Building career pathways for California’s next-generation tech workforce

Collage of photos of students working on hands-on projects.

The CITRIS Workforce Innovation Program places top student talent from four UC campuses in paid summer internships at established companies, startups, nonprofit organizations, and national and academic labs.

Since 2001, CITRIS and the Banatao Institute have supported student discovery through experiential programs to foster tech innovation and mentorship including CITRIS Tech for Social Good, CITRIS Seed Funding, the Cal Energy Corps and more. Leveraging that expertise and support from the state of California, the institute has launched a five-year workforce development program to connect University of California students to eight-week internships that build in-demand skills, provide on-the-job experience and help inform career decisions. 

The CITRIS Workforce Innovation Program was developed to support undergraduates from all majors across the four CITRIS campuses — UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz — and help them pursue opportunities in one of five areas of emerging IT innovation important to California industry: aviation, climate resilience, digital health, robotics and semiconductors. 

Recognizing the equity gaps that exist in technology and research fields, the program encourages underrepresented populations, including women, Pell Grant recipients, undocumented students and first-generation students, to apply.

To prepare the participants for their summer positions, CITRIS Workforce Innovation provides weekly workshops and seminars to build skills in leadership, design thinking, workplace professionalism and more. Upon successful completion of the program, final presentations and employee reviews, the students will be eligible to receive a certificate in careers in emerging technologies.

“We are honored to have the investment from the state that will allow us to expand the pool of highly qualified graduates who will contribute to emerging areas of technology innovation,” said CITRIS Executive Director Camille Crittenden. “The students come from a rich variety of backgrounds and majors. This program will strengthen their networks and expand their worldviews, not only from their internships but also from their interactions with fellow cohort members.”

Diverse cohort addressing real-world problems

The program saw unexpected success when the inaugural application period opened in January, with applications from more than 500 students and interest from 60 host organizations. 

After a careful selection and matching process, 84 interns were placed across 45 host organizations, with relatively even distribution among campuses. Other measures of the cohort’s diversity include the fact that half the students use she/her pronouns, and languages spoken among the group include Amharic, Arabic, Kazakh, Khmer, Mandarin, Tagalog, Telegu and more. 

Robotics, aviation and digital health were among the top areas of student demand, leading to matches at established companies such as RoboticsCats, DiamondStream and RePicture.  

This month, the interns will begin tackling projects in areas such as wildfire detection modeling, advanced aerial mobility and data analytics for telehealth platforms. They will bring fresh perspectives, mentorship opportunities and cost savings to their host organizations. The potential for recruitment of full-time talent is also a benefit for the participating companies.

“We’re excited to take part in the internship program. With the additional workforce resources, we will accelerate our research and development and launch new products faster to help more people,” said Andre Cheung, CEO and founder of RoboticsCats. “We will work together with the interns to support frontline communities in California to tackle wildfire problems.” 

The CITRIS Workforce Innovation Program plans to support 80–100 students per year for the next four years and to conduct in-depth evaluation to improve the program and demonstrate return on the state’s investment over time. 

“The aim is to empower the next generation of innovators,” Crittenden said. “We hope the program provides them with tools to compete successfully for meaningful work after graduation.”