BATEC Wins $5 Million Grant to Expand IT Education Reform to More Urban Areas
October 02, 2011
For the past ten years, Deborah Boisvert, executive director of the Boston-Area Advanced Technological Education Connections (BATEC) center housed in UMass Boston's University College, has worked to improve how local educational institutions prepare students for careers in information technology (IT).
Her model is deceptively simple: Through BATEC’s collaborative partnerships between educators and industry, she connects with business leaders to learn which skills they value most in employees. Then she works with educational institutions to implement curricula that will teach those skills.
This month, thanks to a $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation, Boisvert and her staff are planning to expand that model of advocating, facilitating, and coordinating IT education reform to serve three more urban populations: Chicago, San Francisco, and Las Vegas.
“The National Science Foundation [is] very interested in the process we’ve used to engage all these partners. People say to them that BATEC is the glue that holds this region together,” she says.
The $5 million grant, which targets cities “with urban challenges similar to ours,” Boisvert says, will allow BATEC to replicate its success nationwide – creating a well-trained workforce for burgeoning IT needs.
Well-trained IT professionals are in demand across a variety of businesses and industries, Boisvert explains; for low-income, underserved students, the field offers an abundance of opportunities. But pre-BATEC, training options for Boston-area students were limited and inconsistent.
IT training had long been the domain of community colleges, says Boisvert; and although a significant percent of UMass Boston students are transfers from community colleges, the university did not offer any such courses.
When IT students in the Boston area were ready to continue their education, they couldn’t find many programs that offered the training they needed – and subsequently, businesses and industries couldn’t find employees with the skills they needed.
“It’s only within the last few years that IT has become a four-year subject, with a research base,” Boisvert says.
BATEC was first funded in 2003.
To address these gaps in education, Boisvert created partnerships between UMass Boston and dozens of educational institutions, from local community colleges to Boston-area high schools, together with industry and business leaders. Working together, they’ve been able to revamp curricula and teaching methods to be relevant to industry needs.
In the Boston area, BATEC has helped revise more than 100 courses for more than 12,000 students who have taken these courses, and facilitated re-training sessions for hundreds of IT educators. And UMass Boston now offers a four-year Bachelor of Science degree in IT, with its first cohort of students graduated last summer.
“We built [the program] from scratch,” she says.
At BATEC, Boisvert says that she and her partners are always on the alert for new opportunities in IT for students.
“When you think IT, you think you have to work at Microsoft. But IT is pervasive across health care, banking, retail industries, and more,” she says. Students can seek IT careers in any field that interests them – and take their chances with startups.
“Entrpreneurs like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, they don’t do all the work on their own; people support them,” Boisvert says. “[We want to] help students become part of a support structure for these entrepreneurs. This is a significant opportunity that hasn’t been taken advantage of yet.”
As BATEC prepares to expand, Boisvert is looking forward to forging the kind of partnerships in Chicago, San Francisco, and Las Vegas that have been so helpful for student training in Boston.
“The’c’ in BATEC is ‘connections.’ The more our region and other regions understand the power of those connections, the better off we are. And that’s what our role is,” Boisvert says.