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NC A&T State University Expands Semiconductor Learning Opportunities with Intel Partnership

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NC A&T State University Expands Semiconductor Learning Opportunities with Intel Partnership
By: Gabriela Cruz Thompson, Senior Director of University Research and Collaboration at Intel Labs


The academic community is pivotal in shaping not just the future of STEM industries, but the people who work in them. Increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion, especially in computing and engineering, starts in the classroom.

While the higher education pipeline may suggest a long path ahead, public-private partnerships between industry and academia can build progress in increasing gender, racial, and ethnic diversity. That's the idea behind Intel's recent initiative on Broadening Participation in Science and Engineering Higher Education, which supports 16 universities and community colleges to grow and strengthen diversity pipelines for Intel’s IDM2.0 workforce growth.

We recognize that it takes partnerships and collaboration to advance computing and manufacturing education and to develop diverse participation in STEM.  A key focus of this initiative is to expand experiential learning opportunities for semiconductor related disciplines for students at all levels—from community college to undergraduate and graduate education—and to increase participation and retention in semiconductor related degree programs.

One of the universities supported by this program is North Carolina A&T. NC A&T is the largest historically black college and university in the country, which uniquely positions it to increase the numbers of underrepresented minorities in STEM, particularly in semiconductor design and manufacturing fields.

Dr. Shyam Aravamudhan, an associate professor and director of the university’s Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering, is passionate about expanding the school’s experiential learning and training opportunities. He is pivotal in making this program a success at NC A&T since it applied for funding through Intel’s Mindshare program last fall. The investment will help increase awareness of and participation in career opportunities in the semiconductor industry at the student, instructor, undergraduate, graduate, and faculty levels.

Aravamudhan recently shared his thoughts about the challenges of providing students with hands-on experience and how a partnership with Intel will impact his classes, the higher education community, and the future workforce.

Gabriela Cruz Thompson: What do you think the future STEM industry looks like and how will education play a role in preparing the future workforce? 

Shyam Aravamudhan: First, the future of the STEM industry will be heavily influenced by future technological advancements in renewables, biotechnology, smart and sustainable systems, robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning robotics, edge and quantum computing, etc. In this, education and training methods will play huge roles. Academia will need to be flexible to include new and emerging technologies in addition to providing foundational knowledge and other critical skills like critical thinking, team building, innovation, writing and speaking skills, ethics, etc.


GCT: The semiconductor industry has been working to increase diversity in the STEM field for some time. Why do you think this is proving so difficult? What needs to be done differently?

SA: It is undeniable that the semiconductor industry has been working hard to increase diversity, but it has been a continuing challenge due to persistent underlying factors such as a lack of mentors or role models, certain stereotypes, biases, etc. A pro-active, collaborative, and focused effort involving industry, academia, government, and community organizations that target each challenge may be required. This includes showcasing success stories from diverse groups that serve as inspiration, providing unconscious bias training for all employees, and targeted programs such as Intel-funded IN-RELPS at NC A&T specifically aimed to provide opportunities and inspire women and underrepresented minorities at community colleges and undergraduate institutions.


GCT: How can we increase diversity to foster an inclusive semiconductor manufacturing workforce? 

SA: Increasing diversity will need to be a multi-pronged strategy that not only encourages women and underrepresented minorities to pursue related degrees but provides them with mentors, targeted scholarships, internships, etc. In addition to traditional recruitment strategies such as career fairs, inclusive hiring practices, or diversity initiatives, directly working with the community and faith-based organizations in the community may help reach diverse populations quickly. Further, at the organizational level, creating inclusive workplace culture and providing paths for leadership roles for employees from diverse backgrounds may all be part of the solution.


GCT: Can you provide examples of how Intel’s partnership is helping create new pathways for NC A&T students to enter the semiconductor workforce?

SA: Intel-NC A&T Partnership in Broadening Research and Experiential Learning Pathways in Semiconductors (IN-RELPS) aims to strengthen talent pipelines in support of Intel's IDM 2.0 workforce goals. This program will provide opportunities for women and underrepresented minorities to participate in semiconductor-related research, in addition to boot camp and hands-on training in semiconductor design and fabrication technologies.


GCT: What experiences will the program offer students? How does this program align with NC A&T objectives and what do you think are the projected key outcomes?

SA: The IN-RELPS program is an 8 to 10-week paid summer internship for community and undergraduate students, especially women and underrepresented minorities. Students will participate in semiconductor-related research in addition to boot camp and hands-on training in semiconductor design and fabrication technologies. IN-RELPS aligns very well with the recently released “Preeminence 2030: North Carolina A&T Blueprint” strategic plan and core values, including Excellence, Inclusiveness, and Learning. IN-RELPS will directly impact 14 community colleges, 10 undergraduate institutions, and eight graduate students in two years. Other expected outcomes include extensive technical training on semiconductor fabrication tools. Each undergraduate student will have a challenging research immersion experience, including hands-on training on state-of-the-art tools and a short semiconductor science, engineering, and manufacturing course.  In addition to acquiring theoretical knowledge on semiconductor design and manufacturing sciences, the community college students will also get direct hands-on training in microfabrication and characterization techniques. Lastly, IN-RELPS will help grow workforce diversity and improve equity and inclusivity.


GCT: From your interactions with students, what do you hear they need most to begin a career in the semiconductor industry? How is the partnership with Intel helping with that?

SA: For a promising technical career in the semiconductor industry, it is imperative for students to have strong foundations in engineering, sciences, or related fields; a willingness for continuous learning; hands-on experiences; exposure to semiconductor industry tools and/or software; and other critical skills such as communication, problem-solving, etc.  


GCT: What do you think professors need most to prepare students for future careers?

SA: It is essential for professors to equip students with knowledge, skills, and abilities and, more importantly, instill a mindset for openness, innovation, and continuous learning. In addition, professors need to ensure the curriculum is relevant, provide students with experiential opportunities and mentorship, help in the development of soft and critical skills, etc.


GCT: What is the best way to get teachers those tools or help them build a plan for that success?

SA: Providing teachers with the necessary tools for student success has to be a partnership between teachers, administrators, government, and industry, which at the minimum, is providing access to relevant and up-to-date resources, and continuous teacher professional development. At the next level, it can be an effective partnership with industry and other stakeholders, networking, mentoring, peer groups, etc.


Intel’s Broadening Participation in Science and Engineering Higher Education grant program provides universities with the support they need to build the semiconductor workforce of the future. In addition to NC A&T, Arizona State University and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign recently received grant funding to support new curriculum and make the semiconductor industry more accessible.

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