This Historically Black University Creates Its Own Pipeline of Tech Interns
Trying to intern at a leading tech company or startup can be a frustrating pursuit for many college students, requiring a sustained, semester-long effort—often with little success and a barrage of rejections.
Now bowie state university, a historically black college in Bowie, Maryland, has created its own internship placement program. And it doesn’t require undergraduates to jump through standard Silicon Valley hoops, such as spending countless hours studying for corporate coding tests or conducting high-pressure technical assessments under the watchful eye of tech company interviewers.
“Honestly, it was a brutal process,” he said Rose ShubaThe head of the computer science department at Bowie State University mentioned the internship application process at many large tech companies. She described trying to encourage overstressed students in preparation for technical interviews that she believed would not assess their skills or professional potential. “At Bowie, we see things very differently.”
In an effort to expand opportunities for students, the computer science department launched its own internship placement program last year in partnership with a number of companies and government agencies. The program is designed to match students directly with employers seeking interns. It also hosts interview skills training sessions for students and workshops on popular topics like machine learning.
The Bowie method provides students with an alternative to the impersonal, large-scale application systems of many large technology companies. The process typically involves tens of thousands of college students submitting resumes to online company portals, with candidates initially sorted and ranked by resume-reading software.
At Bowie State, participating employers often come to campus to learn about, mentor, interview and directly recruit students for internships, a process that’s more intimate than the one-off information sessions tech companies often arrange with the university’s career center. The Bowie process typically does not involve high-stress technical testing. This saves many students, some of whom have part-time jobs, from spending dozens of hours of unpaid time applying to Silicon Valley internship programs.
Founded in 1865, Bowie State University is a computer science powerhouse among historically black colleges. The school is known nationally for its expertise in cybersecurity education. Last fall, the number of Bowie undergraduate computer science majors jumped to 332, a 75 percent increase over 2019.
But in the past few years, only a handful of Bowie students have passed the vetting process at leading tech companies, including Amazon, Microsoft and Oracle, to land internships, Dr. Shumba said.
Competition can be fierce. Adobe, the maker of Photoshop, said it typically recruits about 600 interns from among the more than 100,000 candidates who apply each year to its summer internship program in the United States.
Last summer, as part of the new program, 60 Bowie computer science students interned at companies like Deloitte, federal agencies like NASA and local startups.one of them is dej brownnow a senior student interested in network security.
Before she started applying for internships, Ms. Brown worked part-time at Chick-fil-A. Last year, Ms. Brown received an internship with the Marine Corps Cyberspace Command after Dr. Shumba encouraged her to apply for a government security clearance.She also practiced at Battelle, a non-profit tech research giant.
“A recruiter at Battelle contacted me, walked me through the interview process, and they eventually let me in,” said Ms. Brown, 21. “It’s much less stressful than a coding interview.”
The Bowie State program addresses socioeconomic barriers — such as lack of technical work experience or industry connections — that may prevent some students from gaining internship opportunities.
To help young students gain relevant experience, Dr. Shumba has established computer research internships on campus. Last year, she also took a group of students to the Grace Hopper Celebration in Florida, a major annual conference for women in tech, free of charge. Six students returned to campus with internship or job offers at Apple, Bank of America, Citibank and more.
Among them is Roxan Rockefeller, now a junior, who worked as a software engineering intern at Tata Consultancy Services, a tech company, last summer. Then at last fall’s conference, she attended an information session with pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly. This leads to an internship interview.
“I’m passionate about data, and I’ve just started talking about how I want to use my computer science degree to explore as many areas as possible,” said Ms. Rockefeller, 21. “The next day, I got a call from a recruiter telling me I had an internship offer.”
This year, Adobe started its own Internship Program Partner with Bowie State to focus on cybersecurity. The internships are part of a larger effort by the company to help more Black and Latino students prepare for technology careers.
About a dozen Bowie State students will work as cybersecurity interns at Adobe this summer. This will make Bowie students eligible for full-time Adobe job offers upon graduation, just like hundreds of other summer interns at the company.