Q&A with Carlos Contreras, the Lead Behind Intel’s AI for Workforce Program

Last year, we announced the AI for Workforce Program launching in Arizona with Maricopa Community College. It was the first Intel-designed artificial intelligence (AI) associate degree program in the United States—now, we are expanding to 18 additional community colleges across the country. The program is being led by Carlos Contreras, Senior Director of AI and Digital Readiness. We sat down with him to learn more about this wonderful effort.

 

Tell us a little about you, your time at Intel, and your current role.
I’m an engineer with an MBA who started my career in finance, so my path hasn’t been what most might expect. When I reached the time for my first sabbatical at Intel, I took some time to reflect, as most people do. I was really reminded of the power of education, how education has gotten me the opportunities I have had and how grateful I was for that. My family moved to the US when I was 12 years old and became a naturalized citizen thanks to a federal immigration bill that passed in 1986. You can say I an old school dreamer. With that in mind, I wanted to do more there. Shortly after, I became the Public Affairs Education Manager and I’ve held numerous roles in corporate affairs, public affairs, autonomous driving, and state government affairs ever since. It has kept me engaged at Intel for almost 25 years.

Now, I work with governments and education institutions to create and expand access to new skills such as AI. As the world becomes even more digital, governments and education institutions are interested in adopting their education and workforce systems.

 

What is the AI for Workforce Program and how did it come about?
The Intel AI for Workforce Program started in late 2019 as a collaboration between Intel and a community college in Maricopa County, Arizona. It came about as one way to help equip current and future workers with key skills related to artificial intelligence— with courses on data collection, computer vision, AI model training, coding, the societal impacts and ethics of AI technology, etc.

 

What are we trying to achieve with the program? Why is it important?
We want to enable tens of thousands of students to land careers in high-tech, healthcare, automotive, industrial, and aerospace fields. There is increasing demand for AI technical skills that we hear from governments from all over the world, but training options are limited. And in our changing world, it is more important than ever to reskill Americans for future employment opportunities.

Community colleges stand out because they offer the opportunity to democratize AI technology since they attract a diverse array of students with various backgrounds and expertise. Expanding access and opportunities to a broad group of students interested in these fields, including those in underrepresented and underserved communities, is a huge priority for Intel. AI and machine learning are going to affect everybody so everyone should have a voice in how they are used.

 

What is Intel’s role in the program?
We collaborate with community college administration and facility to help them incorporate AI skills into existing curriculum or build new certificates or associated degrees in AI. We also train faculty, giving them more than 200+ hours of AI educational content for the college professors to develop courses based on their plan. And we also offer summer internships and mentors for students and faculty.

 

Since the launch of the program in Arizona, what impact has it had?
At the larger U.S. level, the launch last year helped establish a baseline and defined what is possible for other institutions in the U.S. What has been exciting is to experience how these institutions are shifting their programs and starting to prioritize AI skills. We are just starting to see the program results contributing to the re-skilling of the American workforce, providing additional access and opportunities to broad group of students interested in these fields and advance diversity and inclusion. We also have our first program participant interning at Intel in IoT, so it is very exciting.

 

What has been the biggest challenge in launching the first AI associate degree program?
Community colleges don’t have the financial resources to create new programs in emerging tech, so we are asking faculty that are already busy to do even more. On the plus side, we are seeing signs from the federal government to increase funding for emerging tech and workforce skills programs.

 

What has been the biggest reward in working on this effort?
The biggest reward has been seeing how you go from an initial conversation to a series of meetings, all the way to actual programs getting built up with actual classes and programs. I am really looking forward to getting to see the first student projects after they’ve internalized all the training. Spring 2022 is when we’ll see the students’ tangible AI-based projects solving everyday challenges.

 

What’s next?
In the short-term, Spring 2022 will be big as we’ll get to see students applying their new AI training. Long-term, we at Intel have a unique opportunity to provide a very valuable AI program nationally. In just one year, we have scaled to 18 institutions in 11 states that serve 800,000 students. I can see a path where every one of the 50 states in the U.S. offers this program to their students.

Carlos Contreras

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