Edmonds College’s New Center for AI and Data Science Seeks to Boost Technical Literacy While Serving the Workforce Development Needs of Regional Employers

Launched in January 2024, the Edmonds College Center for AI and Data Science (opens in a new window) has an expansive agenda that includes advancing technical literacy, addressing the skills gap of regional manufacturers and aerospace companies, and ensuring that BIPOC and low-income students are given opportunities to study, work and thrive in rewarding IT careers.

The center was conceived to play a vital role in meeting the needs of the industry for qualified candidates with specialized skills in areas such as data science, artificial intelligence, robotics, computer science, mechatronics and data analytics. To fulfill its role and to address the nagging skills gaps that can hinder organizational growth and competitiveness, the center plans to offer relevant academic degrees, certificate programs, customized training for incumbent workers, and professional development.

To learn more about the center and its roadmap for program development, we spoke with Dr. Carey Schroyer, dean of STEM and director of the AI and Data Science Center. We thank Dr. Schroyer for her time and contributions to this article.

Q: When did the AI and Data Science Center launch, and what is its mission?

Dr. Carey Schroyer: The AI and Data Science Center at Edmonds College was conceived last summer by Edmonds College president, Dr. Amit Singh and officially launched in January of this year. The center’s scope is comprehensive in that we’re focusing on developing inclusive degree and certificate programs, fostering community engagement, and providing professional development for faculty and staff within the college and the broader educational community.

The center’s mission is to make AI and data science accessible to everyone. Our goal is to increase AI and data science literacy because proficiency in those skills and knowledge of those subjects has become essential for students and career professionals across all disciplines and industries. Our goal is to harness the expertise within the college, the community, and the industry to create inclusive, impactful educational spaces, programming and innovative opportunities that support the campus and the regional community.

We also plan to offer AI-specific and technology-focused degrees — two and four-year degrees — and certificates to prepare people for future success. Additionally, we want to infuse AI into the curriculum of the non-STEM tracks, which is an important goal.

Q: What classes are you planning to offer?

Dr. Schroyer: We recently launched AI for Everyone, a two-credit course that covers artificial intelligence, its impact on our lives, its decisions, and its strengths and weaknesses. It also covers AI ethics and how it affects business and culture. The prerequisites for the class are minimal, and it’s a great add-on for any program. We plan to develop one-credit AI modules that can be an add-on to any STEM or non-STEM-based program.

We’ve also launched a Data Analytics for Beginners certificate program designed to support all programs and professions that utilize data, including big data to make informed decisions, efficiently solve problems, improve processes, and adapt to evolving industry demands. The short-term certificate is an excellent addition to programs within and outside of STEM, including business, finance, healthcare, biology, physics and more.

Additionally, we are developing a data science and data analytics certificate program for professionals, which Northwest Accreditation has already approved. We are in the process of hiring new faculty for those programs, many of whom will be onboarding so we can launch many of the new programs beginning fall 2024.

Our plans for the fall also include a new Bachelor of Science in computer science and an Applied Bachelor’s degree in robotics and artificial intelligence (ROBAI), which will help meet the needs of regional employers who seek trained job candidates looking for careers in industrial automation and robotics.

Q: Is there an irony in boosting AI literacy when many people fear AI will ultimately replace them in their jobs?

Dr. Schroyer: When we look at the data, we see that AI isn’t likely to replace people’s jobs. But people will be replaced if they don’t know how to use AI effectively.

Question to ChatGPT: I’m a programmer. Are you going to replace me?

ChatGPT: As a language model, I am not capable of replacing a human programmer or performing any physical tasks. My primary function is to assist with answering questions and providing information on a wide range of topics. I can provide information and guidance on programming concepts and techniques, but I cannot perform programming tasks myself. Ultimately, the role of a human programmer and the role of a language model like myself are quite different, and I do not have the ability to replace the creativity and problem-solving skills of a human programmer.

