CUNY Programs Such as WiTNY and #CUNYCodes Forge Vital Relationships for Students With NYC Employers
Laisa Barros, a computer science major at City College, knew she was taking the right courses toward a career in technology – but not exactly what her destination was or how she would get there. What she needed was a clear sense of her targeted area—and guidance in building the specific skills, experience and contacts that would lead her to the promised land: a good job in a high-growth sector after graduation.
Barros found a vital step forward in CUNY’s Women in Technology and Entrepreneurship in New York, or WiTNY, a partnership with Cornell Tech that was started in 2016 to encourage, train and support more women interested in technology careers. She was among the first group to participate in WiTNY’s Career Access Program, which is overseen by the CUNY Office of Workforce Partnerships and offers an array of workshops, coaching and access to internship opportunities with major corporate partners such as Verizon/AOL, AppNexus, SquareSpace, Citibank, IBM and Xerox.
“We met every week for three hours, and it was eye-opening,” Barros said. “They helped you develop yourself for your career and prepare for the real world of job searching — building a resume that’s targeted for tech, becoming a better speaker, and being part of a community to increase the number of women in tech.” It was through WiTNY that she joined #CUNYCodes, a program in which students work in small teams for 12 weeks, developing apps under the supervision of professional mentors and presenting their products at the conclusion. It led to a summer and fall internship at Cornell Tech — “doing what I like to do, front-end development,” Barros said. It also put her in position to graduate into a good first job.
WiTNY and #CUNYCodes are important pieces of a broad, strategic effort by the University to expand and forge new relationships with New York’s most promising employment sectors to help CUNY students win the top-paying jobs and launch successful careers.
“CUNY graduates tens of thousands of highly skilled and highly motivated students every year, and the tech sector is just one example of where we’re working with businesses to customize educational programs to help fill their hiring needs, and seamlessly integrate our students into high-paying jobs,” said Associate Vice Chancellor Andrea Shapiro Davis. “We’re educating corporate leaders about CUNY, our students and our diversity, and why we are a great source for their workforce needs. Once employers meet our students, they want to hire them.”
The expanded efforts reflect CUNY’s strengthened commitment to student career development as a University-wide imperative – one of the pillars of the Connected CUNY strategic framework unveiled by Chancellor James B. Milliken earlier this year. The Career Success theme of the strategic framework is an ambitious plan to connect CUNY with partners in all sectors of the innovation economy and to send its graduates into the world with 21st-century skills and access to competitive jobs. Experiential learning, extracurricular training and targeted internship programs are all key components of the mission.
Technology is leading the way. CUNY is creating partnerships such as WiTNY and initiatives such as CUNY Tech Meetup, monthly gatherings where students engage with companies ranging from Google to Etsy to learn about the tech industry and meet people in the field, including CUNY alumni. More than 2,000 CUNY students have participated since the first meetup two years ago, and the pipeline will grow with CUNY’s commitment to increasing enrollment in STEM fields, particularly among women and underrepresented minorities.
More broadly, the University is systematically identifying the city and region’s employment drivers, and the most dynamic employers within those sectors, as a first step in facilitating relationships that yield internships and, ultimately, well-paying jobs.
“We want our 50,000 graduates each year competing and landing jobs at competitive salaries,” said Angie Kamath, who joined CUNY earlier this year in the new position of University dean for continuing education and workforce development. A former deputy commissioner of the city’s Department of Small Business Services and later the head of a national IT job-training nonprofit, Kamath has assumed a new position broadly focused on putting CUNY graduates on track for economic mobility. “We have the proof that we catapult a lot of folks into the middle class, but it’s really important to make sure our students graduate into jobs with competitive wages because that first salary sticks with you for a while and you’re always negotiating off that base.”
Kamath leads a team of 38 people collectively seeking to do a few big things to get closer to that goal. On the student side, she said, “We need more career-exploration and skill-building programs leading to internships that convert to full-time job offers. We’re creating new ways to introduce our students to the major job sectors: What do these careers look like? What do you need to do to be competitive for those jobs? What paths did CUNY alumni in these fields take? The thing that’s exciting about our challenge is that our students are strivers, they’re diverse, they’re in New York and staying. But they generally don’t have a ton of social capital, so we need to give them career development opportunities that will make them more competitive.
“On the employer side, we need to make our system easier to tap into. The employers I speak with desperately want diversity and love the idea of hiring from CUNY but often have no idea where to start. They don’t want to go to 24 different colleges, so we need to be a navigator for them to find talent across the University. We’ll be the quarterback, telling them, ‘Work with these schools if you want data scientists, work with these schools if you want RNs.’”
One example of the new partnerships is a program with Revature, a leading technology talent development company that offers CUNY students and graduates — in any major, regardless of experience — free, 12-week coding boot camps that can lead to jobs with the company. More than 3,500 CUNY students have enrolled since the program’s launch in the fall of 2016, and 250 have been hired. This summer CUNY and Revature announced an expansion that brings WiTNY into several initiatives in order to recruit more women into tech careers.
Apart from the tech push, CUNY is working to develop relationships with employers in many fields identified as well-paying and rapidly growing: finance, industrial/construction, government, transportation, hospitality, health care, life sciences and nonprofits. In some cases, partnerships grow from synergy — an alignment of an employer’s needs with CUNY’s ability to create new curriculum to match them.
A prime example is a partnership between CUNY and Community Care of Brooklyn, an entity created by Maimonides Medical Center to serve the borough’s Medicaid population. Maimonides wanted to add a staff of community health care coaches and approached Kingsborough Community College about starting a program to train them. Kingsborough developed a new curriculum for a nine-credit certification program. About 100 students have completed the program and been hired so far.
Meanwhile, the CUNY Tech Meetups are a model that the Office of Workforce Partnerships is seeking to replicate in all the employment sectors – monthly gatherings at different companies where panels of professionals give students an introduction to their fields, a sense of what the path to a job looks like, and the chance to make contacts.
“What an employer in the tech sector needs in its entry-level and midlevel workforce is very different from what the health care or hospitality sector needs,” Kamath said. “That’s why it’s important for students to have access to career exploration – to learn what these industries are, what the opportunities are, so they can make some choices about what’s interesting to them – and then give them ways to build skills with some low-stakes experiential learning: Take a class, do some field study, an internship.”
At the same time, a challenge to that ideal comes from the financial and time pressures that can make it difficult for students to take advantage of opportunities. According to University data, about 20,000 CUNY students get internships each year but only 3,000 of them are paid. “The majority of our students need to work,” Kamath said, “but of those who work only 25 percent are doing it to explore careers. Most are working for money and many can’t afford to do unpaid internships. We want to increase that group getting paid.”
The goal of the workforce partnerships office is to cultivate partnerships with 10 or so big employers in each sector that want to hire locally. “For us, it means selling the CUNY brand. Our product is our students. So we’re asking, ‘How do we become a campus recruiting entity for you? Give us some feedback on our candidates.’ There’s also a really important role for our alumni. At JPMorgan Chase there are something like 900 Baruch alumni. We want to leverage that. We’re not taking the place of the colleges that have their own relationships with employers. But there are thousands of employers out there who aren’t touching CUNY colleges because they don’t know how. There are 250,000 businesses in New York, plenty of room to bring in new partners.#CUNYCodes