to host.

“Everybody on campus is excited about this, and in part, because higher ed is going to have to do a much better job of integrating with industry,” Baker says.

The computer science department offers eight cybersecurity and three computer science certificate programs to attract adult learners looking to upskill or reskill. The internship and apprenticeship programs could be attractive to this audience, as well as the traditional-age student.

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