The Immokalee Foundation, in conjunction with Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) and The Collier Industrial Development Authority, to work with Microsoft to ensure digital skills training for Immokalee students.
The Immokalee Foundation announced today that it will WORK with Microsoft TechSpark to foster inclusive economic opportunity, job creation, and innovation in Southwest Florida. This collaboration, named TechSpark Immokalee, is funded by a Microsoft grant and is the first of its kind in Florida.
TechSpark Immokalee is a two-year pilot program aimed at bridging the gap between youth education and digital skills needed for success in the modern workforce. Students in the rural, migrant community of Immokalee have limited access to resources that prepare them for the continual digital transformation across industries.
Thanks to matching funds provided by Collier County Industrial Authority, 157 Immokalee Foundation middle school students will attend a four-week program at Immokalee Middle School and Immokalee Community School where they will follow a curriculum based on building digital skills that impact future jobs. This includes data processing, virtual and augmented reality, robotics, and generative artificial intelligence such as ChatGPT. The construction and engineering industry, whose workers are at considerable risk of being displaced by future technology, will serve as a pilot-project for building these skills.
Dr. Daniel Antonio Linares Garcia, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the Stock Development Department of Construction Management at FGCU will serve as the Microsoft TechSpark Fellow and lead instructor for the program. He will be supported by Immokalee Foundation faculty and staff, as well as U.A. Whitaker College of Engineering student ambassadors who will provide shadowing and mentoring for students.
For over 31 years, The Immokalee Foundation has been preparing the next generation of leaders through a 100% focus on education, career readiness, and professional development for students in Immokalee—from kindergarten to postsecondary education. The Foundation provides new pathways to success and financial independence through robust programming that prepares students for well-paying, in-demand professional careers in Business Management & Entrepreneurship, Education & Human Services, Engineering & Construction Management, and Healthcare.
“The Immokalee Foundation ensures that our students are best positioned for success in their chosen career path now and far into the future,” said Noemi Y. Perez, President and CEO of The Immokalee Foundation. “TechSpark Immokalee will play a critical part by preparing them for the increasing influence of digitization and technology in the professional world. We are grateful to the Collier County Industrial Development Authority for their investment in our students’ education, and for their great economic impact on our community. We are also grateful to FGCU as our educational partners in this initiative and look forward to watching our students flourish in their technical skills and abilities.”
“The Collier County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) was created by the Collier County Commission to help address the recognized need to foster economic development and diversify the county’s economy,” said James Caton, Board Member, Industrial Development Authority. “Over the past 40 years, the IDA has assisted many local businesses with financing, and has supported the expansion of educational opportunities that promote economic development. The IDA is pleased to partner with The Immokalee Foundation in bringing the Microsoft TechSpark program to the Immokalee community.”
“The construction industry is currently challenged by having difficulties in bringing enough construction professionals and workers for its work demands, low productivity, and nascent stages of modernization. This means that schools, hospitals, or roads are getting harder to build,” said Dr. Daniel Linares, TechSpark Immokalee fellow and Assistant Professor at FGCU. “TechSpark Immokalee could have immense implications for modernizing construction workers towards digital and technological skills. Immokalee’s youth will have the opportunity to get familiarized with the technologies of the future now, applied to an industry embracing these technologies to overcome its challenges and which already provides fulfilling careers.”
Dr. Huzefa Kagdi, Dean and Professor at U.A. Whitaker College of Engineering at FGCU said, “The college is excited to work with The Immokalee Foundation and Microsoft. This collaboration is the first of its kind on digital inclusion in Southwest Florida. It will create an experiential-learning ecosystem for middle-school students to help develop digital skills in critical fields of engineering, computing, and construction. Advanced digital skills, such as those in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cybersecurity, are becoming increasingly important in a variety of domains. Therefore, it is imperative to provide awareness, learning, and training opportunities on these topics to students, right from their formative years. This program aligns with WCE’s core interest of enabling a highly competent and job-ready pipeline of graduates.”
“Since we launched TechSpark in 2017, we’ve helped communities secure more than $125 million in funding and helped create thousands of jobs,” said Kate Behncken, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Philanthropies. “By expanding TechSpark to all 50 states, we hope to continue our hyperlocal, partner-driven work to help communities realize the potential of technology and foster greater economic opportunity.”
Earlier this year, Microsoft announced the expansion of its TechSpark program to tackle digital inclusion in four focus areas: digital access, digital skills, computer science education, and digital transformation with local based organizations. Since its inception in 2017, TechSpark has helped its eight communities secure more than $125 million in community funding, skill 55,000 people, and create 3,300 jobs. Read more about Microsoft TechSpark here.
About The Immokalee Foundation: Since 1991, The Immokalee Foundation has been preparing the next generation of leaders through a 100% focus on education, career readiness, and professional development. To learn more about The Immokalee Foundation, become a mentor, signature events, volunteer as a career panel speaker or host, donate, or include the Foundation in your estate plans, please call 239-430-9122 or visit immokaleefoundation.org.
About U.A. Whitaker College of Engineering at FGCU: The U.A. Whitaker College of Engineering offers high-quality programs in Engineering, Computing, and Construction. It provides a student-centric ecosystem rooted in academic excellence through experiential learning, dedicated faculty and support staff, program-specific accreditations, sound curricula, state-of-the-art classrooms and laboratory facilities, professional-development opportunities, and immersive campus culture. Graduates are equipped with not only the highest standards of disciplinary knowledge and skills, but also with a broad mindset to contribute meaningfully and impactfully to the profession and communities they serve.
About the Collier County Industrial Development Authority: The five member authority was established on February 27, 1979 to issue Industrial Development Bonds to Qualifying Projects. Money generated from the bonds would be used to construct industrial plants, equipment and other facilities. Read more here.