The University of Florida Institute of Higher Education (IHE) has been awarded $600,000 from the National Science Foundation to enhance access and success among underrepresented students in community college Information Technology (IT) programs.

The project, titled “iConnect: Improving Access and Success for Underserved Students in Information Technology Programs Through Education-Industry Connections,” was designed in response to the lack of diversity and equity in community college IT programs as well as local workforce shortages in the IT industry.

Led by principal investigator Dr. Justin Ortagus, director of IHE and assistant professor of higher education administration and policy, the project is a research-practice partnership with Indian River State College (IRSC), a Florida College system institution, that will partner with IHE to develop and implement interventions designed to improve access and student outcomes for historically underrepresented students in IT programs.

iConnect will identify and address current barriers to IT enrollment, redesign gateway online IT courses to optimize student success, and connect with local IT employers to integrate recommended industry skills into IT curricula.

“The iConnect project sits at the intersection of so many important issues and allows IHE to partner with one of our nation’s top community colleges to ensure more students gain access and experience success in high-demand IT fields,” said Ortagus.

Co-principal investigators at UF include Drs. Lindsay Lynch , clinical assistant professor of higher education administration and policy and Pavlo “Pasha” Antonenko, associate professor of educational technology. Co-principal investigators at IRSC include Dr. Kendall St. Hilaire, assistant dean of IRSC Virtual Campus, and Clifford Kemp, master instructor of computer IT.

The iConnect project will aim to improve outcomes related to the number of underrepresented students who are enrolling in IT programs, student success in gateway online IT courses, and student persistence in IT programs. All outcomes are designed to lead to an expanded, more diverse IT industry pipeline in the surrounding area.

“IRSC is excited to partner with UF IHE on the iConnect project,” said St. Hilaire. “Through the creative work of faculty, instructional designers and workforce leaders, IRSC students will benefit greatly from project activities and learn more about high-quality career opportunities in IT.”

The project is expected to be completed in 2023.

Justin Ortagus