First Immersive CodeCamp Class Gets Trained Fast for In-Demand IT Jobs

By on September 4, 2019
First Immersive CodeCamp Class

St. Louis Community College’s (STLCC) Immersive CodeCamp, powered by LaunchCode, delivers fast-tracked training to a diverse inaugural cohort, accelerating the path into a high-demand coding career.

When students are offered an opportunity to express a few words about their program experience at graduation, the request is often met by a few moments of silence before the ceremony gets back on its way. So, it certainly says something remarkable about a program when six students eagerly take the microphone for nearly 20 minutes and share their heartfelt stories about the cohort’s diversity and closeness, the intensive training and their gratitude for the opportunity.

Such was the case at the July 18 graduation ceremony for the inaugural class of STLCC’s Immersive CodeCamp. Delivered in partnership with LaunchCode, the intensive 14-week, full-time program combines a proven coding curriculum with important wrap-around services like individualized career coaching, loaner computers, transportation resources and other support services.

“We became more than a class; we became a community,” said student Emma Richardson. “There were incredibly diverse backgrounds. People with master’s degrees, people straight out of high school, diversity of race, gender, age.”

Former full-time mother, Katherine Van Uum, was included in this mix. Van Uum was eager to get back into the job market after spending years raising her children, but so much had changed that she wasn’t quite sure which path to take.

Immersive CodeCamp student Katherine Van Uum at the graduation podium

Immersive CodeCamp student, Katherine Van Uum, on stage at the graduation ceremony.

“I was ready to on-board, but the job market is perplexing these days,” said Van Uum. “You throw out a résumé, then you never hear anything. And I threw out a lot of résumés!”

Van Uum, who has previous information technology (IT) work experience, was informed about the Immersive CodeCamp opportunity by multiple people who thought it might be a good fit for her.

“Three different people reached out to me about the program a week before the class started and said, ‘This looks like something you might enjoy!’” said Van Uum. “I applied, and it all came together very quickly. I did the online assessment tool, and then I had an interview and the class started the following Monday. It was such a great adventure.”

A program born from a powerful partnership, aimed at uniting underserved community members with strong career possibilities

Since the collaboration between the College and LaunchCode began in 2015, more than 500 students have participated in LaunchCode cohorts at STLCC. The new Immersive CodeCamp program provides participants with a chance to get skilled up fast for a lucrative career.

STLCC chancellor Jeff Pittman addresses the CodeCamp graduation crowd

STLCC chancellor, Dr. Jeff Pittman, addresses the crowd during the CodeCamp graduation ceremony.

“We are excited that our partnership continues to gain momentum as we unite to offer the Immersive CodeCamp accelerated training,” said STLCC chancellor, Dr. Jeff Pittman. “The College has invested $100,000 in starting this program because we believe in it.”

Dr. Pittman heard LaunchCode executive director, Jeff Mazur, speak at the Missouri governor’s conference last fall where Mazur shared insights around the huge need St. Louis City and County employers have for coders. The two organizations quickly identified an opportunity to fast-track students through the training program to meet the substantial demand for these high-wage IT jobs.

“The community college and LaunchCode, at the core, have the same mission, and that’s to help people get skills and get them into good jobs so they can sustain their families, make this economy work better and make the St. Louis region a better place,” Mazur told the graduation audience.

LaunchCode executive director, Jeff Mazur, speaks at the CodeCamp graduation

LaunchCode executive director, Jeff Mazur, speaks to the CodeCamp graduation audience.

The program addresses two major workforce gaps in the St. Louis area. The first is the need to offer in-demand IT training to individuals seeking a career boost—especially members of underserved communities. STLCC’s Immersive CodeCamp is held at the William J. Harrison Education Center, purposely positioned in the federally-designated, high-poverty St. Louis Promise Zone—an area where community partners and local leaders give communities proven tools to rebuild and put people back to work.

Recruitment for the second cohort will emphasize selecting Promise Zone applicants for the program with the help of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, an organization that exists to empower African Americans and others throughout the region in securing economic self-reliance, social equality, and civil rights. The Urban League will focus on bringing underserved applicants to the table as well as assisting with job placements. In addition, Bank of America recently provided the College with a $30,000 grant to back the delivery of Immersive CodeCamp to underserved groups.

