President’s Advisory Council Tackles the Challenge of Diversifying the IT Talent Pipeline

November 26, 2019

The Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) President’s Advisory Council met at the BMCC Center for Continuing Education and Workforce Development, 25 Broadway in lower Manhattan, on Friday, November 22.

BMCC Interim President Karrin E. Wilks welcomed guests who included BMCC administrators and faculty, as well as executives at community-based organizations, Amazon, IBM, CISCO and other information technology leaders.

“Many of you have goals to diversify your workforce,” she said. “Given our highly diverse student population, we can help you meet your goals. Together, we can create a pipeline of preparation to meet the workforce needs of your individual companies, the IT industry more generally, and to contribute to the economic and social vitality of New York City.”

That pipeline of internships, shadowing and other work experiences leads to entry-level jobs with the potential for growth and advancement, she said. “We also want to make sure that our curriculum remains current and prepares students for the future world of work.”

Integrating career development into the student experience

For context, Wilks explained that BMCC is engaged in a strategic planning process, Designing for Success, which seeks to improve student retention, increase student transfer and baccalaureate attainment, provide culturally responsive pedagogy and support, expand career development that leads to meaningful work with family-sustaining wages — and “to achieve equity in these outcomes in a college community in which all members can thrive.”

BMCC’s Center for Continuing Education and Workforce Development is playing a key role in the college’s efforts to integrate career development throughout the student experience, she said.

She cited strategies to further that goal, such as the creation of the President’s Advisory Council, an advisory group that combine workforce development staff, faculty and industry representatives.

Another strategy to validate student strengths is career-boost activities developed within the college’s eight Academic and Career Communities, each of which provides students with a cohort experience centered on their area of interest.

“These areas of interest include the STEM community of which you are a part,” Wilks told the attendees.

How to build student success in a changing market

Dean of Institutional Effectiveness and Analytics Christopher Shults presented an overview of the BMCC student body demographics. While 70 percent of BMCC students receive need-based aid, he said, “Our students are resilient. For the second year in a row, BMCC ranks #3 nationally among community colleges in economic mobility. Forty percent have moved up two economic quintiles 15 years after attending our college, and six percent have moved from the lowest to the highest.”

Shults also provided data on what factors are linked to student success at BMCC, including full-time student status, cohort programs, tutoring, co-requisite courses that blend remedial and college-level content, defined pathways and more. Among student needs, he included internships, mentoring, emergency funding and employment.

Josh Nachowitz of the Downtown Alliance talked about IT Industry trends that could impact the future preparation of BMCC students, highlighting lower Manhattan’s primary market area, private sector wages and employment patterns.

Dean of Continuing Education and Workforce Development Sunil Gupta talked about the college’s New York State Registered Apprentice Program in IT. He also reported on stackable credits, which enable students to earn industry-recognized certifications that both lead to higher-paying employment in the short-term, and are part of a continuum leading to a degree program at BMCC and beyond.

Aligning degree and certificate programs with internships and employment needs

Joyce Moy, executive director of Asian American and Asian Research at CUNY, spoke at the beginning of the session on the diversity of the student body at BMCC and the college’s role in promoting the economic mobility of its students. She closed out the event by leading a Q&A session around challenges such as addressing the skills gap in hiring community college students and overcoming obstacles in creating internship opportunities.

This discussion brought out the group’s significant and varied areas of expertise.

Betty Ng, founder and CEO of Inspiring Diversity, pointed out that BMCC needs to help students strengthen skills to establish, build and leverage relationships. “They need to be storytellers to show the impact of what they bring to the table,” she said.

Charlotte Lysohir, senior program manager of education at IBM Corporate Social Responsibility said that industry needs to move its employment practices away from approaches that favor the privileged. For example, she said, it is important to determine in job postings whether a bachelor’s degree is really required, and to look beyond the resume to a focus on competencies, when recruiting applicants.

Kenneth Johnson, president of East Coast Executives and a diversity recruiter in Harlem, emphasized that “using the same old recruitment methods will get the same results, disadvantaging community college students,” and the group agreed that community college students are a valuable talent pool.

“We all have a common goal, aligning our degree and certificate programs with internships and employment needs, as we address the widening skills gap and diversify the talent in the IT industry,” said Dean Gupta. “In a decade when low unemployment is being touted, the truth is, if we disaggregate the data, we see that the unemployed segment consists mainly of minority students, women and those who are no longer persisting in job search activities — and that’s our population.”

The President’s Advisory Council will reconvene in Spring 2020. In the meantime, the group plans to recruit BMCC students in entry-level IT employment, expand IT internship opportunities for BMCC students, and begin the process of creating new degree and certificate programs to address emerging workforce needs in the IT industry.

Attendees included:

David Binns, President, Interbrand

Leadra Cleveland, Director, Orion Agency

Greg Cote, Marketing Product Manager, CISCO Systems

Marva Craig, Vice President, Student Affairs, BMCC

Bill Drewes, Business Outreach Advisor, Center for Continuing Education and Workforce Development, BMCC

Jose Flores, Director, Workforce Development Programs, Center for Continuing Education and Workforce Development, BMCC

Susan Gosler, Global Head of Tech Relations, BNY Mellon

Sunil Gupta, Dean, Center for Continuing Education and Workforce Development, BMCC

Brian Haller, Director, Foundation and Corporate Relations, Office of College Development, BMCC

Rohan Handa, Executive Partner, New York Life Insurance

Kenneth L. Johnson, President, East Coast Executives

Debbie Kemp, Chief Talent Officer, Mediacom

Helen Kogan, Executive Director, New York, NPower

Pratik Kumar Chunawala, Cloud Infrastructure Architect, Amazon Web Services

Charlotte Lysohir, Senior Program Manager, Education, IBM Corporate Social Responsibility

Donna McClean Grant, Director, Allied Health, Center for Continuing Education and Workforce Development, BMCC

Antonette McKain, Director, Evening, Weekend and Off-site Programs, BMCC

Dawn Miller Nedd, Human Resources Director, Harlem Congregation for Community Improvement

John Montanez, Dean, Office of Sponsored Programs, BMCC

Joyce Moy, Executive Director, Asian American and Asian Research, The City University of New York (CUNY)

Josh Nachowitz, Senior Vice President, Research & Economic Development, Downtown Alliance

Betty Ng, Founder & CEO, Inspiring Diversity

Sara Porritt, Group Director of Planning, OMD, Omnicom Group

Christopher Shults, Dean, Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Analytics, BMCC

Shane Snipes, Professor and Deputy Chair, Business Management Department, BMCC

Joe Spadaro, Vice President, Information Resources and Technology, BMCC

Christopher Stein, Professor and Chair, Media Arts and Technology Department, BMCC

Don Wei, Professor and Chair, Computer Information Systems Department, BMCC

Karrin E. Wilks, Interim President, BMCC

Erwin Wong, Acting Provost, BMCC


  • The BMCC President’s Advisory Council members met November 22 to share their vision of expanding the number of underrepresented students in IT fields
  • BMCC Interim President Karrin E. Wilks contextualized the group’s efforts as an equity issue, contributing to an educational environment where all students can thrive
  • Guests included BMCC faculty and staff as well as executives from community-based organizations and information technology leaders

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