UCLA to Host Artificial Intelligence Program in Collaboration with Break Through Tech

Five women work on computers

By Christine Wei-li. UCLA will be the first public university to host a Break Through Tech AI hub — part of a national program designed to teach artificial intelligence to a greater diversity of students — bringing AI education to college students from underserved groups across Southern California.

With one of the nation’s top-ranked AI programs, the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering has been chosen to run the Los Angeles hub, one of three initial sites for the new initiative. The AI program is being made possible thanks to $26 million in funding for Break Through Tech from Melinda French Gates’ investment company Pivotal Ventures, Ken Griffin, Citadel and Citadel Securities, the Hopper-Dean Foundation and the New Venture Fund.

The free 18-month AI program was launched last summer at Cornell Tech in New York City and will now have hubs at UCLA Engineering and the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing. Developed with input from both industry and academia, the program is expected to scale to six markets by 2025. It is part of the national Break Through Tech initiative,which began in 2014 with a program for students in computing.

The new AI program will offer skills-based training, portfolio-development coaching and career mentoring for women and other students from underrepresented populations in the Boston, Los Angeles and New York regions.

“We are delighted to be the first public university to host Break Through Tech’s AI program, which will help expand equitable access for students from diverse backgrounds to harness the power of AI for the good of humanity,” said Jayathi Murthy, the Ronald and Valerie Sugar Dean of UCLA Engineering. “Southern California is home to many leading and emerging tech companies, and UCLA, the nation’s No. 1 public university, with its extensive industry connections, is poised to provide students with the resources and support they need to thrive in their careers.”

Glenn Reinman, a professor and vice chair of undergraduate studies at the UCLA Computer Science Department, will serve as faculty director of the Los Angeles hub.Fellow computer science professors Yizhou Sun and Wei Wang will be the course instructors. Applications are now open for the 2022 cohort and students are encouraged to visit the website for eligibility and other information.

“We believe that diversity is critical to maintaining excellence in all of our endeavors,” Reinman said. “The mission of the newly established Breakthrough Tech AI program at UCLA is to provide expanded training and industry experience for female, nonbinary, low-income, first-generation and other marginalized computer science students from underserved communities.”

More than half of the 40 women who enrolled in the pilot program at Cornell Tech identify as Black, Latina or Indigenous, or are low-income, or first-generation college students.

“Break Through Tech’s success at diversifying who is pursuing computer science degrees and careers has transformed lives and the industry,” said Judith Spitz, founder and executive director of Break Through Tech. “Thanks to the new funding, we can apply our impactful model to drive inclusion and diversity in artificial intelligence.”

The biggest hurdles many women and underrepresented groups in tech face when they try to get their foot in the door are access and experience. Typically, students who support themselves are unable to sacrifice a paycheck for an unpaid, extracurricular educational opportunity. For this reason, Break Through Tech AI provides a stipend to each admitted student to support their participation in the program.

The program is open to college students majoring in computer science from the regions surrounding the three host institutions. The program aims to enroll 75% of its participants from institutions outside of those universities. The Break Through Tech AI program encompasses three components:

  • Data science and machine learning skills. An eight-week, in-person summer course provides industry-relevant tools to build real-world AI solutions. Students learn how to analyze data sets and use common machine-learning libraries to build, train and implement their own machine- learning models in a business context.
  • AI Studio. Over the course of an academic year, students are matched with company-supplied machine-learning challenge projects. Students from different universities work together to build solutions to real-world challenges, collaborating with industry advisors to create a portfolio of resume-quality work.
  • Coaching, mentorship and internship placement support. During the academic year, students are matched with professionals in their field who help mentees build their networks, prepare portfolios, practice for interviews and cultivate workplace skills. Break Through Tech also taps a national collaborative of employer partners to help place students into internships and full-time jobs.

This article originally appeared in UCLA Newsroom, April 13, 2022, and is re-posted with permission in the UC IT Blog.

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