This historically black university has created its own pipeline of tech interns
Trying to secure an internship at a top tech company or start-up can be a depressing quest for many students, requiring a sustained, semester-long effort — often with few results, but a multitude of rejections.
Now, Bowie State University, a historically black university in Bowie, Maryland, has created its own internship program. And undergraduates don’t have to jump through standard Silicon Valley hoops, like spending countless hours studying for corporate coding tests or passing high-pressure tech assessments under the look of a technology company interviewer.
“To be honest with you, it’s a brutal process,” said Rose Shumba, president of Bowie State’s IT department, referring to the internship application process at many large tech companies. She described trying to support stressed students as they prepared for technical interviews which she said did not assess their skills or career potential. “We see things very differently here at Bowie.”
To broaden opportunities for students, the computer science department last year set up its own internship program in partnership with a number of companies and government agencies. The program aims to match students directly with employers looking for interns. He also organizes training sessions for students on interview techniques and workshops on hot topics like machine learning.
The Bowie approach offers students an alternative to the impersonal, large-scale application system of many large technology companies. This process typically involves tens of thousands of college students cold-submitting their CVs to online corporate portals, where candidates are initially sorted and ranked by CV reading software.
At Bowie State, participating employers frequently come to campus to meet, mentor, interview, and directly recruit students for internships in a more intimate process than the one-time briefings tech companies often hold with career centers. academics. And the Bowie process doesn’t usually involve high-stress technical testing. This has spared many students, some of whom have part-time jobs, from spending dozens of unpaid hours applying for internship programs in Silicon Valley.
Founded in 1865, Bowie State is a computer powerhouse among historically black universities. The school is nationally known for its expertise in cybersecurity education. Last fall, the number of Bowie undergraduates majoring in computer science jumped to 332, a 75% jump from 2019.
But in recent years, only a few Bowie students have passed the vetting process at top tech companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Oracle to get internships, Dr. Shumba said.
The competition can be tough. Adobe, the maker of Photoshop, said it typically hires about 600 interns from more than 100,000 applicants who apply for its summer internship program in the United States each year.
Last summer, with the new program in place, 60 computer science students from Bowie interned at companies like Deloitte, federal agencies like NASA, and local start-ups. One of them was Dejai Brown, now a senior, who is interested in cybersecurity.
Before she started applying for internships, Ms. Brown worked part-time at Chick-fil-A. Last year, after Dr. Shumba encouraged her to apply for a government security clearance, Ms. Brown was granted an internship at Marine Corps Forces Cyberspace Command. She also completed an internship at Battelle, a non-profit technology research giant.
“Battelle recruiters contacted me, walked me through the interview process and eventually hired me,” said Ms Brown, 21. “It was a lot less stressful than it could have been with a coding interview.”
The Bowie State program addresses socio-economic barriers — such as lack of technical work experience or industry connections — that may prevent some students from securing internships.
To help young students gain relevant experience, Dr. Shumba has set up computer research internships on campus. Last year, she also took a group of college students on an all-expenses-paid trip to the Grace Hopper Celebration in Florida, a major annual conference for women in tech. Six students returned to campus with internship or job offers from Apple, Bank of America, Citibank and other companies.
Among them was Roxan Rockefeller, now a junior, who worked as a software engineering intern last summer at Tata Consultancy Services, a technology company. Then last fall at the conference, she attended a briefing by drug giant Eli Lilly. This gave rise to an internship interview.
“I have a passion for data and I’ve just started talking about how I want to explore as many areas as possible with my computer science degree,” said Ms Rockefeller, 21. “The next day, I received a call from one of the recruiters telling me on the phone that I had obtained the internship.”
This year, Adobe launched its own internship program with Bowie State, focused on cybersecurity. The internships are part of a larger effort by the company to help prepare more black and Latino students for tech careers.
This summer, a dozen Bowie State students will work as cybersecurity interns at Adobe. This will make Bowie students eligible for full-time job offers from Adobe after graduation, along with hundreds of other summer interns at the company.
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