Open Menu Close Menu


Campus Technology Insider Podcast June 2024

Listen: Building Florida's First AI Degree Program

Rhea Kelly  00:08
Hello, and welcome to the Campus Technology Insider podcast. I'm Rhea Kelly, editor in chief of Campus Technology, and your host.

Florida's Miami Dade College recently announced the launch of a new bachelor's degree in applied artificial intelligence — the first such degree in the state and one of the first in the country. At the heart of MDC's approach is the conviction that education in artificial intelligence is for everyone — people at all levels need understand how to apply AI in their lives and careers. For this episode of the podcast, I spoke with Antonio Delgado, vice president of innovation and technology partnerships at Miami Dade College, about how the degree program was developed, the foundational AI skills that students need to succeed, and creating spaces that bring people together around AI. Here's our chat.

Hi Antonio, welcome to the podcast.

Antonio Delgado  01:09
Thank you for having me.

Rhea Kelly  01:11
So I thought maybe we should start by you telling me a little bit about your role at Miami Dade College and your background.

Antonio Delgado  01:19
Well, I'm the vice president of innovation and technology partnerships at Miami Dade College, and this is one of the largest colleges in the nation, if not the largest — we have over 125,000 students every year. And my background is really to, is technology, I'm passionate about, you know, how to use technology, how to adopt technology, but also about how to help people. So these, my role is a unique intersection where I have the opportunity to leverage technology and changing the life of many people in Miami that go through our programs, creating pathways to economic mobility, really.

Rhea Kelly  01:57
So with "innovation" and "technology partnerships" in your title, what are your goals for MDC in those areas?

Antonio Delgado  02:04
Well, basically, we see how education is evolving at large. We see how education plays a key role on creating the professionals of today and the future. But really it is, how do you get the skills? You get the skills through a degree, or you get the skills through a MOOC, online, YouTube, like how, like people can get skills now in many different ways. So as, as education continues evolving in the way that, you know, that you can become a long life learner, your whole life you can continue learning, how the institution, how, my role is to see how Miami Dade College can continue innovating to remain relevant for today and the future, to help our community. We are a community-based institution thinking on creating the pathways and the opportunity for anyone in Miami to get the skills that they need to be successful in their professional career and also in their personal life as well. So we try to find ways to continue, again, remaining relevant with especially using technology and innovating about being an asset for anyone, the ones who upskill or reskill, and they still consider Miami Dade College as an option.

Rhea Kelly  03:27
So you all recently announced the launch of a new bachelor's degree in applied artificial intelligence, the first in the state of Florida, I understand. So what were kind of the main considerations that went into the development of an AI degree program?

Antonio Delgado  03:44
Yes, definitely the first degree, we have the first bachelor and the first associate degrees in artificial intelligence in the state of Florida, and really one of the first in the nation, in terms of the applications of AI. So usually we see four-year institutions, the ones that have been leading the charge in artificial intelligence, mostly from a research perspective, mostly from graduate programs, masters, PhDs. And we saw the opportunity, again, thinking and remaining relevant and transforming education, we saw that artificial intelligence is really evolving in a way that is not just for masters and PhDs. Everyone should know about artificial intelligence. And everyone, from the perspective of regular high school students that continue to college, they should learn about artificial intelligence, not to become AI experts necessarily, but to understand how to apply AI. So when they get to the workforce, they come with the skills to be useful, beneficial for the society, by, and their specific work role, when they know how to apply artificial intelligence. But the reality, we started working on this over three, four years ago, before ChatGPT became, you know, what everyone knows today, and how it really provided access to AI to everyone. That happening, you know, especially last, starting last year, is not just about the future students coming to college. It's about everyone in our society, everyone in the community needing to upskill and reskill in artificial intelligence. And that's what we have seen, that we have created a program, or let's call it a stackable credential pathway. It's not just one program, it's multiple programs that you can just come and take classes, a certificate, and then you go back to your workplace to implement, to adapt and use those skills. Or you can go for a full associate degree in artificial intelligence, or you can continue and actually complete a four-year program in artificial intelligence. So that's, that's really what we have developed, a stackable credential pathway that you can come in or out at any point, but you can get skills that are ready to be implemented in the, in the workplace,

Rhea Kelly  06:00
That sort of appearance of ChatGPT on the scene, that's quite a change to happen in the middle of developing an AI degree program. Did you have to really pivot with your planning or consider some new, new courses or new, new ideas that would need to be covered?

