NSF award to expand semiconductor workforce training for UC students

Collage of three photos: Two young students in cleanroom suits and protective eyewear working at machinery; a macro view of a computer chip; a yong person in full PPE standing in a cleanroom smiling and pointing at a screen.

Investigators at the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society and the Banatao Institute (CITRIS), a California Institute for Science & Innovation at the University of California (UC), have been awarded a grant of nearly $1 million from the Experiential Learning for Emerging and Novel Technologies (ExLENT) program, a workforce development initiative launched last year by the National Science Foundation (NSF). 

With a start date of Oct. 1, 2023, the award of $999,860 will enhance immersive training opportunities within the semiconductors thematic area of the CITRIS Workforce Innovation Program for undergraduate students from UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz, the four campuses affiliated with CITRIS. 

In addition to its goals of growing a diverse science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce and providing access to STEM education for students from nontraditional pathways, the ExLENT program seeks to promote cross-sector partnerships between organizations in emerging technology fields and those with expertise in workforce development. 

Since its 2022 launch with funding from a special one-time state award, the CITRIS Workforce Innovation Program has paired more than 160 UC students with 77 host organizations for paid internships within five areas of IT innovation important to California: aviation, climate and energy, digital health, robotics, and semiconductors. 

To further contribute to the economic mobility and technological competitiveness of the state, the program plans to match 80–100 UC students per year with paid summer positions at organizations in high-tech sectors for another three years. 

“We align our internships with emerging tech sectors and, with the CHIPS and Science Act and this award, we are especially excited to make even more placements in the growing semiconductor industry in the coming years,” said Jill Finlayson, managing director of the CITRIS Innovation Hub, which oversees the Workforce Innovation Program to increase workforce diversity and expand opportunities for next-generation STEM talent.

Among the 2023 pool of 620 CITRIS Workforce Innovation applications, 230 students indicated their Pell Grant eligibility, representing a family income of $45,000 or less, and more than 240 applicants identified as first-generation college students. Of the 80 interns who were matched, 16 were placed with labs or companies in the semiconductor or microelectronics field. 

NSF’s ExLENT grant will increase the reach of the CITRIS Workforce Innovation Program to serve 55 students in the semiconductor track over the next two years and provide partnership with 10 leading semiconductor companies including Advantest Corp., Intel, Marvell Technology Inc. and Siemens, as well as academic facilities such as the Berkeley Marvell Nanofabrication Laboratory at CITRIS and the Center for Nano-MicroManufacturing (CNM2) at UC Davis. In addition to paid internships, the students will have access to funds for housing, travel and related essentials, to reduce obstacles for those who may need supplementary support to participate. 

Applications will open at the end of 2023 for summer 2024 positions. 

“The semiconductor industry has seen significant investment from federal and private sources. We are pleased to help provide the trained workforce needed for this rapid growth, while expanding opportunities for underserved students,” said Camille Crittenden, executive director of CITRIS and the Banatao Institute and principal investigator on the ExLENT award. 

“Recruiting diverse, highly qualified talent is an urgent concern for these leading tech companies, and we are excited to partner with them to help achieve their goals and prepare students for well-paid, satisfying careers.”