up next Martha Garcia-Murillo
Supporting the Tech Revolution
By Jackie Ostrowicki
A technology revolution is here. Across the nation, employers are reshaping their workforces to accommodate new needs and goals—most of them related to tech. Companies are hiring more workers with technical expertise to help with strategy and innovation.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that computer and mathematical jobs will increase at the second-fastest rate of any other field over the next decade. In that same span, it estimates that data scientists and information security analysts will be among the ten fastest-growing occupations and software developers will produce the third-largest jobs increase of any occupation.
Business leaders across Nebraska are looking to raise the state’s tech profile.
“This next generation goes where the technology jobs are,” said Bryan Slone, president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “We need to be known as a technology state.”
“It's important to be able to provide scholarship opportunities to students—it can make a huge difference in their lives. It did in mine.”
Yet, Nebraska is facing a workforce crisis, with not enough workers to go around.
This is where the University of Nebraska at Omaha steps in. The state’s only metropolitan university, it works hand-in-hand with business partners in Nebraska’s largest city. Its College of Information Science & Technology (IS&T) educates students in computer science, cybersecurity, information systems, data analytics and other tech disciplines. IS&T works closely with Omaha companies on hiring students for full-time and internship positions, filling the tech workforce pipeline with UNO graduates.
From Scholarships to Internships
Dr. Martha Garcia-Murillo is the dean of the College of Information Science & Technology. She exudes a calm but strong presence and a passion for the students in her college.
Garcia-Murillo received her doctoral degree in economics and political economy at the University of Southern California.
When she was applying for her Ph.D. at USC, the family she was providing childcare for saw her filling out scholarship paperwork. They told her, “Martha, if you don’t get a scholarship, we will fund you.” The family eventually paid for her first year of graduate school, creating a major impact on Garcia-Murillo.
She is now focused on providing scholarships for IS&T students.
“I think that it's important to be able to provide scholarship opportunities to students—it can make a huge difference in their lives. It did in mine,” Garcia-Murillo said.
The Omaha community includes many students who are economically disadvantaged or are the first in their family to go to college. Without scholarships, academically accomplished students may need to work to support themselves. If they are working at retail restaurants or coffeeshops, it reduces the opportunities for internships that allow them to lead projects, get engaged in a professional organization, and build an outstanding resume.
“I want them to substitute their non-IT job for an IT job,” Garcia-Murillo said. “When they graduate, they should leave with resumes that help them get the very best jobs.”
“My objective is to create a learning community for the entire IS&T student body. Many of our students work, which means they’re not getting the experiences that they need to succeed. Our initiative, Learn and Earn, ensures that we’re offering experiential opportunities to everyone.”
Garcia-Murillo is focused on experiences that build students’ professional portfolios. She has developed a unique program, Learn and Earn, which takes an IS&T student through four years of job experience during their time at the college.
First-year students take a one-credit class where they participate in three job shadows. Their second year, they engage in micro-internships—short projects between five and 35 hours that are paid. And their third and fourth years, they have paid internships the entire year.
“My objective is to create a learning community for the entire IS&T student body,” Garcia-Murillo said. “Learn and Earn ensures that we’re offering experiential opportunities to everyone.”
Dr. Levi Thiele, UNO’s director of career development, is excited about Learn to Earn—which she describes as combining career-oriented curriculum, employer-based experiential learning and financial assistance.
“Students ‘learn’ through their preparation for successful careers. They ‘earn’ payment for their work, which improves equity and access to experiential learning opportunities,” she said.
Experiential Learning Makes a Real-World Difference
Experiential learning is the process of learning by doing. By engaging IS&T students in hands-on experiences and reflection, they are better able to connect theories and knowledge learned in the classroom to real-world situations.
“We’re preparing students to be independent thinkers, to be professionally minded, to be in leadership positions, to be discerning and make good judgments,” Garcia-Murillo said.
“Employers are concerned about students leaving Nebraska. But many of our students don't actually understand the opportunities they have here. Everything we're building in the college is intended to ground them to Nebraska and expose them to more companies.”
Job shadowing, micro-internships and internships also familiarize students with companies in the Omaha area.
“When you graduate students with real-life experience, it’s more likely that they’ll be placed into our local economy if they’ve had encounters with local companies or projects,” Garcia-Murillo said.
The college completed a survey with students who took the first-year seminar class, asking them, “What companies do you want to work for after you graduate?” More than 100 students answered the question, but only 10 students were able to identify Nebraska companies.
“Employers are concerned about students leaving Nebraska. But many of our students don't actually understand the opportunities they have here,” Garcia-Murillo said. “Everything we're building in the college is intended to ground them to Nebraska and expose them to more companies.”
Meeting the Mission of a Metropolitan University
UNO is a metropolitan university. A large majority of the student body comes from non-traditional backgrounds; many are supporting families.
“Our student body comes from an underserved community with very little economic support,” said Dr. Joanne Li, UNO’s chancellor.
A college degree not only makes a difference for IS&T graduates, it also makes a difference for their families and their communities. Upon graduation, 78% of IS&T graduates are employed in their field of study and earn a median salary of $75,000.
UNO’s values of strengthening the community through collaboration and partnerships—and improving Omaha’s quality of life—is at the heart of IS&T's Learn and Earn.
“The tech field is promising for disadvantaged students in many ways. Not only do they grow personally, but they earn an income that allows them to break out of poverty—not only for themselves, but their families and their communities,” Garcia-Murillo said. “There are ripple effects that go beyond the individual and their job.”
“The Learn and Earn program meets three of UNO’s strategic goals—student success, workforce development and social mobility,” Thiele said.
“Martha Garcia-Murillo and the team at IS&T have been visionaries. They have intentionally and thoughtfully structured the Learn and Earn program to meet student and workforce needs.”
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