AWS Public Sector Blog

City Colleges of Chicago drives tech program innovation with AWS Machine Learning University and Tech Alliance

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City Colleges of Chicago (CCC)—the largest community college system in Illinois and one of the largest in the nation—participates in two no-cost Amazon Web Services (AWS) initiatives to advance and develop undergraduate technical programs. The AWS Machine Learning University Educator Enablement Program (MLU EEP) and the Skills to Jobs Tech Alliance connect early career talent to in-demand technical jobs globally, including in Illinois.

According to the National Science Foundation, Black and Hispanic or Latinx students earn bachelor’s degrees in computer science—the dominant pathway to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) careers —at a much lower rate than their white peers. Black students earn 9 percent and Hispanic or Latinx students earn 11 percent of computer science degrees. Through MLU EEP, CCC faculty and students have access to the same ML content used by Amazon developers. Additionally, AWS provides complimentary computing power to help students put into practice what they learn by applying AI and ML concepts and experimenting with a range of AWS services in a cloud-based sandbox environment. Together, the MLU EEP and Tech Alliance will better prepare CCC learners for careers in AI/ML, cloud support, software development, and data analysis.

Early feedback on both programs is overwhelmingly positive, reflecting their effectiveness and impact on the CCC community. The MLU EEP pilot cohort of 32 students saw 29 of them complete the program’s first course and enroll for the second course on deep learning this spring.

“Our collaboration with AWS builds on City Colleges’ commitment to providing high-quality education experiences that connect diverse talent to emerging industry needs,” said Chancellor Juan Salgado, City Colleges of Chicago. “By equipping our students with in-demand skills and access to cutting-edge technology pathways, we are strengthening their career readiness and resilience in a rapidly evolving job market.”

Machine Learning University’s Educator Enablement Program (MLU EEP)

In 2023, CCC sought to provide an upward mobility pathway for AI/ML talent in Chicago. Their goal was to create a certification pathway and a two-year associate degree program with a direct pipeline to industry or four-year AI/ML programs. In 2022, AWS launched the MLU EEP for educators teaching AI/ML, targeting programs that enroll under-served and underrepresented learners, particularly at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), minority-serving institutions (MSIs), and community colleges. CCC learned of MLU EEP and volunteered as an early adopter, piloting two new AWS MLU courses to incorporate into their AI concentration. CCC quickly became an MLU EEP champion, deeply investing in AI/ML upskilling for CCC instructors.

Securing skilled instructors is key when establishing a new program, especially in an emerging field like AI/ML. CCC has invested in skilled instructors and is providing student outreach. To participate in the MLU EEP course pilot, select CCC instructors completed rigorous technical training. In total, 21 CCC instructors have completed AWS MLU-sponsored AI/ML boot camps. These efforts have created a deep pipeline of instructors to deliver AI/ML programs for both continuing education and for credit at CCC. Starting with its Kennedy-King College, CCC plans to expand the program across the CCC system.

For students, the collaboration marks a significant milestone in community empowerment, as it equips students with highly sought-after AI/ML skills, giving them a competitive edge in the evolving job market. With a focus on mentorship and guidance from industry experts, students can effectively navigate the complexities of AI/ML, fostering collaboration, innovation, and a robust tech ecosystem in the region.

“The future of AI and ML is too important to be left in the hands of a few. Learning about these technologies is imperative for everyone, everywhere and from every community, not just a select few,” said Milan McGraw, an AI/ML engineer at AWS. “Diversity in the field of AI is not just about fairness or representation. It’s about tapping into the vast, untapped reservoirs of creativity and insight that diverse communities offer, ensuring that AI solutions are as multifaceted and inclusive as the humanity they serve.”

Monica Beane, AWS program manager for MLU EEP said, “CCC has embraced the AWS MLU EEP Community of Practice with the highest percentage of instructors and leadership participating in monthly AWS-hosted webinars and online forums. We are excited to see where their students land after completing this program.”

CCC faculty and students with AWS staff at the MLU EEP launch event in September 2023.

Skills to Jobs Tech Alliance

CCC has also collaborated with AWS Skills to Jobs through the Tech Alliance, a new initiative to boost career readiness and modernize tech programs. The two participating CCC programs are AAS Networking Systems and Technology and AAS Software Development. These programs were selected because of their faculty advocacy for the initiative and their topical alignment with two of most in-demand entry-level roles in Illinois: software engineering and cloud support.

In fall 2023, faculty from these programs began analyzing their scope using AWS tools and resources. This spring, faculty joined AWS engineers in workshops to develop projects, practice interviews, and connect learners with AWS customers hiring in the region, like United Airlines and Caterpillar.

Hundreds of CCC students have already benefited from the Tech Alliance. At the fall 2023 Chicago job fairs and events, more than 400 students registered, and nine employers attended, including Bank of America, McDonald’s, and Aditi Consulting.

Outside of CCC, the Tech Alliance has the support of employer-convening organizations like Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Corporate Coalition of Chicago, and P33, which combined serves 1,000-plus employers. Community support also includes efforts from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

To learn more about how these AWS initiatives can impact your school and region, visit the AWS MLU EEP and Tech Alliance homepages.