Texas education leaders and Amazon Web Services last week announced the creation of degree programs aimed at preparing students for careers in cloud computing.

Dallas County Community College District is one of 22 community colleges that is developing and will offer the two-year degree as early as next spring.

DCCCD Chancellor Joe May and Ken Eisner, director of Global Education Programs for AWS, offered more details about the program and how it will work:

Two or three years down the road, how will you judge whether this partnership has been a success?

Eisner: We’re going to look at a whole slew of metrics around this. The first will include the number of institutions that launch the program, the number of faculty that are trained, and the number of students that enter in, but in the end, it’s about matriculations into jobs. We’re going to be looking at internships, apprenticeship opportunities and hires to Amazon Web Services as well as our customers and partners.

Are most of the jobs in Dallas-Fort Worth or Texas, or will people be trained here for jobs that aren’t actually here?

Eisner: Amazon already currently employs over 22,000 people across Texas. We have 15 fulfillment centers, and we’ve invested over $10 million in various pieces of infrastructure and research. There is a big focus in Texas, and there has been for a number of years. People who come through these programs are going to be great employees at AWS, at Lockheed, and at other customers and partners in Texas, but they’ll also have skills that can translate into the global environment.

What is it about DCCCD, or Texas in general, that makes this partnership the right fit for AWS?

Eisner: Community colleges are this amazing flywheel into the educational environment. They have dual enrollment with early college (programs) with high schools. They have transfer and articulation agreements with four-year institutions and direct partnerships that go inside and outside of industry. Places like Dallas County Community College District have moved fast under great leadership, and we need people that have that bias for action. They also address this underserved environment that often doesn’t matriculate into the tech industry, whether it’s students from low income, minority backgrounds or persons in rural communities.

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Do you anticipate that expanding the pipeline of workers with strong cloud computing skills will translate into more Amazon operations, functions, jobs, offices or buildings here?

Eisner: Amazon has invested a significant amount into Texas, as I mentioned. We’ve had a history of investing in Texas and continuing to invest more over time. So the investment into education, the investment into the workforce, is an investment into our future employees along with the future investment of customers and partners.

What’s the most important piece of this partnership?

May: A big, big part of it for us is connecting to industry. I can’t talk about them now, but we will be rolling out some others with some other organizations in the very near future and starting some new ones of this type. We’ve made a real commitment to connecting to industry and then to really sitting down to work collaboratively to build out curriculum.

What differentiates the partnership with AWS from similar collaborations? 

May: This was a great one in that they were already thinking that way and we were already working with them on some other efforts, so it was obvious that we would come together and build off of existing relationships. 

Did this in any way evolve out of the effort for an “Amazon U” that was part of the incentive package in the attempt to lure Amazon’s HQ2?

May: That was something we initially created as Amazon Institute in the DCCCD, and others working on the project expanded it. We still will build in the downtown area, and we still partner in collaborative ways with industry, so a big piece of that that was put out there, we’re going forward with.

How is the curriculum being created?

Eisner: Faculty at Dallas Community College and across the state are collaborating in an unprecedented way to create curriculum that can work across the institutions, that is adapted to local standards, (and) that meets the needs of the students and employer demand in Texas. The faculty and instructional designers at these schools are doing the heavy lifting because it’s the students in the classroom that are being impacted.

What’s the biggest challenge to creating career-connected networks?

May: The real challenge today is the speed at which business is changing and technology is changing. It makes it real easy for a college to get behind and for students not to understand what the opportunities are. When we try to do this in isolation, operating in silos, which is often the case in education, then even if we miss the mark just a little bit, we miss the mark, and it really creates a challenge for the students and the employers to come together. So we really value close relationships like we have with Amazon Web Services.

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