Autodesk HBCU Tech Program creates career pathways
September 08, 2021
From Autodesk News: Querida Xie
As summer nears its end and we once again approach fall, so begins one of my favorite times at Autodesk. It’s the arrival of the newest students from our Tech Program! Last October, we brought in twenty of the country’s brightest young minds to help us tackle engineering challenges. How can we secure and protect robots against hackers? How can we streamline workflows for more efficient machine shop processes? And how can we make it easier for programmers to get started on our Forge platform? Diversifying brainpower is the key to finding the most innovative solutions. Our first Autodesk Tech Program cohort brought exactly the fresh perspective we needed.
The cohort from this seven-month program included students from four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs): Morgan State University, Howard University, North Carolina A&T University, and Morehouse College. Talented students with computer science and engineering backgrounds received paid externships in the Autodesk Tech Program. Participants collaborated with Autodeskers on specially curated projects. They helped us tackle technical challenges like robotics security and manufacturing workflows while gaining valuable real-world work experience.
The first cohort of the HBCU Tech students.
Aligning with educators
Our close collaboration with professors from each university was an essential part of the success of this first year. Beyond helping us source participants by recommending students, these faculty members acted as consultants to the process. They attended weekly meetings, advised students, and helped them develop the skills they needed to complete the projects successfully. When we asked the professors to participate for a second year, they jumped at the chance.
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One professor involved in the program is Dr. Ahmed Rubaai, Chair and Professor of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, at Howard University. Beyond the Tech Program, we have an existing relationship with Dr. Rubaai, working closely with him on several research projects and through the funding of STEM initiatives.
As we near the second cohort, I caught up with him to discuss our continued partnership. He shared, “our work with Autodesk is helping us achieve gender and racial balance in computer science and engineering at Howard University. Our partnership helps develop student interests and skills in STEM-related disciplines and opens the door to future careers in these exciting fields. Autodesk resources have also greatly facilitated our ability to recruit graduate students, provide an excellent learning and research environment, and graduate them in a timely manner.”
We partner with professors from Howard University, Morehouse College, Morgan State University, and North Carolina A&T to identify students for the program.
Creating space for students to shine
At the end of the program, the students presented on their work to an engaged group of Autodeskers, from Tech Program team members through executive leadership. The ultimate aim of the Tech Program is to provide a conduit into an early career program at Autodesk. We hope to transition many of the students into summer interns and, ultimately, full-time Autodeskers. Javaun Rose, a Morgan State senior electrical engineering major, was part of our first cohort. He just wrapped up his summer internship with us, where he continued his focus on threat modeling in Internet of Things devices.
Before his internship ended last month, Javaun told me, “I took the same confidence I built in the Tech Program and brought it to my summer internship, where I came through the door ready to learn, research, and execute my next project.”
Effecting change through action
Students at HCBUs are doing great things, but their institutions have been historically underfunded. We’re doing our part to change that. The Tech Program is an outgrowth of our commitment to the HBCU Partnership Challenge, a Congressional initiative to promote greater engagement between companies and HBCUs. It also aligns with our support of the IGNITE HBCU Excellence Act, which would provide funds to make needed infrastructure upgrades at HBCUs.
Learn more about Autodesk’s commitment to building a diverse workforce and creating a culture of belonging.
Welcoming the newest cohort
As a new school year begins, I’m eager to welcome a new cohort. We’ll be working with students from the same four HBCUs and we’ve listened to the feedback of our first group to strengthen the program. One way we’ll do this is by incorporating additional professional development training, like personal branding workshops and mock interviews.
At the end of this program, we hope to see the participants in the halls of Autodesk in future roles. And thanks to the relationships formed through this initiative, we will cheer for them throughout their careers. The program gives students the opportunity and space to explore their potential career paths, and I’m honored we get the chance to share that journey with them.