Professor George Brown always starts his artificial intelligence (AI) class with a joke. A college AI course might not be where you’d expect to find a bit of stand-up, but Brown finds humor to be a lighthearted way to dive into AI material and dive into it. involve the students. It’s also a reminder that the AI isn’t very good at comedy yet. When the laughs die down, Brown gets back to the real business of her Best Practices Fundamentals AI and Machine Learning course at Houston Community College (HCC). For Brown’s students, the coursework and degree program provides the skills and experience they can use to land jobs in a multitude of industries where people who know how to apply AI tools to a problem are increasingly in demand. This is a new class and Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree for a “workforce” program that Brown developed with help from Amazon Web Services (AWS ).
Houston has long been a hub known for its role in healthcare, energy and space. But now it is also becoming known as a leader in the advancement of AI. Industries across all sectors are seeing more and more AI implementations pushing the boundaries of what is possible. This creates a growing need for AI-related workers across the country. Once a field of computing that required highly specialized degrees and years of academic experience, AI is becoming increasingly accessible to many developers and innovators. And HCC is at the forefront of it all. With the help of free courses from AWS Machine Learning University (MLU), HCC has introduced an innovative new curriculum that makes AI accessible to almost anyone, with no prior experience.
Brown’s AI Journey
Brown wasn’t always fascinated by AI. This passion came later in his career. For most of his life, Brown applied himself to being a condensed matter experimenter in physics. After earning a doctorate in physics, Brown spent decades in industry as an atmospheric physicist and university physics professor.
Having taught physics classes for more than 25 years, Brown already saw changes on the horizon with the advent of palm-sized computers and tabletop robots inspired by physics-based miniaturization and cloud-powered open source programming. Reducing and enhancing connected abilities allow all students access to the world of AI.
“When it comes to AI, students are hungry to learn everything they can,” Brown said. “There is always something in AI that anyone who touches it will be interested in.”
Accustomed to complex subjects, Brown moved eagerly from the world of physics to AI. Brown introduced a workforce program that offers two courses covering machine learning (ML) and computer vision (CV). Both are 16 week courses with no prerequisites. Students who complete the AAS degree program can transfer their credits to more advanced degree programs or enter the workforce as Application Support Specialists.
HCC AI Program
Brown built the HCC curriculum using an early version of the free MLU videos, labs, and workbooks to help open up the world of AI and ML to his students. MLU courses are based on the same content that Amazon uses to train its own developers and are part of AWS’s commitment to help 29 million people around the world develop their technical skills with free cloud computing training. Students begin by learning the AWS Management Console, where users can access developer tools and explore AWS services. They then dive deeper to learn powerful programs like Amazon Sage Makera fully managed service that allows users to build, train, and deploy machine learning models.
The level of access to AWS products and services is what makes the program so appealing, explained Denzel Wilson, an HCC alumnus. The hands-on learning experience gives students skills they can use in the job market.
“One of the biggest selling points for me was being able to use technology that real AWS people use,” Wilson said.
When Wilson was growing up, his family shared a Windows 95 Dell computer. However, Denzel was able to keep the computer in his room because no other family member knew how to use it. He played a fair amount of video games, but he also developed a curiosity for computers early on and quickly became the family’s information technology (IT) expert. Wilson’s curiosity led him to learn about brain-computer interfaces, and he discovered that AI is modeled after the human brain. At that time, his interest in computers changed from hobby to passion.
“When I came across brain-computer interfaces, it really got me thinking. I was like, ‘What is this?’ “Wilson said.
Now passionate about artificial intelligence, Wilson has already used his education to land a job as an automation consultant at Computer Aid Inc., and he has ambitious goals. Among these, he plans to expand the accessibility of AI skills to disadvantaged youth to inspire them for the future and to keep AI fair and ethical.
Neethi Gangidi, another HCC alum, wants to unleash the power of AI and ML to advance healthcare. With a background in the energy industry, Gangidi first explored ways to use AI to find potential efficiencies in the field. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she focused on applying AI in finding healthcare solutions.
“I want to build AI models in healthcare that can perform COVID analytics, so they can predict symptoms and other outcomes,” Gangidi said.
Gangidi also wants to apply his AI skills to other industries, such as cybersecurity, transportation and retail.
“I want to help develop the latest technology,” she said. “I want to be an innovator and I want to create something that is useful to society.”
Big ambitions like these will lead society into a technology-enabled advanced future.
Asked about the impact the HCC program is creating, Brown said, “I think we’re at the forefront of educational change through scalability.”
Additionally, Brown believes HCC is uniquely suited to foster radiance in every community.
“HCC prides itself on being one of the most diverse educational institutions in the country,” said Brown.
Along with many other Houston-based institutions, including NASA, which is currently leading the Artemis mission; Texas Medical Center, which is the largest medical center in the world; advanced manufacturing; and energy companies – HCC students have a wealth of opportunities to explore in their own backyard.
Brown believes that the combination of advanced technologies and diverse perspectives provides endless possibilities for innovation. Equipped with the skills they need, HCC AAS graduates will be able to advance themselves, the workforce, and society through AI.
Inspired by Brown’s ingenuity and dedication to his students, AWS has launched a new turnkey education solution for educational institutions creating strong new curriculum and resources to help educators deliver content in a classroom.
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