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UIC and P33 bring Chicago tech companies into classroom

Pilot program brings project-based learning experiences to 120+ STEM students

As the tech job market continues to heat up, the fight among companies to attract and retain tech talent – especially diverse tech talent – remains fierce.

To support more students, and particularly students of color, in completing and succeeding in their STEM degrees, P33, a non-profit focused on driving inclusive growth for Chicago's tech sector, today announces the launch of P33 Strong Start, a partnership-based program between Chicago universities and local tech companies.

P33 Strong Start provides in-classroom, project-based learning to first- and second-year Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) students over the course of the academic semester. Led by computer science and engineering employees from some of Chicago's fastest-growing startups and most notable enterprise companies, Strong Start offers early-college students' collaborative coursework and projects that go beyond the textbooks.

The Tech Grad Gap

Leaders behind the P33 Strong Start program believe this model of learning is imperative, particularly among Black and Latino/a students, who, according to research by the National Center for Education Statistics, are much more likely to switch majors before graduating than their white peers.

"Today we're seeing a disconnect in the college to career pathway – one that disproportionally affects underrepresented students in tech," said Aleena Agrawal, Director of Talent Solutions at P33. "By bringing real-world tech experiences into the classroom, we help students grow their networks, increase belonging, and grow their understanding of tech. We believe this intentional and collaborative effort will ultimately increase the chance students launch into a successful career in tech in Chicago."

"Connecting academia and industry to fix these pipelines is pivotal for the success of a diverse and thriving tech talent workforce in Chicago," added Brad Henderson, CEO of P33. "Our goal is for the collaborative spirit of Strong Start to be woven into the fabric of every Chicagoland company and academic institution for the benefit of our students across the region."

Strong Start in Action

In its pilot year, P33 Strong Start partnered three tier-one universities (Illinois Institute of Technology, University of Illinois Chicago, and Chicago State University) with four Chicago-based technology companies ranging from prominent venture-backed startups to Fortune 500 companies, including M1, G2, and Motorola Solutions, among others.

Over the course of two semesters, Strong Start engaged over 120 first and second-year college students in computer science and engineering programs.

Beyond student impact, Strong Start also provides tangible benefits to the companies and universities involved.

"Strong Start provided our engineers with a chance to develop their coaching and leadership skills, engage meaningfully with students and the community in a way that aligns with our business and talent priorities, and helped us strengthen our relationship with Illinois Institute of Technology," said Steven Gall, VP of Engineering, M1.

"Because of our partnership with the M1 team, we were able to give our students real-world experiences in tech while allowing them to create meaningful relationships with tech professionals in Chicago, both of which will truly help them as they seek to begin their careers," said Matthew Bauer, Senior Lecturer of Computer Science, Illinois Institute of Technology.

Based on positive feedback from the pilot, the P33 Strong Start initiative will fully launch and engage eight companies at three schools in Fall 2022, more than doubling the number of students reached.



About P33

P33 is a privately funded non-profit focused on driving inclusive, global tech and innovation leadership in Chicago. P33's work is anchored in deep research and driven by a need to unlock the potential of the digital age to solve some of the toughest problems facing Chicago, such as equitable access to digital careers, talent retention, deep science commercialization, and gaps in our growth-stage startup ecosystem. Launched in 2019, P33 is co-chaired by Penny Pritzker, former Secretary of Commerce and founder and chairman of PSP Partners; Chris Gladwin, CEO and Cofounder of Ocient and Cleversafe; and Kelly Welsh, President of the Civic Committee of The Commercial Club of Chicago.


Source: Press Release