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The Discovery Partners Institute (DPI) and Wilbur Wright College announced a new program today to develop promising and diverse tech talent in Illinois, focusing on the journey into computer and data science fields, with support from Google.

The program launched this month with the first of a two-part workshop series called “Discover Computing.” The first workshop will be offered in-person at DPI’s downtown offices on five consecutive Saturdays between Oct. 16 and Nov. 13.

These hands-on sessions will help students build awareness of the skills needed to pursue computer science careers, and explore computing concepts and tools, including HTML/CSS, data analysis, Python, and machine learning. Participants will also build problem-solving and team-building skills through design thinking activities. The students will be supported by eight Google employees who will serve as mentors throughout the workshop and have the opportunity to connect with other practitioners in the Chicago tech community.

These free, half-day sessions will serve an initial 35 high school freshmen and sophomores in the program pilot, with a focus on under-represented populations in tech (Black, Latinx, women). Additional sessions will be offered in Spring 2022.

“In today’s workforce, computing is the common denominator required to solve problems and innovate,” said Mark Harris, director of community education at DPI. “Too often, students lack access to and clarity about the pathways into these fields. We are thrilled to be growing our partnership with Wright College and joining forces with Google Chicago to launch this series to reach youth at a critical point of their learning journey and build more connectivity and inclusiveness into computing learning pathways.”

“As City Colleges of Chicago’s Center of Excellence for Engineering and Computer Science, Wright College has been focused on streamlining the path into CS and engineering fields,” said Doris Espiritu, executive director, engineering program at Wright College. “This new effort will help younger learners build computing competencies and greater awareness of the skills needed towards their own tech journeys.”

“Part of building a more inclusive economy in our city is strengthening workforce readiness, particularly in well-paying fields like tech,” said Karen Sauder, president, Global Clients and Agency Solutions and co-Site Lead of the Google Chicago office. “We’re proud to support DPI and Wright College as they help train the next generation of computer science leaders and have loved getting to work hand in hand with students through these workshops.”

Black and Latinx workers make up just 12% of Chicago’s tech workforce overall. In 2019, only 14% of computer and data science graduates statewide were Black or Latinx.

Computer science education is foundational in today’s economy, essential for problem-solving and innovation, and for the economic mobility of workers.

Computing-related jobs make up roughly half of all STEM jobs in Illinois—three times more than any other STEM field. Computing also represents the top source of new wages in the economy. The COVID-19 crisis has illuminated the need for and resiliency of these jobs.

This program builds on existing efforts from DPI and its partners to cultivate a homegrown computing pipeline, including DPI and UIC CHANCE’s Digital Scholars summer program and DPI’s recent partnership with Wright College called Digital Bridge. This effort is a part of the Pritzker Tech Talent Labs at DPI.

“Our aim is to address the disparities that exist for under-represented groups in CS and tech to provide more exposure and learning opportunities within these dynamic fields. This program is just the beginning of a larger goal to make Chicago the most inclusive tech workforce,” said Gina Grant, associate director of K-9 student programming at DPI.

Students who want more information and are interested in getting involved can contact Gina Grant:

About DPI

The Discovery Partners Institute empowers people to jumpstart their tech careers or companies in Chicago. Led by the University of Illinois System in partnership with top research universities, it does three things: Train people for high-demand tech jobs; conduct applied R&D; and support Chicago’s tech community. With state investment and a new innovation district in development, DPI has the resources to attract, develop, and leverage the most ambitious people and companies the region has to offer — and keep them here.

About Wright College

Wright College, an open-access community college in Northwest Chicago, is an independently accredited institution of the City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) system. It is CCC’s Center of Excellence for Engineering and Computer Science with proven success in developing diverse talents in engineering and computer science. It is a federally recognized Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) with the largest enrollment of Hispanic students among community colleges in Illinois (approximately 60%).