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MIT program seeks to build AI skills in under-represented communities

Nearly three dozen undergraduate students from across Greater Boston are participating in the first year of a new MIT program, Break Through Tech AI, to learn the basics of artificial intelligence and machine learning and apply their new skills to real-world industry projects. And the program includes valuable links to industry partners who are providing the experiential opportunities.

Hosted by the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, the pilot initiative aims to bridge the talent gap for women and underrepresented genders in computing fields by providing skills-based training, industry-relevant portfolios, and mentoring.

“Programs like Break Through Tech AI gives us opportunities to connect with other students and other institutions, and allows us to bring MIT’s values of diversity, equity, and inclusion to the learning and application in the spaces that we hold,” says Alana Anderson, assistant dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion for the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing.

The inaugural cohort included 33 undergraduates from 18 Greater Boston-area schools. The program is free and extends for 18 months, beginning with an eight-week, online skills-based course to learn the basics of AI and machine learning. Students then split into small groups in the fall to collaborate on six machine learning challenge projects presented to them by partners MathWorks, MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, and Replicate. The students dedicated five hours or more each week to meet with their teams, teaching assistants, and project advisors, including convening once a month at MIT, while maintaining their regular academic course load.

The challenges gave the undergraduates the chance to help contribute to actual projects that industry organizations are working on and to put their machine learning skills to the test. Members from each partner organization also served as project advisors, providing encouragement and guidance to the teams throughout.

“Students are gaining industry experience by working closely with their project advisors,” says Aude Oliva, director of strategic industry engagement at the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing and the MIT director of the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab. “These projects will be an add-on to their machine learning portfolio that they can share as a work example when they’re ready to apply for a job in AI.”

In December, the students made presentations on the AI projects at a showcase event held at MIT. The program not only allowed the students to build up their AI and machine learning experience, it helped to “improve their knowledge base and skills in presenting their work to both technical and nontechnical audiences,” Oliva says.

The students will return to MIT in the spring to tackle another round of AI projects, this time working with Google on new machine learning challenges.

Source: MIT News

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