Inaugural Accelerate to Industry conference for STEM students in July

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Catherine Beasley

Participants of the A2i 2022 students

Twenty-four graduate students in STEM programs — in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — participated in a new program designed to connect students with careers in industry. The U of A Career Development Center, in partnership with Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences; the College of Engineering; and the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences hosted the university’s inaugural Accelerate to Industry (A2i) conference, an in-person professional development conference, July 19-21.

The students learned from and networked with staff at two of the sponsor companies: Garver, a North Little Rock-based consulting firm, and the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Division (NRCS). Students reported greater awareness of both companies as a result of the conference, one of the main goals of the event. Illinois-based Phigenics LLC, a water management company with an office in Fayetteville, also sponsored the event.

In addition to presentations by Garver and NRCS, attendees engaged in resumes, mock interviews, storytelling exercises, and panel discussions from alumni who have successfully transitioned from graduate school to industry positions. Participants gave positive feedback on their experiences of these different activities. One student said: ‘I’ve told everyone I know to go there next year and told my advisor to send all future students there. I wish it had been a day longer!”

The skills learned during the three-day conference culminated in a pitch competition. Students were divided into interdisciplinary teams and tasked with developing a product, technology, or service that would address an existing need. The slots were judged by a panel of industry judges: Adam Chadwick, merchandise director at Walmart; Keith Tencleve, team leader at Garver; and Rodney Wright, the Arkansas Water Management Engineer for the NRCS. The winning team, consisting of Tommaso Benigni, Erin Drewke, Carrie Ann Followell, Ying Fu and Chao Sui, proposed a mechanical system designed to help pig producers efficiently convert animal waste into usable manure.

A2i is a professional development conference originally developed by North Carolina State University in 2017. The program started with a conference and has since expanded to five modules. NC State has partnered with over 20 institutions around the world to support graduate students and postdocs in their transition from academia to industry.

A2i U of A participants achieved strong results and reported increased confidence in their preparation for industry careers as well as greater interest in industry careers. The A2i committee is currently planning to next hold the conference the week before the fall 2023 courses start and add a parallel course for STEM students.

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