The future of AI education and the Tech Incubator program
January 23, 2024 2 min read
Building tomorrow's AI workforce through mentorship and education
The rapidly changing landscape of artificial intelligence and machine learning requires us to think differently about how we prepare students to advance in this evolving field. Capital One created campus Tech Incubators at University of Illinois (UIUC) and University of Maryland (UMD), where students can work on emerging AI and ML capabilities that will transform the financial services industry. The UIUC Tech Incubator opened its doors in 2015. Building on UIUC’s successful program, UMD’s Tech Incubator opened in the fall of 2018 and celebrates its five-year anniversary this year. These unique centers provide students the opportunity to apply their curriculum in hands-on roles through student employment at Capital One throughout the year.
I’ve had the privilege of working with the Tech Incubator program and their team for almost 5 years. It’s been a great opportunity for our team to work with new energetic engineers breaking into the industry. It’s allowed us to pair interns with talented engineers from our team who truly enjoy getting the opportunity to mentor their future peers.
These experiences augment their learning through real-world use cases and provide industry mentorship proven to shape student pathways towards machine learning. Shawn Brinkley, Director, Machine Learning Engineer, said, “I’ve had the privilege of working with the Tech Incubator program and their team for almost 5 years. It’s been a great opportunity for our team to work with new energetic engineers breaking into the industry. It’s allowed us to pair interns with talented engineers from our team who truly enjoy getting the opportunity to mentor their future peers.”
The role of AI education in emerging AI technologies
An important component to building strong ecosystems of talent is building peer networks who have a shared passion. Capital One structures the program so students work on teams centered around specific innovation projects. These cohorts of students create a deep connection and peer network. During Covid, the interns worked with their Capital One mentors from home. In October 2022, we held a re-opening celebration at UMD, welcoming interns, full-time associates, and UMD faculty and staff to the space. There was a collaborative buzz back in the air as we learned more about the projects at the incubator and research from UMD’s Center for Machine Learning. We continued to hold events showcasing Capital One’s innovation throughout the year, while bringing in new cohorts of interns to grow their skills.
When looking back at his summer 2023 experience, former intern Chris Antar stated, “Even though we didn’t have to be here in person on Mondays and Fridays, almost all of us were there every day because we really enjoyed working with each other. We didn’t know each other beforehand, but we bonded over the summer. It was so nice to be surrounded by fellow interns to help you when you were stuck or to hang out with when you needed a break.”
The Tech Incubators’ ability to create a strong community extends beyond just the interns we hire. This summer, we partnered with UIUC’s School of Information Sciences to host 60 students to build professional skills. We shared tips about recruiting and the different career opportunities that Capital One offers. We routinely partner with our local UIUC Research Park community where over 120 companies reside. Every summer, our interns participate in Research Park events like a hackathon competition, a professional development series, and even a cross-company table tennis tournament.
Building diverse AI communities and networks
The Tech Incubator’s mission does not stop with the student programming. The spaces serve as a place to create and connect the technical community, including groups historically underrepresented.
Just this year at UMD, we partnered with Breakthrough Tech, part of the College of Computer, Math and Natural Sciences, to host two field trips for the Guild Program. Guild is focused on first- and second-year women and non-binary students with little to no tech experience. This year the theme was “fin tech,” so our incubator was a natural fit. The program has a high success rate, with around 80% of participants indicating their interest in pursuing a tech career or major after completion.
At UIUC, we welcomed students from the Blackwell Summer Scholars, a program designed to increase the access and equity in the pipeline for graduate degrees in statistics, data science and mathematics. We learned about their experiences, while also highlighting what working in the industry can look like at Capital One.
We were also honored to host Anthony Woods, Secretary of Veteran Affairs, as the keynote speaker for at the end of year reception for the Initiative for Lifelong Leadership, part of the Robert H. Smith School of Business at UMD. Several Capital One associates who are veterans shared their career journey and how they landed at Capital One. It was a wonderful night celebrating the accomplishments of this group.
Tech Incubators: Transforming AI education and shaping the workforce of tomorrow
Additionally, the Tech Incubators exemplify regional economic growth and development. This spring, the Maryland Department of Commerce and Prince George's Economic Development Corporation co-hosted small business owners within the tech incubator lab to showcase the strong local talent ecosystem and attract businesses to Maryland.
The transformative impact of tech incubators on AI and machine learning education is unmistakable. From fostering peer networks and providing real-world experiences to building strong talent ecosystems, these programs bridge the gap between academia and industry. As we navigate the ever-evolving landscape of artificial intelligence, the collaborative efforts within university tech incubators stand as beacons, illuminating pathways for students to not only learn but to thrive in the exciting and dynamic field of AI.
We know industry and academia are uniquely positioned to accelerate new capabilities when they partner together. Through year-around engagement and collaboration, the Tech Incubators provide the platform to do just this. We look forward to seeing what challenges our most inquisitive learners can tackle next. The journey from classroom to career is enriched, and the possibilities for the workforce of the future are boundless.