Source:Will AI replace programmers? By Piotr Artur Klos on medium.com (opens in a new window)

Q: Which regional industries does the center plan to serve?

Dr. Schroyer:Manufacturing (especially aerospace) is an important regional employer that we serve, however we also want to partner with a broader swath of industry, especially those looking to improve operations with data science, robotics, artificial intelligence, and advanced manufacturing technologies.

As manufacturing processes increasingly integrate robotics, automation, and AI, we are positioning Edmonds College as a leading educational center in those areas. Our new degrees in robotics and artificial intelligence (ROBAI) focus on preparing someone to be a technician who can maintain the production line, troubleshoot, and keep machines and programs running. The need for these types of technicians is significant. Typically, there are seven technicians supporting every engineer within an industrial organization. We need these four-year degrees to support the industries we’re maintaining and support industry needs as we lean into a rapidly evolving, technology-fueled future.

Q: Once a student completes one of these new degree programs, what types of jobs will they be qualified for?

Dr. Schroyer: It depends on the program. Our ROBAI graduates will be prepared for jobs such as robotics technician, computer-controlled tool programmer, mechatronics technician, and technologist. Our Bachelor of Science (BS) students will be prepared for success in a wide range of industries, including tech, finance, healthcare, energy, science/research, and gaming.

Q: Will the center provide intensive, short-term training for incumbent workers?

Dr. Schroyer: Yes. We are currently developing two short-term contract training programs in robotics and AI that will be launched at the Washington Aerospace Training and Research (WATR) Center. As we continue to grow and expand the center, we will look at a Phase 2 in which we will offer contract training programs that upskill incumbent workers. For example, if an employer wanted a course on AI for their employees, we could provide it in real time. We could also customize such training so that it is contextualized to an employer’s specific industry and environment. The idea is that we could support the industry’s immediate needs for training and workplace education. These courses may be taught on campus or onsite in the workplace.

Q: How are you fostering community engagement?

Dr. Schroyer:We have a Community Connections Program that makes AI and data science accessible for people who are not steeped in these topics but want to know how those emerging technologies impact their lives. Our first speaker was Dr. Semih Tareen, a distinguished researcher and director at Sana Biotechnology, who gave a presentation (called) “AI: Journey into the Future of Biotechnology.” Dr. Tareen spoke about how technology is being used to genetically engineer viruses to fight cancer and how AI can be used to identify different proteins. The talk was open to the public and was live streamed as well. I think it is powerful and exciting to make these types of presentations accessible to people in a variety of modalities and venues. The Center will be hosting the second annual AI for Everyone Day on Friday, April 26 from 2 – 5pm.

Q: What are your strategies to increase diversity in these new programs and to reach out to underrepresented populations?

We are committed to increasing the diversity of people studying these areas. As a part of that effort, we have made a conscious effort to actively recruit women to teach robotics, computer science and AI courses. Those new hires will boost the composition of our overall computer science department to more than 50% women.

We are developing a strategy about how to partner with various community organizations such as the Latino Educational Training Institute, United Way and others that represent diverse and underrepresented students. We are creating marketing materials in different languages that communicate our programs to those populations.

We want to create a clear message to students who the greater tech community and culture may have overlooked. We want to let them know that they belong in these innovative, evolving, high-tech fields and that they will get support from Edmonds College when they enroll in our programs. Edmonds College has a longstanding MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement) program that supports and helps first-generation students, students of color, and low-income students to become involved and excel in STEM-based sciences.


For more information on the Center for AI and Data Science at Edmonds College, please contact:

Dr. Carey Schroyer
Dean of STEM and Director of the AI and Data Science Center
Edmonds College
Email Dr. Schroyer

For more information on the IT degrees and certificate programs offered by Washington State Community and Technical Colleges, please contact:

Brianna Rockenstire
Center of Excellence for Information & Computing Technology
Email the Center of Excellence

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