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When Discovery Partners Institute’s Pritzker Tech Talent Lab (PTTL) kicked off its Full-Stack Software Development Apprenticeship Program last year, the program’s curriculum was based on more than professional know-how. Instead, the team drew on research from their sister entity — the Illinois Workforce and Education Research Collaborative (IWERC) — to ensure that the program was as effective as possible.

Last year, IWERC and PTTL collaborated on a systematic review of literature on undergraduate diversity-focused STEM intervention programs. They identified six common components in successful programs, including supplemental learning opportunities, mentorship, skill building, financial aid, socializing, and bridge programs.

“Education is full of ‘best practices,’” IWERC Director Meg Bates said. “But in conducting a systemic and empirical analysis of interventions, we are creating a roadmap of what works to increase representation in STEM fields. This is particularly important for organizations with finite resources and big goals.”

PTTL’s Full-Stack Software Development Apprenticeship Program now includes all six components identified by IWERC, such as mentoring and creating opportunities to apply skills in context.

“We took IWERC’s findings and systemically applied them to our apprenticeship program,” said Jennifer Foil, PTTL’s director of workforce development. “As a result, we are experiencing better recruitment and retention of diverse apprentices.”

For example, the first two apprentice cohorts have DPI mentors, who volunteer to meet at least every other week with their mentee. For the third cohort, PTTL plans to pair participants with software development professionals.

Creating opportunities to apply skills in context was also important. During the first three months of training, apprentices learn new conc UI epts and immediately apply them to assignments and projects, building applications similar to Yelp or Instagram.

“This constant practice and application in the context of real world projects reinforces and accelerates their learning,” Foil said.

IWERC’s research was published earlier this year by the International Journal of STEM Education. And this study is not the end: IWERC’s current research on computer science education, high school to work pathways, and statewide workforce development programs will all inform future efforts at DPI.