Antonio Delgado  06:17
So that's a great question. And when, you know, when we were developing this degree that didn't exist before, no one has done this at the undergraduate level from an application of AI perspective, we were developing the foundation that is required for anyone, without any previous knowledge on either programming or computer science or even artificial intelligence or even advanced math, is, what is, AI should be at the hands of everyone. It cannot be an exclusive group. So we were already thinking of what is a foundation that any person, regardless of the background or the previous experience or expertise, can come and learn about artificial intelligence, and it's a foundation that goes beyond what ChatGPT and generative AI is now public and well known. Like, it's beyond that. It's more about the foundation of artificial intelligence, of machine learning, of computer vision, natural language processing, and now generative AI being the most well-known and, or well most-used AI solution, but it's not really, not necessarily the only solution. So we're teaching a foundation, understanding that we have developed a program in it, in this field of artificial intelligence, that is not going to stop changing. So of course, we're going to continue reviewing the program, actually, every six months to a year, we have to revamp the program — we've established foundation, but that the applications is the portion that is changing. And that's where it's not to completely change the program when ChatGPT happened, it's just to continue evolving the program, because we were planning to continue evolving anyways. And next year is going to be an evolution, again, to continue being adaptive to what industry, what companies are looking for in understanding of AI. And at the end, it's about the applications: How do you learn about artificial intelligence to be able to use it on your workplace? So is, again, the program is already set. The program is in full motion, and right now we have over 750 people. I don't want to call them students, because it's really anyone, people in the community that have joined our first year offering these AI classes. And if that was first year, imagine what's going to happen next academic year and the second, you know, in August, we launched our work for the second year in a row. We're going to just grow that potential to really help anyone understand about the usage of AI.

Rhea Kelly  08:50
I love that you mentioned that need to keep up with the pace of change, and maybe revamping the program every six months or a year. What does that look like in practice? Do you have faculty meetings, or, you know, is there like a set schedule of you all sitting down and looking at how technology is changing and what changes need to be made?

Antonio Delgado  09:11
Yes, and this is not necessarily a model just for artificial intelligence. This is what we apply to every technology degree that we have in place. Because it's technology at large that is changing, and every program that we have at Miami Dade College in technology, we created a business industry leadership team to support that program. We have done it in cybersecurity, data analysis, data analysis and cloud computing. Now we're doing it with artificial intelligence. And this group of Business Industry Leadership Team, like these are, BILT, in short, we, they are experts in their own field. They are, in the case of artificial intelligence, they are the hiring managers in AI looking for talent that come with AI skills. And these were the experts, in many different sectors, in industries, companies, well known or less known, and they were the ones helping us first define the degree, a degree that didn't existed. So a degree that came based on the skills that they are looking for, on their future employees and professionals. And really overall, not only for those industry experts to gauge, you know, to give us the feedback at that time, two, three years ago, but also is the recurrent meetings that we have with them and faculty to share how the curriculum is being implemented, but to continue getting the trends that are happening on industry, where they can provide feedback on how the students are learning, but also where the industry is going. So that combination is not just necessarily going with the latest technology, it's actually how the companies are hiring based on the needs for specific technologies. So that, we have minimum three meetings a year with them. And because we academic institutions are definitely layer on semesters, where we have, in our case, fall, spring, and summer, we always tie those meetings back to those semesters. And really that's how we continue connecting with the BILT members, getting their feedback and sharing our experience so far, but definitely having the faculty connected. And this case is a co-leadership role, where it's not just faculty as owners of the curriculum, but faculty learning from these experts to continue upskilling themselves, to be able to offer the students really the best instruction possible with the technology that we're teaching.

Rhea Kelly  11:41
Are the industry leaders involved in the actual teaching, or just, just faculty, or how does that work?

Antonio Delgado  11:45
That's a great question. Where, when you have something that is so unique, and you don't have books developed on these layers yet, yes, there are books about AI at large, but not necessarily about the application of AI and the speed that we're getting from a workforce development perspective. So we definitely need that strong connection at the beginning with industry not only giving us feedback on the skills and abilities that they're looking for, but also on modalities, where sometimes they become part of a class as a speaker, or they become consultants, really, at some point, to help upskill our faculty and, and help on the lectures that are needed. And sometimes it's just the support from companies like Intel, and, as an example, where they developed a program called AI for Workforce, and it's the whole curriculum developed for, in artificial intelligence, for community college faculty. So that's really an opportunity where our faculty learn from either the experts or these companies developing content that they can use and really leverage. When they don't have access to a book on these topics, they do have access to these materials and experts to help teach in the class. But overall, the teaching component remains on faculty, not necessarily on the industry experts. They can help at the beginning, but we are relying on upskilling our faculty to be able to deliver the training either as a full-time faculty or as an adjunct. And that's what really happens sometimes, where these industry experts, if they have the credentials to teach in higher education, they can become adjuncts by teaching part time. So that's what we're leveraging now, where we have a 50-50% distribution of full time faculty and practitioners that are, as adjuncts, coming to teach for our program.

