Connections: The Newsletter of the National Career Pathways Network

Volume 31, No. 2
Employer Engagement

Intel and Maricopa District Launch Nation’s First Associate Degree in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

student using laptop In 2020, Intel and the Maricopa Community College (MCC) District issued a joint press release announcing their partnership launching the first associate degree program in artificial intelligence and machine learning in the nation. Carlos Contreras, Senior Director, Americas, Global Partnerships and Initiatives with Intel, noted a sense of urgency around this technology because of the speed at which it is being adopted by a wide variety of industry sectors. Intel’s aim, he says, is to reach 30,000 institutions across thirty countries and train 30 million students in artificial intelligence by 2030. To meet that challenging goal, the company initially asked how it could make technology more inclusive and expand the digital readiness of a much broader group of educators, students, and workers. Intel discovered the answer in its own backyard, through collaboration with Bassam Matar, Professor of Engineering at nearby Chandler Gilbert Community College, and the MCC District curriculum office. Together they custom-built associate degree and certificate programs.

The AAS degree requires students to complete the AI coursework sequence—Introduction to AI, Introduction to Machine Learning, AI for Computer Vision, Natural Language Processing, AI for Business Solutions, and a capstone class—along with courses in mathematics, introductory engineering, Python programming, and traditional general education classes in English, humanities, and communication. Program faculty members provide background on the program and its intent in the following short video.

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The certificate program is designed for industry professionals from a variety of AI-enabled fields, including IT, automotive, healthcare, aerospace, and manufacturing. To earn a certificate, students take the same six AI courses as well as math and programming. It’s worth mentioning that in keeping with the philosophy of expanding digital readiness, the Introduction to AI course has no prerequisites. It addresses ethics, bias, regulation, and other issues surrounding AI. Matar says that without this course, it’s unlikely students would have the opportunity to gain an awareness of what AI is all about unless they were an undergraduate at the university level. The introductory course is full, with overflow sessions forming. “We have students that literally have a BS, or even a master’s degree in computer science taking the class,” explains Matar. Contreras encourages other community colleges to offer at least that first course because he sees value in exposing students to the basics of what the technology is able to do as they consider future careers.

Partnerships between colleges and companies, like the one between MCCD and Intel, represent a collaborative model designed to keep up with technological advancements. Economic development organizations such as the Arizona Commerce Authority also play a pivotal role, providing marketing and workforce information that drives student recruitment and industry partnership expansion. Collaboration is critical in an environment of extreme global competitiveness. “Other countries are a bit ahead of us from a policy perspective, understanding the importance of the AI skills in their workforce, and they’ve started to make significant investments in their educational systems. And from that perspective, we’re a bit behind these other countries,” observes Contreras. “But luckily, we do have really good institutions in this country and we can catch up.” Working together, the partners hope to bring the U.S. workforce up to the AI skill level of countries such as South Korea, India, and Singapore.

To hear an extended discussion with Matar and Contreras, listen to podcast Episode 23 in the Preparing Technicians for the Future of Work podcast series. Further information about the program is found in the accompanying show notes.

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