Wayne State, Microsoft Partner to Prepare Students for Tech Careers

Detroit’s Wayne State University has a new pilot underway with Microsoft to provide job-ready, employable talent for high-demand technical positions, including cloud computing, data science, cybersecurity, and A.I.

Keith Whitfield, WSU’s provost, says the university has been in talks with Microsoft about various initiatives for the past 18 months. “What emerged was the idea that we would join the pilot with 11 other universities across the world. We have a shared mission and vision” to produce potential employees that can fill the thousands of open tech jobs across the state and country, he explains.

Whitfield says WSU’s initiative will be driven by faculty, who will decide which, if any, Microsoft Professional Program skills-training content they want to incorporate into their classes. Whitfield says he told professors to figure out what was right for their classes or schools, and Microsoft would supply the relevant lesson plans. Which content each class will tap into “is not written in stone,” he says. Under Microsoft’s program guidelines, there’s no limit to the number of professors who can participate in the pilot.

Whitfield gives an example. Say a student was pursuing a big data and analytics Master’s degree. Microsoft’s material could be integrated into the student’s regular classes, so it becomes almost a hybrid class, or it could be used as filler to augment what’s already being taught. “We want to see how broadly we can use it,” he says.

Whitfield says that if WSU faculty “finds utility” in the Microsoft program, the university might create an official credential—perhaps a digital token they could plug into their LinkedIn profiles—that students could obtain upon completion.

Also important to Whitfield is establishing more internship programs that could lead to employment, and he feels Microsoft’s content can help give WSU graduates a leg up when job-hunting. “We want our graduates to find employment, and Microsoft is showing that these are the digital skills they need,” he continues.

Whitfield says Microsoft is interested in Detroit in general. Last year, WSU and Microsoft launched several programs in the Motor City, including a technology curriculum for teachers and students through the Microsoft Imagine Academy and a citywide summer jobs program in partnership with the city’s  Grow Detroit’s Young Talent program. In addition, Microsoft supplied HoloLens technology to Wayne State for use in recruiting efforts for the university’s medical school. The HoloLens will also be used to enhance classes and simulation labs with virtual reality and augmented reality programming, he says.

Whitfield has heard anecdotally from tech employers that the skills taught by Microsoft’s Professional Program is what they’re looking for in new hires. “The pilot is just beginning, but we hope to develop alumni connections for mentoring and internships,” he says.

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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