Rhea Kelly  13:43
That makes me think about how there are so many different options out there for gaining AI skills, and you've got, like, Google certificates, training from industry sources outside of the college environment. So what's the best way for students to navigate all of those options or choose what's right for them in terms of, like, should they pursue a four year degree? Should they just go get a Google certificate?

Antonio Delgado  14:08
So first of all, we, we understand that not everyone is looking for a degree in artificial intelligence, and it's actually not even needed. Every person will have a different need, and depending on their needs, there are solutions for that. The way that we develop the program allows for anyone, wherever they are, whatever they need, to come to get what, exactly what they need. If you need just skills, you can come, get those skills, and go back. You don't need to continue the degree. But if you want to get a degree, every course and every skill that you took is going to help you get the degree. So connecting that to your question about what happened with everything that is available now coming out of Google, Microsoft, IBM, or even Intel, the reality is like, great, we're, we're living at a time where through internet and the tools available, you can learn by yourself, and that's true. You don't need to go to an academic institution if you can go through Coursera and learn the latest Google essentials, AI essentials course that was launched last month on Coursera. What is the difference? In order to go by yourself, through online, so you need to have very strong discipline and learning capacity, to first find the time and keep consistent with the learning process on every day or every week, to dedicate time to go and learn. But second is not just the discipline, but also the capacity, or even the resources. First, the capacity: Can you really learn, by yourself, topics like artificial intelligence? If they're very fundamental, maybe, like very, you know, just to understand, maybe, but to really apply AI, to really learn these topics and to work on a project and to be able to implement, that's when not everyone is able to do that. And that's assuming that you have the right internet connection, that you have the right device that is not just your phone, that you have a device where you can actually implement everything that you need. And that's where we feel that we have, we add value. Miami Dade College as an academic institution that has, first, the resources for those that don't have the resources at home, we provide the resources with the equipment, with the internet, with everything that they need to succeed, plus an instructor. That you're not learning by yourself anymore, you're learning with a community led by an instructor. And then the discipline comes from: You have classes at a regular time and your schedule, and you're going to make it work, and you have a timeline with a beginning and an end for every class. So then the question, so we're adding, we're providing what you don't have by doing it by yourself. But then the question is, okay, but Google is giving, this is from Google, and then what I'm going to learn your program? What we have done at Miami Dade College, we have partnered with every, every company that we have discussed, like Google, every student that comes without to, that enroll and register on any AI course at Miami Dade College, they automatically get access, for free, to the course of Google AI Essentials on Coursera. They get access automatically to the content that Amazon Web Services is making available as resources for anyone that want to learn about AI. They get resources to the Microsoft certifications about Azure AI Fundamentals as part of the content that they're learning. They get access to the Intel curriculum that is available as AI for Workforce. So our approach is to actually not to compete with the resources available online, we incorporate and we partner with all those companies to be able to create not just the environment of a classroom, but the extra resources for them to complete courses and certifications that are available online, but with the support of the faculty. So when you combine that approach, you're not only getting the skills and the support from a faculty you're also getting these extra resources from industry. It becomes like a perfect solution to help anyone, really, complete, understand the content, and complete it with the support of an ecosystem that can help you do it.

Rhea Kelly  18:17
Can you lay out kind of what the foundational skills for AI are, the most important, you know, job-ready skills for students right now?

Antonio Delgado  18:28
So, yeah, the way that we structure our programs, basically, let's start from the beginning. We call it a certificate in Artificial Intelligence Awareness. You want to be aware of what's happening. You want to understand how this is evolving so fast. And this is probably the most popular, because everyone is interested in, hey, this is affecting me or my role. How can I upskill? So that certificate, we have, for example, the AI Foundations course, just to understand what artificial intelligence is. And we always map that class with Ethics on AI. So ethics is essential, is, artificial intelligence is having a huge impact on people, society, everything, humanity at large. So the ethical implication of the usage of AI is essential for us. That is not an afterthought at the end of the program, is at the beginning, first class is AI Introduction and Ethics and AI. So that's the foundation that we start with to then go into what is the application of AI in the specific field that you are studying, or you want to work in the future, or that you're already working and you want to understand, for example, AI in finance, or AI in biology, or AI in math. Like there are so many applications that we created a perspective, or different set of classes that you can learn AI applied to the specific area of your interest. That's an awareness perspective, where you get an understanding and a basic foundation, that at least you feel like, okay, I understand now what's happening. But if you want to go deeper, if you really want to start working with AI, we have what we call a certificate in AI Practitioner. You're becoming a practitioner when you start learning about machine learning foundations, computer vision, and natural language processing as the foundation of how to start, you know, becoming a practitioner of AI. And that's when you're already playing with models and learning with, learning models from, you know, AI, and you start creating solutions, and you start working in projects. That's still foundation level, but more, you know, technical and more specific with requirements. For example, that one does require certain level of programming that we do, that we do with Python, it requires certain level of math, that we level at least with college algebra. So there is a foundation that start having more requirements, but it's to definitely become more technical. And then it has the layer that we add with the bachelor, and that's, again, the first bachelor in the state of Florida, where you start actually going deeper into more advanced topics, where you add simulation, automation, the visualization, the components, the generative AI, with LLMs, large language models. So we start going deeper into the more advanced development of AI solutions, and you are able to graduate in this, from this program in a way that you are capable of doing already. You might not be an AI engineer, but you are the closest to an AI engineer for those roles of the future that we're going to see exploding now in the near future, as machine learning specialists, artificial intelligence technician, those that understand already AI, and, and that can apply AI, and that can either, either get a job on AI or develop their own company. Which we already seen this on the first year of the program, many students come in with a startup ideas just based on the projects that they're working on the classroom. And that's the beauty of AI, that it really allows to create pathways to create new products, new businesses, and new companies automatically based on the expertise that you're getting from, from this program.

