Creating pathways for computer science students

January 15-21, 2024

By Angelita Faller


The University of Arkansas at Little Rock is partnering with the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences (ACDS) to create an innovative new program that will strengthen educational pathways for computer science and cybersecurity majors at UA Little Rock while helping to fill the workforce gap for Arkansas employers.


 The innovative new program will emphasize a combination of scholarships, internships, apprenticeships, talent management, and workforce development with ACDS industry partners to help provide a career path for UA Little Rock students to fill the state’s growing need for information technology workers.


 “We are privileged and excited to present this unique, new opportunity for students, employers, UA Little Rock, ACDS, and the workforce of the State of Arkansas,” said Dr. Albert Baker, chair of the Department of Computer Science at UA Little Rock. “As students receive an internship and/or apprenticeship through our partnership with ACDS, our highly qualified students can graduate with a good amount of experience, all while receiving academic credit and a fair wage for their work.”


 The Support Pathway for Students Partnership provides professional work experience as well as employment opportunities and benefits for UA Little Rock students. Meanwhile, the program enhances workforce development in Arkansas by providing employers opportunities to hire well educated job candidates.


 “This is our innovative approach to solve the tech talent gap,” said Lonnie Emard, director of apprenticeship at Arkansas Center for Data Sciences. “Whether we are finding college students who haven’t had the chance for an internship or recruiting those who haven’t had a chance to go to college, we knew we needed to find a way to nurture our efforts to add capacity to our skilled workforce in the state. With this partnership, we can give a lot more students the chance to cut their teeth on meaningful work experience earlier in their college career so they can solidify their career paths.”


The UA Little Rock Department of Computer Science has several endowed scholarships that they are using to attract talented high school students while providing support for freshmen and sophomores.


“The Support Pathways for Students partnership between the Department and ACDS fits well with broader trends in higher education emphasizing students’ abilities to apply acquired knowledge in real-world contexts,” Baker said. “We are emphasizing knowledge application in many of our courses through both individual and team projects and in the way faculty construct assignments and rubrics. Providing our students with on-the-job experience through internships and apprenticeships expands students’ opportunities to apply what they learn. I firmly believe this is a route to increasing the actual, and perceived, value of higher education. We are genuinely appreciative of the collaboration with ACDS in the furtherance of this objective.”


Students who apply for an internship and/or apprenticeship with ACDS will undergo a competitive application process including a technical and critical thinking assessment, interviews, and a background check. Once approved, successful applicants will receive career training before they are matched with one of ACDS’s industry partners.


 Students who are selected for internships receive valuable work and mentorship experience while interning for one of ACDS’s employer partners. The ACDS provides wages for the interns, which are sponsored by federal grants ACDS has received. This is a win-win as employers get early access to UA Little Rock’s computer science and cybersecurity students and students get exposure to area employers.


“Matching knowledge and skills with industry and community needs is what we are all about,” said Dr. Lawrence Whitman, dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics at UA Little Rock. “This internship program is a great way to accomplish placing qualified students in roles where they can contribute and learn at the same time.”


 Meanwhile, students selected for apprenticeships will be hired as full-time employees with benefits who receive on-the-job training from an experienced mentor while earning a competitive salary. Most apprenticeships last at least one year, which gives the student time to complete their undergraduate degree while their financial obstacles are minimized. Apprentices have the added bonus that some of their work is eligible for academic credit. If they work for a company that provides tuition reimbursement, the apprentice may be eligible to use these benefits for their remaining credit hours as they complete their college degree.


 “Students who follow this career pathway program will graduate with lower net expenses and real work experience that will definitely make them stand out on their resumes,” Baker said. “They will enter the workforce with knowledge of all the great employers that are available in Arkansas so that we can retain our homegrown talent.”


Since ACDS began its apprenticeship program, 127 partner companies have provided 700 apprenticeships to Arkansas residents.


 UA Little Rock students from the Department of Computer Science may apply for an internship and/or apprenticeship through the ACDS partnership by filling out an application online.  


Photo Cutlines:


1. The UA Little Rock cybersecurity education team members include Andrew Bomberger, software engineer, left, Becky Passmore, visiting professor, front center, Bill Cox, visiting professor, on screen in back, Philip Huff, director of cybersecurity research, back right, and Sandra Leiderman, managing director of the Cyber Arena, right. Photo by Benjamin Krain.


2. Dr. Albert Baker, chair of the Department of Computer Science, and Dr. Lawrence Whitman, dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, visit with UA Little Rock students working in the university’s Emerging Analytics Center. Photo by Benjamin Krain.