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TechBuffalo Summer Program to Recruit Tech-Focused Students

TechBuffalo's summer program aims to keep tech-focused college students and graduates in the region by helping them develop professional skills and network with employers in Western New York's tech community.

A view of downtown Buffalo, New York.
(TNS) — As Western New York grows its technology sector, it needs workers to fill the jobs that become available.

TechBuffalo is trying to aid in that effort by not only supporting the current tech ecosystem in the Buffalo area, but also helping fuel the next generation tech workforce.

For a second year, TechBuffalo is running a summer program aimed at developing professional skills, building a network and showcasing the opportunities Buffalo has to offer to the region's college tech talent and students interested in tech-aligned positions.

Thousands of students in tech and tech-aligned paths are being trained each year through local internships and at the approximately 20 local universities and colleges in the region. But about 70 percent of these college graduates wind up leaving the region for opportunities elsewhere, according to TechBuffalo.

"We're trying to showcase that there is a burgeoning tech industry here. It doesn't look like Silicon Valley, but all our industries here heavily rely on tech to function and grow," said Mary Ruelle, TechBuffalo's higher education program lead, who leads the PowerUpTech program.

"There is a meaningful network to be had in Buffalo. We want to help build those networks so that people will stay," she added. "And we're really trying to elevate opportunities for students here. They don't necessarily see Buffalo as a tech hub, so we're trying to figure out how can we help change their minds."

PowerUpTech is part of TechBuffalo's effort to retain local tech talent by connecting college students to career opportunities and employers in Western New York's tech community.

A big part of the program is the two-day Community Tech Design Challenge. It is where more than 170 college interns, split into 30 inter-disciplinary teams, were able to apply their tech and business acumen to address real-world issues presented by three local community organizations.

The design challenge was featured at an expo last week at Seneca One tower, where these college interns from 35 companies across Buffalo were able to show off and present a three-minute pitch on the tech-based solutions they came up with for Journey's End Refugee Services, the Good Neighbor Fund and the Buffalo History Museum.

"I'm from Buffalo so I know a lot about these organizations, and it's nice to kind of know that you're making an impact in the community you grew up in," said Meredith Stamm, a Nardin Academy graduate and intern at M&T Tech, who's going to be a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

One of the goals is to make sure students understand that they do not need to be able to code to take on a tech-aligned role and meaningfully be involved in the tech industry.

"Tech is so widespread, and students need this type of exposure to see what the future holds," Stamm added.

The design challenge gives these community organizations access to the students' creativity in helping solve matters with real-world implications.

The History Museum asked students to find ways to make its Pan-American Exposition of 1901 exhibit more immersive and engaging for the audience; Journey's End needed help so that its refugee clients could better use the public transportation system; and Good Neighbor Fund was seeking to use technology to determine the long-term economic impact of the $1,000 microgrants it awards.

"College students are so creative. In a time of learning and absorption in their life, they're able to see things with that outside perspective," Ruelle said. "There is such value in that fresh set of eyes and their different skillsets."

The groups were tasked with delegating responsibilities so that each student, many with various backgrounds and majors, could bring something different to the table and step out of their comfort zones, when necessary, said Stamm, whose group chose to work on a solution for the Good Neighbor Fund.

"It was really cool to take that on, and then walk around the room to see what other people were thinking about their challenge and see what the other Good Neighbor Fund groups were pitching," Stamm said. "Everyone's imagination came to life in a three-minute pitch."

Stamm worked with students majoring in engineering, mathematics, nursing and history.

"I would have never come across a lot of these people, so it's nice to come together and meet new people and also network even further with the mentors and companies," Stamm said.

Being aligned with employer and university partners was just as important in running last week's event.

In one year, TechBuffalo went from having 12 employer partners to 35. A big boost came from a partnership with the University at Buffalo's Sophomore Experience Externship Program. The professionals and mentors, as well as the participating organizations, made the final call on competition winners.

"This program doesn't exist without those entities, and we just help bring them together," Ruelle said.

©2024 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.