Rhea Kelly  22:22
That's a really interesting connection to entrepreneurship. So another thing I wanted to ask about was Miami Dade's AI centers on campus. Could you kind of describe what those are and kind of what and who they're for?

Antonio Delgado  22:38
So the moment that we developed these degrees, at the same time, we were developing physical spaces where you can actually have the technology that you need. And this is expensive technology, again, not everyone will be able to do it at home at the level of the course, the advanced courses that we have. So we created the space where, starting with equipment and technology that is required, really, to make it equitable and accessible to everyone. So this is not an exclusive program for those that have the resources at home. Actually, this is the most affordable program ever to study artificial intelligence, and we provide the resources. If you don't have them at home, you, the AI centers exist to give you that access to technology, and also as an incubator of those projects with robotics tools and makerspaces and really critical, like, thinking and design to help you create the projects that you can develop as part of these programs. But quickly, these spaces grew from just being these advanced classrooms to become a hub for artificial intelligence for the community. Because automatically, again, we were working on this before ChatGPT, but then when ChatGPT happened, everyone wanted to learn more about AI, and, and everyone was desperate to understand what was happening. So we, this is, this space was quickly transformed into a meaningful space where events were happening: webinars, info sessions, speakers, and engagement workshops. And it's incredible, like the engagement from so many different perspectives. One quick example: Small businesses, they're desperate to learn about AI, to adopt AI, to use it, but they might lack the technical expertise to do it. So when we do workshops for small businesses or roundtables, is like, is, over 100 people showing up, business owners looking for solutions on, how can I really integrate AI in my, in my, in my own small business? So this is just an example on how the centers became the epicenter for everything about AI, not just classes and projects from students, but actually companies coming to learn about AI, to find talent on AI, to discuss AI, events happening around these topics. So really, the events are having actually the same amount of classes than events, and they're actively being used for both purposes, to combine that synergy of academia with the industry and the reality of what's happening today. So they are becoming this connecting point between both worlds, where really, that's how you advance, and that's how you get into evolve your local community from a business perspective, but also to create pipelines of talent coming out of education into the workforce. And at the end, by the way, most of the pro, most of the students in the program right now, they're coming not necessarily out of high school or even college students. Those are adult learners that are coming back to learn AI. So it's really the AI centers become that space where at all learners and working professionals learn about what's happening, and they come to learn about AI at the point that 60% of the participants in the program, again, over 700 they are above 31 years old, and the largest bracket is above 41 years old. And this is incredible, for a brand new program to have, you know, 33% of your population in the program to be above 41 years old is incredible. It's a great opportunity for everyone to really learn about AI and understand how it works. So we're excited that the AI centers are playing that role and connecting the community with everything that we're doing.

Rhea Kelly  26:30
I love that idea of creating a space that brings people together around AI.

Antonio Delgado  26:36
Yeah, and I mentioned centers because it's not just one. We have eight campuses across Miami. We started with an AI center in one of the campuses, but we really realized, like geographic location matters in terms of attracting your local community. And we are now at three AI centers at the three largest campuses in North, Central, and South Miami: In the three locations we have now centers that really are not necessarily exactly the same, but they complement each other from different usage or technology and resources, and they're serving their local community with all these events, classes, and opportunities.

Rhea Kelly  27:15
I think that's a great note to end on. So thank you so much for coming on.

Antonio Delgado  27:20
Well, thank you again for having me and excited to always continue creating the pathways for the future and share those through your podcast.

Rhea Kelly  27:33
Thank you for joining us. I'm Rhea Kelly, and this was the Campus Technology Insider podcast. You can find us on the major podcast platforms or visit us online at Let us know what you think of this episode and what you'd like to hear in the future. Until next time.

comments powered by Disqus