Earlier this summer, the Corporacion Unificada Nacional (CUN) of Bogota, Colombia, teamed with Utah-based TestOut Corporation, a leading provider in IT certification training, to bring 22 senior engineering students and three members of the CUN's faculty to Utah to visit some of the leading technology companies and local universities.
Utah's Silicon Slopes, like its more famous California namesake, consists of a number of information technology, software development and hardware manufacturing and research firms scattered along the western front of Utah's Wasatch Mountains. Many Americans know that Utah's wilderness areas are some of the most beautiful in North America, but the Beehive State is also a booming bastion of technology, home to more than 4,600 tech companies. In 2014 Utah firms garnered an impressive�1.66 percent of all venture capital money in the United States.
The purpose of the Colombian IT students' visit was to give them exposure to different academic environments, as well as to the local IT industry. The trip was in partial fulfillment of an alternative graduation requirement. In Colombian universities, senior students are given various options for graduation. Most chose to write a major thesis paper, called a capstone. CUN's students chose to come to Utah to learn more about IT certifications, visit some of the state's prominent tech firms and check out a few of its major universities. As part of completing their graduation requirement, each visiting student has also begun the process of earning at least one IT certification before August.
"This is definitely a motivated group," said GoCertify's Kyle Orton. "I was impressed with them. They were sharp, alert and attentive. They had a very strong desire to better themselves, and improve their futures." Orton had the opportunity to meet with the group and explained the importance of certifications for a career in IT.
Their whirlwind week included visits to several of Utah's institutions of higher learning, including Brigham Young University, the University of Utah, Utah Valley University and the Mountainland Applied Technology Center (MATC). The students were impressed with the level of education in Utah and the opportunities available to learn IT skills. Mark Middlebrook, an instructor with MATC, said he was "thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the students from Colombia. We were able to give them hands-on training with real-life experience and share how we teach certifications at MATC."
While visiting Utah Valley University - which is presently in the process of launching a graduate certificate in cybersecurity - the students received presentations from the Latino Initiative, the International Student Council, the Department of English Language Learning and the School of Technology. "Our goal was to show them the process of admission to UVU as well as the multiple opportunities we have to offer for Latinos and other international students," said Jesler Molina, coordinator for UVU's Latino Initiative. The students also toured the Computer Science Building, and ended the day bowling in UVU's new Wellness Center. "The students were a great group," said Molina. "I'm happy they had a great time and I'll be keeping in contact with some of them who are interested in applying to UVU."
A visit to IM Flash, in Lehi, UT, was a real eye-opener for the group. IM Flash is one of the leading producers of semiconductor technology. The students toured the facilities and interacted with several staff members. "The Colombian Engineering and Computer Science students were fantastic! While at IM Flash, they learned all about how we make flash memory chips, and they even "gowned up' to go into our cleanroom," said Todd Russell, IM Flash's Academic Relations Manager. "They came with great questions about semiconductor manufacturing, engineering and qualifications for employment. We hope the school comes back to visit us next year."
The students also met with Jose and Hugo Inclan, co-founders of Inclan Interactive, a custom software development company. Jose shared some valuable advice and encouragement about entrepreneurship and chasing your dreams. He encouraged the students to "continue their educations and always look for mentors to help them network in their fields, and to never stop pursuing their career dreams."
Coming to the U.S. was a unique opportunity for the students and administrators. Juan Santiago Rodriguez, Dean of Engineering at CUN, expressed his gratitude and spoke of how this time changed opinions and gave students a greater vision of possibilities. "Our perspectives of life have been touched," he said. "Today we are completely confident that the path we have decided to take is correct ... destinies and people can be transformed."
The demand for trained IT professionals in South America, and especially in Colombia, is growing rapidly. More firms are automating and they need more employees skilled in all areas of IT. TestOut account representative, Giovanni Riveros, who coordinated the entire visit, spoke about the increasing need for trained IT professionals and the impact of the visit on the students. "This was a great opportunity for these young people to learn about and understand the real value of IT certifications, especially as a tool to improve their career prospects not only in Colombia," Riveros said, "but internationally as well.
"Their experiences at the local companies and universities showed them that. One of our presenters explained how he didn't have a university degree, but became an expert in the field of IT by studying and earning certifications. Certifications are a game changer."
While in Utah, the group was hosted by TestOut officials, who arranged meals, local transportation and lodging. But the visit wasn't all business. The students were also able to enjoy some good food and visit some of Utah's popular landmarks and locales like Temple Square and Park City.
The impact of the students' visit is perhaps summed up best by senior student of electronics, Diana Molina Lee. "Thank you all for your hospitality," she said. "Thanks for helping us open our minds and broaden our understanding that the world is full of opportunities and we can fight for our dreams."