UI Research Park program improves inclusivity in tech industry

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An aerial view of the University of Illinois Research Park is shown above.

By Vivian La and Amrita Bhattacharyya

A new technology education program, Illinois Reboot, has recently launched to build a more inclusive workforce in central Illinois. 

The UIUC Research Park program will build a more diverse workforce using local talent and by offering different learning opportunities to participants. 

“There’s a lot of talent that’s been sitting on the sidelines and there’s a lot of jobs that are open,” said Laura Bleill, director of communications and external engagement at Research Park. 

A main component of the program is improving inclusivity and diversity because “just like anything else when you are creating products for a wide audience, you need to have a wide audience of people who are creating those products,” Bleill said.

Bleill describes Illinois Reboot as a “pre-boot camp program,” where people can gain access to some skills and see how they are applied and engage with the professional community. 

Applications for the program closed on Jan. 13, which will run from February to March.

The program launched a pilot version last summer and some aspects have been tweaked for the upcoming program. For example, the curriculum focuses more on data science and data analytics. 

“We don’t have a module on like HTML or that kind of coding. The focus is a lot around fundamental skills related to data analytics,” Bleill said. 

The program has also been adjusted to emphasize engagement with the professional community by embedding corporations and professionals of the tech community within the program itself. 

This component will be beneficial to both parties involved to have them learn from each other, Bleill said.

According to Bleill, the foundations of this program have been under development for the last couple years, but some elements have been adapted as a result of COVID-19. 

The program has received over 100 applications so far, with about 20 spots available. Bleill said that they plan to do more than one cohort, and anticipates starting the next version over the summer, with goals to move to an in-person format at some point. 

Bleill said the C-U area can become a major technology hub and Illinois Reboot will help in achieving this goal while also helping the local community.

“I think one of the things that’s most exciting is watching people who may have thought that there wasn’t a pathway to achieve their goals find that pathway,” she said.

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