CITRIS Workforce Innovation Program welcomes 2nd internship cohort

Collage of five photos: three people in protective gear holding silicon wafers in a clean room; the sensors at the front of a four-wheeled robot; a young man standing in a makerspace; a person adjusting the wires on a robot on a lab bench; a gloved hand holding a glass plate with metallic samples in a grid.

Undergraduate students from four University of California campuses have embarked on paid summer internships at startups, established companies, national and university laboratories, and nonprofit organizations.

The CITRIS Workforce Innovation Program has returned for its second year to connect University of California (UC) students to eight-week internships that provide hands-on career experience in five key technology sectors: aviation, climate and energy, digital health, robotics, and semiconductors.

The five-year workforce development program launched in 2022 with funding from a special one-time state award to support students of all majors from the four campuses affiliated with the Center for Information Technology in the Interest of Society and the Banatao Institute (CITRIS): UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz. 

In recognition of the equity gaps that exist in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, students who identify as women or first-generation college attendees, as well as Pell Grant recipients and undocumented students, were especially encouraged to apply.

CITRIS Workforce Innovation interns attend weekly workshops to prepare for their job placements, learn about different career paths, gain professional skills and receive networking opportunities.

“Students benefit not only from the experiential learning gained in their internships but also from the content offered in the workshops,” said program manager Nicole-Marie Cotton. She noted that students clearly grow in confidence over the summer, developing vital workplace skills that will allow them to enter future full-time positions as valuable team members.

“The Workforce Innovation Program creates equitable on-ramps to technical careers for those under-included in the tech sector,” said Jill Finlayson, managing director of the CITRIS Innovation Hub. “It has become a core offering for CITRIS, to serve undergraduate students and execute on our mission to advance information technology research in the interest of society.”

‘Exceptional talent and positive impact’

The 2023 student recruitment round saw even more interest than the program’s highly effective 2022 recruitment period, with more than 620 applications submitted this spring — nearly a 20 percent increase on the 527 received last year. More than 275 submissions came from UC Santa Cruz alone. 

Among this year’s applicant pool, 230 students indicated their Pell Grant eligibility, and more than 240 identified as first-generation college students. 

After a careful matching process, 80 students were paired with 61 host organizations, including startups, established companies, nonprofit organizations, and national and university laboratories. The latter number marks a 35 percent increase in host recruitment over 2022, with several organizations making a transition from the merger between the California Institute for Energy and Environment’s Cal Energy Corps and the CITRIS Workforce Innovation Program climate and energy track. 

A total of 17 CITRIS Workforce Innovation host organizations from 2022 — more than a third — returned after a successful trial in the program’s first year.

“Exceptional talent and valuable contributions from the intern were markers of my experience,” said Jennifer Parker, founding director of the UC Santa Cruz OpenLab Collaborative Research Center. “The program’s positive impact on the project growth, productivity and collaborative efforts motivated me to participate again.”

Over half the accepted students expressed a strong interest in climate resilience or robotics work, leading to matches with organizations such as Secure Water Future, a USDA-funded coalition of researchers studying water resilience in agriculture, and HARTING Americas, a company that develops and manufactures electrical connectors and solutions for industrial use. 

A growing number of students expressed interest in placements with semiconductor companies, and the 2023 cohort saw 16 students — 20 percent — matched with organizations such as incubator Silicon Catalyst, where two interns will conduct due-diligence research on semiconductor startups this summer.

At CAMI Health, a social impact nonprofit dedicated to improving the health of women and their families worldwide, a CITRIS Workforce Innovation intern will edit film footage and integrate epidemiological data for a documentary about the reproductive health needs of women and girls in Kenya.

“The focus is to provide our intern with opportunities to apply their experience and academic training in computer sciences and information technology to public health programs,” said Bethany Young Holt, executive director of CAMI Health. 

Much to teach, much to learn

Under the guidance of Cotton and Finlayson, the CITRIS Workforce Innovation Program plans to place 80–100 UC students per year with paid internships for another three years. Program leadership will also work to evaluate its long-term impact on former participants and demonstrate return on the state’s investment over time.

In the meantime, both the internship cohort and the host organizations are making the most of this opportunity to acquire new information and skills.

“While we have much to teach these students, we also have much to learn from them — technically from their recent studies, culturally from their personal backgrounds, and generationally as they become the next wave of leaders in our technical world,” said Alan Hart, senior director of research and development at Advantest Corp., a semiconductor testing equipment manufacturer and another returning host. 

“We would highly suggest to any company thinking about participating in the CITRIS Workforce Innovation Program to take that step, as they will be delighted by the benefits in both directions.”