WCTC first technical college in the state to offer artificial intelligence (AI) associate degree
PEWAUKEE, Wis. (Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023) – Waukesha County Technical College received approval from the Wisconsin Technical College System Board to offer a 60-credit Artificial Intelligence (AI) Data Specialist Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree program – making it the first two-year AI program to be offered in Wisconsin.
“We are pushing the envelope on artificial intelligence and we intend to lead indefinitely,” said Rich Barnhouse, Ph.D., president of WCTC. “With the addition of the new two-year AI degree -- on top of the three new AI certificates announced earlier this year -- WCTC is setting the pace for AI learning for business and industry in southeastern Wisconsin."
Extensive research and employer input
Over the past two years, the College conducted extensive research on developing an artificial intelligence degree program. This included several information gathering sessions made up of employees from healthcare, manufacturing, information technology, insurance and other industries.
“As the first in the Wisconsin Technical College System to have an approved associate degree, we are taking steps to help our local businesses embrace this new frontier of technology innovation. The program we built is based on what these businesses told us they need, and we are looking forward to providing graduates who can meet that need,” said Alli Jerger, associate dean of Business Information Technology at WCTC. “We are excited to be leading the way in the fast-growing field of artificial intelligence.”
The College began its foray into AI this semester by offering three new certificates designed to arm workers with the skillsets required for AI and data-related jobs. Foundations of AI provides an introduction to AI and focuses on data skills to support artificial intelligence; AI Technician digs deeper into the field of AI and dives into predictive analytics, image recognition and natural language processing; and Foundations of Data Analytics serves as an introduction into the fast-growing field of data analytics. These three certificates ladder into the AI Data Specialist degree program -- which will begin in fall 2024 -- allowing students to build their credentials along the way and develop more sophisticated AI skills in later courses, such as Industrial Data Acquisition, Computer Vision, Natural Language Processing and Big Data Engineering. (WCTC’s AI offerings are focused on conventional AI, which analyzes data to make predictions and find patterns, while generative AI starts with a prompt and creates new content and data).
Demand for trained AI employees poised to grow
The demand for trained AI professionals is expanding, as evidenced by results from the information gathering sessions. Employers will need workers to handle tasks such as preparing data for use by data scientists/engineers and implementing pre-packaged AI solutions, including the setup, monitoring and operation – all of which can increase efficiency, effectiveness and capacity within their organization.
Eaton Corp, a Waukesha-based diversified power management company, was one of several businesses that participated in the employer sessions during the AAS development phase. Company leaders say they anticipate adding employees with AI skills to help support future operations.
“As AI continues to grow, it is increasingly difficult to find qualified individuals with the experience and knowledge needed,” said Guillaume Laur, senior vice president and general manager of Eaton’s Power Delivery & Regulation Division. “At Eaton, we envision AI transforming manufacturing and recognize the need to integrate it into our workforce. AI technical programs at WCTC will benefit our company and the region.”
AI certificates, degree just the beginning
WCTC is also developing an AI innovation and incubator center that will bring together entrepreneurs with AI professionals to help create new businesses focused on applied AI.
“Our goal is not just to provide a space for new businesses to bring their plans to life, but to also provide an environment of collaboration and ingenuity," Barnhouse said. "The center will be a place where current business and industry partners can learn more about how to modernize their operations by leveraging AI and the vast amount of resources WCTC has available to them. Our announcement today is just the beginning.”
>> To learn more about the new AI associate degree, visit www.wctc.edu/ai-spec.
Waukesha County Technical College, the leader in workforce development, prepares learners for success within the region and global economy. The College offers more than 170 areas of study including associate degree, technical diploma, apprenticeship and short-term certificate programs. Customized training for employers is also available. To learn more, visit www.wctc.edu.