AI Program Aims to Break Barriers for Female Students

Over the last 10 months, Chelsea Prudencio, a junior at Baruch College in Manhattan, got a crash course in artificial intelligence through a new program for lower-income, Latina and Black young women majoring in computing.

As part of the program, called Break Through Tech A.I., Ms. Prudencio completed an intensive class developed by Cornell Tech faculty with input from a few tech executives. She threw herself into a student A.I. project for Pfizer to create heart disease prediction models. And she was mentored by a cybersecurity executive at Citigroup on how to ace technical job interviews.

These are the kinds of important learning and career opportunities that can help computing majors land jobs in fast-moving fields like A.I. and data science. But students like Ms. Prudencio, who attend public colleges not known for top computing programs, often face challenges gaining access to them.

“I was never made aware of health tech before my project with Pfizer,” said Ms. Prudencio, 20, who works part time at a tennis center. Now she hopes to pursue a career in health A.I. “This is a lot more fulfilling, I personally think, because you’re building models that could potentially save lives.”

Break Through Tech is at the forefront of university-led efforts to reduce obstacles to tech careers for underrepresented college students, including lower-income, Latina and Black young women. The new A.I. program, the largest of its kind in the United States, takes a novel approach in a tech industry whose recruiting criteria — technical interviews, hackathon wins, internal employee referrals, previous internships — often advantage wealthier students at top universities. It aims to help lower-income students, many of whom have part-time jobs on top of their schoolwork, learn A.I. skills, develop industry connections and participate in research projects they can discuss with job recruiters.

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