Opening the door to new possibilities

NWTC bootcamp allows high school students to explore latest AI tech

Posted on Oct 30, 2020 :: Feature
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Posted by , Insight on Technology Staff Writer

For four Saturdays this fall, a group of high school students has the opportunity to examine the inner workings of computers and learn more about artificial intelligence. AI is the simulation of human intelligence in machines programmed to think like humans and mimic their actions. 

Northeast Wisconsin Technical College is one of six sites hosting a virtual AI Bootcamps Initiative designed by the Mark Cuban Foundation. An entrepreneur and startup investor, Cuban also owns the Dallas Mavericks NBA team.

“AI is everywhere and integrated into many systems we use on a daily basis. This program helps students learn how it works and how to use it,” says Sue Zittlow, an associate dean with NWTC’s College of Business. “It’s definitely a unique experience. I’m excited to see how it goes.”

The interactive AI bootcamp runs for five hours on four Saturdays during October and November, and NWTC instructors from several departments teach the courses.

Zittlow says it’s an intense experience but one that will benefit students. Each Saturday has a theme: What is AI, where students already interact with AI in their lives, future opportunities, and the ethical implications of AI systems. Students also will learn how to use Microsoft’s cloud computing tools to build their own AI applications.

The Mark Cuban Foundation worked with the Microsoft Enterprise Sales Team to offer the first two AI bootcamps in the Dallas area. Microsoft Philanthropies stepped in to help the program expand to Green Bay, Detroit and El Paso, Texas, this fall. Michelle Schuler, manager of TechSpark Wisconsin, says the camp fulfills one of TechSpark’s key goals — creating opportunities for students to acquire computer science education and digital skills.

“(Microsoft believes) in introducing AI skills early on in a student’s education path because it could encourage them to pursue advanced AI skills training in their undergraduate studies and develop a lifelong interest in building AI expertise,” Schuler says. “I believe that exposure is a big part of a student’s career development. If enough students are exposed to the potential and possibilities of AI applications, and have timely information about AI-based careers and job opportunities, they will attract more opportunities for learning advanced AI skills.”

Twenty students were selected for the NWTC program — 18 from the Green Bay region and two from Dallas who will tune in virtually. Zittlow says each of the students had to go through a formal application process. At the end of the program, they will receive a certificate of completion.

“Learning more about AI is extremely helpful for so many careers, especially when you look at how it fits with Industry 4.0 with technologies built into many systems to help automate some decision-making elements,” she says, adding one example of AI technology is autonomous vehicles.

Zittlow says many people do not realize the role AI already plays in their lives. For example, AI is used in email programs to determine what’s spam and what’s not. “Think about when you go to Netflix and there are suggested movies to watch. Where do those come from? It’s AI looking at what you watched previously and looking at what to suggest,” she says.

AI is part of the digital transformation process that is altering industries, Schuler says. Digital transformation will continue to change the workforce, she says, adding Microsoft’s research shows that over the next five years, the global workforce can absorb 149 million new technology-oriented jobs.

“We know that AI jobs are only going to increase exponentially across different industries. TitletownTech, our venture fund and studio in partnership with the Packers, is already working on attracting a diverse set of high-tech companies to Green Bay. We need to build a local talent pool that is proficient in STEM, including AI,” Schuler says.

Zittlow says the AI bootcamp will allow students to explore a job they may not have previously known about. “Technology is always changing and there are a lot of great career options out there,” she says. “I hope this program opens the students’ eyes to those possibilities.”