Students in the Florida Information Technology Career (FITC) Alliance of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) understand the definition of community support.
The students, who are all majoring in computer information systems (CIS) at FAMU, provide mentoring and outreach initiatives to area high school and middle school students, thanks to a grant provided by the Florida Board of Governors to FAMU and Florida State University (FSU).
Sharmini Pitter, Ph.D., FAMU’s FITC Alliance project coordinator, said the program, which was implemented in June 2014, was primarily established to help recruit, retain, and employ the next generation of Florida’s technology workforce.
“We not only want to have students come to Florida for college, but we also want them to go on to have careers here in the state,” Pitter said.
She referenced a large gap in the number of CIS graduates currently produced in Florida in relation to the vast number of careers and opportunities that are opening up.
“A lot of us grow up being told that becoming a lawyer, doctor, or engineer is the way to go to have a career that is successful. However, with the number of technology jobs that are opening up, we’re trying to steer students who are interested in math and science courses to consider technology as a possible career,” Pitter said.
As a part of the program’s regular activities, members of the alliance regularly visit various community colleges and universities to speak with potential students who may be interested in attending FAMU to major in CIS-related fields.
Arlisha McQueen, student ambassador coordinator for the program, said about 15 to 25 students majoring in computer science, computer information technology, computer information systems, and computer engineering receive paid job opportunities each semester as members of the program. Students who desire to obtain a position are required to participate in an interview session during the application process. During the interview all applicants must demonstrate a sincere desire to become members of the FITC team.
“We take them through a series of questions referencing why they believe this is something they should actually do. We believe it has to be something that they are passionate about in order to help other students consider a CIS field as a major,” McQueen said.
Alexis Caldwell, a senior computer science major from Chicago, Ill., said she enjoys having an opportunity to reach out to high school students.
“A lot of them don’t know a lot about the field, so the most enjoyable part is seeing them actually get interested in technology and considering it as a career,” Caldwell said. “It’s important to get more people interested because technology is everywhere and practically everything we use depends on technology,” she added.
In addition to providing support to students, teachers, and schools in the community, Pitter said witnessing the growth and development of students participating in the program is one of her most rewarding experiences.
“In some cases they start out very timid and in a short amount of time you see them begin to open up and getting used to talking to students. They become more passionate about what they are doing and it makes them feel that their work is important,” Pitter said.
McQueen added that the program has received national exposure through organizations, such as the National Urban League where students of the FITC Alliance had an opportunity to attend and give presentations during the National Youth Leadership Summit in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., last summer.
Since the time the program was implemented, FAMU’s CIS program has experienced an increase in enrolled students, particularly in the technology area according to Pitter.
“We’re coming in at about 200 percent of what was projected for us to be able to do,” she said. “The Ambassador Program has been a huge success and that is something we’ve taken and talked to people about throughout the state.”
Both McQueen and Pitter said receiving positive feedback from the various companies that are partnering with the program proves one of the highlights of their jobs.
“We do get feedback from the industry partners that we are producing very strong applicants and that they are very knowledgeable, very skillful, and do well with internships and jobs,” Pitter said. So when our current students and alumni are doing well in those jobs, they bring other people back here to recruit more FAMU students, and that has been very successful,” she added.