The second major need the program addresses is to connect these trained individuals to employers striving to fill much-needed IT roles during this full employment economy. IT workers continue to be in high demand: STLCC’s 2019 State of the St. Louis Workforce Report reveals that the percentage of respondents employing IT staff increased from 20% in 2017 to 26% in 2019, with the rate of shortage increasing from 4% to 7% in over the same period.

For Van Uum, the opportunity to enter the high-demand IT job market with the support of two established entities was irresistible.

“I see how beautifully LaunchCode and St. Louis Community College can work together,” said Van Uum. “Obviously, the infrastructure from the College is a great advantage, and LaunchCode is also very committed to being innovative and forward-thinking. I think these two organizations working together to create this IT innovation space and make this commitment to the community is a really great sign for the future of our region.”

Grit, encouragement and coding skills: The keys to an exciting new career path

Several students and staff members spoke of the program’s intensity at the graduation ceremony, reinforcing the necessity of good support and underscoring the significance of the accomplishment.

“I can say without a doubt I’ve never served a population with such tenacity and with such a sense of community and purpose,” CodeCamp teaching assistant, Hilary Packard told the ceremony crowd.

“These people gave themselves over to a grueling schedule, an incredibly difficult subject, and they made themselves better, they made their friends better, and they made St. Louis better,” Mazur said.

The students expressed gratitude for the confidence boost the program brought them.

“It was very hard for me at times, but I knew this was something I could do,” student Jarrod Sharp said as he addressed the graduation audience. “I’ve been trying to do this for a while, but the biggest thing I learned was I was good enough to make it.”

LaunchCode executive director, Jeff Mazur, speaks to the CodeCamp graduation audience.

Immersive CodeCamp student, Jarrod Sharp, expresses his gratitude for the program during the graduation ceremony.

Many students attributed a great deal of their success to the support they received from the CodeCamp staff.

“Our instructor, Mike Schmidt, was unbelievable, heroic,” said Van Uum. “The teaching assistants were fantastic.”

Immersive CodeCamp graduates are eligible for LaunchCode’s Apprenticeship Program, which matches job-ready candidates with companies in need of entry-level tech talent. LaunchCode works with over 300 companies in the St. Louis region. In this cohort’s case, many students were placed into paid apprenticeships prior to graduation and have the possibility to be hired on as full-time employees. According to LaunchCode, four out of five apprentices convert to permanent employment, and the average starting salary for a LaunchCode graduate is around $55,000.

Graduate Katie Jones, who started an apprenticeship just a few short days after the class ended, found that the experience opened her eyes to the abundance of opportunity that exists in the St. Louis tech community.

“I learned so much about myself, about programming, about the tech space and the community here, and I learned that there is more out there than I ever could have imagined,” said Jones.

Van Uum felt elated and lucky to land an apprenticeship prior to graduation.

“I was very fortunate,” she said. “I skipped my family vacation because I knew there might be an interview opportunity, and it materialized. I’m really, really excited. It’s the next step in the journey. Being an apprentice will give me another opportunity to continue learning.”

The inaugural Immersive CodeCamp cohort capitalized on the chances they were given, leveraged the resources available, banded together, applied themselves and proved that it is possible to pivot into a new career path.

“When I tell folks about this that don’t know about the program, they ask, ‘Is this too good to be true? Is this a real thing?’” said student Daniel Milholland. “People are so excited to learn about this program, and I just can’t say enough about what an exciting opportunity this was.”

Recruitment is now underway for the next Immersive CodeCamp cohort beginning in October. Visit stlcc.edu/codecamp to learn more.

First Immersive CodeCamp Class

First Immersive CodeCamp graduating class.

About Rebecca Rutherford

Rebecca Rutherford is Marketing Communications Coordinator of St. Louis Community College’s Workforce Solutions Group, which delivers non-credit continuing education opportunities, corporate training and community services to the St. Louis region.

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