Urban Serving Universities are Disrupting Structures for 21st Century Skills

Universities are partnering with local employers or community-based organizations to provide students with 21st century skills, which are necessary for the current and future workforce.

Birmingham economic developers are prioritizing tech as an industry they want to recruit and retain. The current local workforce does not have sufficient talent to meet demand. Thus, major employers are outsourcing data functions. 

Christel Perkins, Ed.D., Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and Emily Wyler, Project Manager and Director of External Affairs at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) spoke about a number of initiatives and emerging models in partnerships between faculty and industry, and how UAB leadership formed a taskforce to embed data skills development across curriculum at the recent virtual REMOTE Summit hosted by Arizona State University

Perkins explained to the audience what the objectives of the Collaborative Opportunity Grant are:

  • To increase opportunity for low-income and/or transfer students to obtain 21st Century skills and transfer these skills to the workplace 
  • To increase the adaptation of innovative approaches that more effectively connect learning to workforce needs 
  • To identify promising equity-based innovations on 21st Century skills and pilot impact in urban environment 
  • To create and fortify partnerships that bring new resources and support necessary changes that sustain and scale innovation 

Perkins said they have a group of 10 universities who have been highlighting the working model between faculty and industry partners.

Perkins presented three emerging models where faculty and industry partners are working together: 

  1. Entrepreneurship Academy at VCU: Where students earn four micro-credentials on Design Thinking, Business Model Canvas, Art of Pitch, and Digital Literacy
  2. Faculty Data Literacy Institute at the University of New Orleans: Where interdisciplinary faculty partner with industry leaders to integrate data literacy into the curriculum. The ultimate goal is to co-create a micro-credential that students learn to demonstrate competency 
  3. Embedded Mentorship at UC Riverside: Where students take a coding course and are paired with a mentor from Apple Inc. for an app creation project for the duration of the program. The students later apply that knowledge in an internship program creating an app for the public good

The Magic City Data Collective Project

The University of Alabama at Birmingham in collaboration with its industry partner, the Birmingham Business Alliance, created the Magic City Data Collective project to connect companies with talent. “The challenge we were trying to solve through our Data Collective is that our labor market  here in Birmingham is one the tightest in the country. This has only increased since we received this grant, but there was a high demand for data,” said Wyler. 

Magic City Data Collective (MCDC) includes an academic component and a work-based learning component. The students receive the skills they need to be successful. “The academic component happens in the fall semester and then in the spring semester the students work on an industry spec problem,” said Wyler. 

MCDC is a public-private partnership which brings together local students, researchers, and data experts in project teams to provide the information that Birmingham leaders need to move the Magic City forward. It creates a pipeline of students who are uniquely qualified for and excited about jobs in the data industry. These graduates possess a skill set that is in high demand in the global economy.

For more articles from the REMOTE Summit, see:

Lessons Learned: 8 Strategies for Effective Instruction

Faculty Needs to Be Drivers of Institutional Change

Supporting Experimental Pedagogy with Social Animation Tools