Women standing between a glass case and a sign.
May. 6, 2024

Aliya Ojuade, a senior at Rancho High School, is not your average teenager. With a passion for technology and a drive to excel, she's set her sights on a future where possibilities are limitless.

Starting from Scratch  

Aliya's journey began with an itch of sorts. "I was always interested in computer science," she recalls. "When I was younger, I casually learned coding through a program called Scratch, where I got to make games online for fun." This early exposure planted a seed of curiosity that would grow into love for all things digital.

Nowadays her screen time isn’t all fun and games, but Aliya is driven by a desire to turn her passion into a career. From enrolling in advanced placement courses to exploring coding languages, she eagerly embraces every opportunity to delve deeper into the world of technology. So, when the chance arose to apply for UNLV’s Information Technology (IT) Pipeline Project, she seized it with unwavering determination. 

Getting a Head Start through Dual-Enrollment

Hosted by UNLV’s College of Education, the unique dual-enrollment program allows high school students to earn college credits and develop critical skills for the IT field. In 2023, Nevada’s Department of Employment Training and Rehabilitation and Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act State Plan identified IT as the state’s top ranking in-demand industry

Principal investigator of the grant funded program, Dr. Xue (Cher) Xing, heard the call and  knew she had to answer. She joined forces with College of Engineering colleagues Yingtao Jiang and Mei Yang,, and Hasan Deniz, director of COE’s Center for Mathematics, Science, and Engineering Education. 

“Nevada needs a workforce pipeline program that attracts and retains local talent, “Cher explains “This is the first program of its kind in the state, offering comprehensive curriculum and activities that lead to IT options for postsecondary education and employment.”

Offered to high school juniors and seniors who’ve had some exposure to the IT field, the program is a year-long immersive and accelerated learning experience. Students gather on UNLV’s campus each Saturday to complete two college courses, three IT workshops, and participate in industry certification exam preparation. In the Spring they work towards a final project showcase, attend a career fair, and apply their knowledge in the summer with an 8-10 week paid internship.

Discovering New Career Paths

For Aliya, the program symbolized more than just an educational opportunity. "Now, being in this program, I have a way to propel myself into the computer science field," she expressed, proud to be one of 30 students in the first group. "It means a lot to be selected and be on track to fulfill my childhood dreams of working in the field." With each milestone she achieves, Aliya's passion for technology only grows stronger. From creating her first website to exploring artificial intelligence technologies to learning C++, a new coding language, her horizons continue to expand. 

Though she came to the program interested in computer science, industry field trips to the City of Las Vegas International Innovation Center and other worksites have revealed new avenues of opportunity. "Since visiting the Las Vegas Valley Water District, my interests have shifted," she shares. "I actually changed the certification I wanted to get through this program to the [cyber] security plus one, instead of computer science."

Embracing Real World Learning Opportunities

Over the last seven months, Aliya has embraced challenges with tenacity and resilience. As she continues through the program, her vision for the future has become more clear. Her short-term goal is to gain hands-on experience through an internship with industry partner Aristocrat Gaming. "I'm hoping to learn more about cybersecurity through the internship and how it applies to real-world situations in the gaming industry. While we have learned about it and how it works, I think it's different from actually seeing it in the real world versus just in class." 

Cher knows how critical highly-coveted tech internship opportunities are to setting students up for IT career success. “Our employer partners truly invest in our students and offer competitive wages, professional mentorship, and real-world projects to accelerate the work-based learning experience for students.” This level of commitment is paramount to students’ success and creating a robust local workforce. 

Looking at a Bright Future

Today, as Aliya stands on the precipice of a bright future. “Aliya has set a great example for all students interested in STEM majors.” praised Mei. “When given support and opportunities like this, future female students like her will continue to shine as their male peers.”  Dr. Yang and her colleagues hope to see more female students benefit from this STEM pipeline project. 

With acceptance letters from prestigious universities like Georgia Tech in hand, Aliya prepares to embark on the next chapter of her adventure. "Because of this program, I was able to narrow my STEM interests and won't have to change things up in the middle of college." With her story representing just one student’s experience, this program could pave the way for a new and diverse generation of STEM professionals.