It’s no newsflash that Austin is a tech hub. Brilliant innovation occurs here every single day, and innumerable opportunities exist for new ideas to flourish. But there is a challenge—we just don’t produce enough knowledge workers to meet our region’s workforce needs. Job openings abound,and our region’s continued success requires that we find a way to bridge the talent gap.
Austin Community Colleges (ACC) just may provide the answer.
A heightened interest in providing high-quality STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) programs means producing more qualified entrants into central Texas’ high technology
fields. Training local talent makes business, economic, and community sense. Students who receive top notch educational opportunities—at an accessible cost—are ripe for local employment opportunities. They live here and work here, breathing greater life into our local economy and giving back to our communities.
“I know what a community college education can mean to an underprivileged student,” notes Thomas Miranda, Austin entrepreneur and tech executive. “When I graduated from high school, I was passionate about technology and innovation, but there was no way for my family to afford four years at a university. Community college gave me the opportunity to learn and grow—it’s no exaggeration to say that it changed the trajectory of my life.”
The innovation economy will only accelerate, and local companies are key to improving the educational opportunities for our region. Businesses can partner with higher education by providing internships, mentorships, and adjunct faculty—educators with real-world experience and down-to-earth advice. According to Mentoring.org, students with mentors are 70% more likely to enroll in college, 78% more likely to volunteer regularly, and are 130% more likely to hold leadership positions. And the Institute for Higher Education Policy notes that, “Mentoring minority college students results in those students being twice as likely to persist [in college] as non-mentored minority students and to have higher GPAs” (IHEP, 2011).
Miranda continues, “My community college experience was a significant driver in my professional and personal life. I was able to parlay that early start into a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering. That led to a great career with HP, Dell, and Cisco, which led to my starting a technology consulting firm. My professional success led to my civic participation. I’ve been involved with over a dozen public organizations devoted to advancing educational opportunities, particularly in the tech sector.” He has served on several boards, primarily in alignment with workforce or economic development and enabling innovation in education. He served on Discover Engineering in the early 2000s, mentored at risk students as a Round Rock ISD STARS mentor, and served on countless non-profit boards (such as Crime Prevention Institute, Economic Growth Business Incubator, Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Austin, Mission Capital, AYC, and others). Thomas has also volunteered for numerous civic groups, such as Caritas, Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers Big Sisters , and others, all aimed at enabling others to overcome adversity and achieve their dreams.
Austin will continue to be a magnet for innovation and technology development, and the time is now to make substantial commitments to ACC. Making a community college STEM education relevant and accessible means broadening the pool of local talent, giving local companies access to bright minds who might otherwise be left out of the innovation economy. Companies who commit their time, talent, and resources to building ACC’s portfolio of STEM programs will reap significant benefits, in terms of creativity and productivity.
So will we all.