Q&A with Center director Brianna Rockenstire
Q & A with Brianna Rockenstire, Director, Center of Excellence for Information & Computing Technology
Brianna Rockenstire’s goal is to harness the IT talent being developed in Washington state’s 34 community and technical colleges to create a workforce solution that helps solve the nagging technology skills gap facing employers across many industries. A big job indeed.
Her background and experiences make her well-suited to the challenge. She has worked in higher education for several years at both community colleges and universities. She has deep experience building partnerships with industry and understands the power in working collectively with the state’s renowned community college system to make an impact on economic and workforce development.
In the following interview, Rockenstire talks about the role of the Center of Excellence for Information & Computing Technology, its mission, who it serves, and how it partners with industry to meet its stated goals.
When was the Center of Excellence for Information & Computing Technology founded?
Brianna Rockenstire: The Centers of Excellence were founded in 2004 by the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) with the goal of providing key industries in our state access to a diverse and talented local workforce. There are 11 Centers of Excellence, each based at one of our community colleges. The Center of Excellence for Information & Computing Technology is based at Bellevue College.
What are the 11 industries the Centers of Excellence serve?
Rockenstire: Each Center has a specific industry focus and a mission to support all of the 34 community colleges in the state system. Those industries include: aerospace and advanced materials manufacturing; agriculture & natural resources; healthcare; clean energy; construction; education; global trade & supply chain management; homeland security and emergency management; information & computing technology; marine manufacturing & technology; and semiconductor & electronics manufacturing.
Who are the audiences you serve?
Rockenstire: The two main audiences we serve are our industry partners and the community colleges. We also work with stakeholders from areas including government, education and labor.
What are the resources and services you provide?
Rockenstire: For the colleges, we provide industry insights and feedback on curriculum and the skills needed in the workplace. I channel what I hear from industry partners back to faculty and administrators. This feedback is especially important to our instructors because they are committed to providing students with the right skills for the job market. This process ensures that our courses and programs are aligned with the needs of industry and that our colleges are agile. This means they can quickly respond to the rapid pace of change that technology creates with new programming in areas such as software development, cloud computing, robotics and AI, and cybersecurity.
We also provide the colleges with direct connections to industry, so when they have a need for industry engagement on their college advisory board or in the classroom, we’re able to facilitate those introductions for the colleges.
Additionally, we provide labor market data research to the colleges so that they can get a sense of what’s happening in the tech job market, where the opportunities are, and how they should adjust their programming to better align with those trends.
For industry, the primary resource the Center provides is coordinated access to the tremendous pool of talented and diverse students coming out of the community college system. Our goal is to ensure that employers know they have access to a skilled, job-ready workforce from which they can hire today and for years to come.
Does the Center of Excellence for Information & Computing Technology serve industries other than the tech sector?
Rockenstire: Yes. Every company regardless of industry sector has a huge need for a technical workforce. That need exists at all levels within the organization. In addition to creating a pipeline of new workers, the colleges training, educate and upskill incumbent IT workers.
I would also like to dispel the idea that tech companies in the state are only based in the Seattle-Bellevue area. We have tech hubs sprouting up all over the state. Students from almost every region are going to be able to find an opportunity in their community because there is such a demand for IT workers. The state college system’s response to this demand has been impressive; it is recognized as a national leader in applied baccalaureate programs that provide additional education and practical job training, offering approximately two dozen IT-related Bachelor of Applied Science programs.
How do you go about doing your outreach to industry?
Rockenstire: There is a vibrant, diverse and active tech community in Washington. There are many local and regional tech groups I am involved with. What’s great is the tech community here wants to give back, share best practices, and help the next generation be prepared with the essential skills that will make them successful in their careers. Groups such as New Tech Northwest and the Technology Alliance are invaluable resources for me. Networking within these groups, I find access to people from all levels — from programmers to executives — and from a wide variety of industries. Because of this, I feel like I always have my ear to the ground about what is going on in the tech sector in terms of workforce needs, specific skills gaps and technology trends.
Why should industry consider partnering with the Center of Excellence for Information & Computing Technology?
Rockenstire: The most important thing I would like to highlight is that if companies have technical workforce needs, they should partner with us and the community and technical colleges because our students are prepared with hands-on, practical job skills. This is because our programs do not teach theory alone. Most of our community college instructors have deep industry experience and provide learning experiences based on real-world examples. In many tech and certificate programs, students are given a capstone project that, when completed, can be used to demonstrate the application of real skills. Those capstone projects can be presented to an employer as a part of an electronic portfolio.
Additionally, many community colleges incorporate essential soft skills into tech classes, which enhance students’ critical thinking, communications and collaboration skills. Our tech program developers and instructors understand that hiring managers will be just as intent on assessing a candidate’s soft skills as their hard skills.
Lastly, industry benefits from partnering with us because we act as a central point of contact from which they gain access to an incredibly diverse and talented student base derived from all 34 community colleges. That student base is not only diverse in race and gender but includes students from different age groups and life experiences, all of which contributes to a valuable broadening of an organization’s workforce. This means that we can coordinate and find the talent with the exact skills and diversity match employers are looking for. They don’t need to navigate 34 individual colleges to find the talent that they need. We can guide them and help them get closer to what they’re looking for.
For more information about the Center of Excellence for Information & Computing Technology, please contact:
Center of Excellence for Information & Computing Technology
firstname.lastname@example.org | 425.564.4229
About the Centers of Excellence
Washington’s 11 Centers of Excellence serve as statewide liaisons to business, industry, labor, and the state’s education systems for the purpose of creating a highly skilled and readily available workforce critical to the success of the industries driving the state’s economy. Each Center focuses on a targeted industry that drives the state’s economy and is built upon a reputation for fast, flexible, quality education and training programs.
Learn more at https://www.coewa.com
About the Washington State Community College System
The Washington State Community College System comprises 34 schools across the state, serving approximately 337,000 students who train for the workforce, prepare to transfer to a university, gain basic math and English skills, or pursue continuing education. The Washington state system, considered among the strongest in the country, is often cited for its excellence: In 2013, Walla Walla Community College won the Aspen Institute Prize for Community College Excellence, and Pierce College recently won the Leah Meyer Austin Award for making significant changes to the way it approaches education.
Learn more about the Washington State Community College System.