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In UAB IT, student assistants have the opportunity to learn under experienced IT professionals — with an eye toward their first career steps.

“I came from a bunch of dead-end jobs that had nothing to do with my schooling or passion. Coming into UAB I get to grow and find out who I am and what I want to do. Everyone here supports me and treats me like an adult,” said Allie King, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, focusing on criminal justice. “I get to make my own schedule, and I am not drowning in work. They make it easier for us to succeed.”

King works in Information Security at UAB’s new Technology Innovation Center. After hearing from a classmate about the position, she quickly jumped on the opportunity. Now King gets to work in a field she will be focusing on in graduate school this fall. 

From the hard skills of coding to the soft skills of customer service, each department is guiding the next generation.

“This job is the building block for my future,” said Nautishay Cain, a computer science major who works in AskIT as a help desk technician. “I have multiple paths that I can take with a computer science degree. Working here has helped me break out of my shell, and I’ve learned how to ask the questions no one would ask. I feel like I can do anything with the knowledge I receive.”

Before coming to UAB, Cain was a student in South Alabama. She started studying business administration, then changed her major to computer engineering. After taking a coding boot camp one summer in Birmingham, she was hooked on the process of software development. Cain said it is a “love-hate relationship” with coding, but it gives her a challenge.

Cain and King are both members of the newly launched UAB IT student organization Next-Gen IT.  This group was created to help connect the students spread across the departments and offers new ways to boost professionalism and enhance the skills needed for future jobs. Jennifer Jones and Macy Jane Moon — both former UAB IT student assistants themselves — founded and head the group and invite speakers to come in and talk to these students. From workshops on LinkedIn profiles to pizza parties with Vice President and CIO Curtis A. Carver Jr., Ph.D., the student group is aimed to students grow professionally during their time in IT.

A study released in 2020 by the American Society for Engineering Education revealed that students working on campus achieve better grades and feel more connected with their studies. Furthermore, GPA increases when students are working in a field related to their major or degree. Studies show that students working fewer than than 20 hours a week have higher scores on grades and better overall work attitude.

UAB IT allows students the opportunity to work up to 20 hours a week around their class schedules. Along with professional success, academic success is a top priority for managers.

On average, UAB IT has two or three student assistants per department. This gives managers the chance to help each student learn. Depending on the department, managers hold daily or weekly meetings to catch up with projects or issues. It keeps everyone on task but allows personal time with student assistants.

“My mentor has been extremely patient with me; he explains things to me and helps me clearly understand everything that is going in with the research project — especially since I do not know anything about ophthalmology. He is always there to answer my questions about anything,” said Ashok Nagubadi, a student assistant in Research Computing.

Nagubadi said one thing he learned when starting in October 2021, is that it was OK to use Google to find answers. He frequently uses the search engine while working on research projects for the Cheaha supercomputer. He has a background in coding, but sometimes “Google backs him up” when he needs reassurance on a problem.

Nagubadi said he finds that each day holds something new to learn. Working on research projects has taught him different ways to think about issues. Instead of vertical thinking, also known as analytic thinking, he now uses horizontal, or strategic, thinking skills. It helps him understand the process of research more in-depth than ever before.

Andrew Crouch is a student assistant with AskIT who previously worked at the Hill Student Center. When he is not working with customers, Crouch is working at an off-campus student association. The soft skills of working with customers easily translate to working with peers, and have helped him learn how to keep a professional attitude towards stressful situations. Crouch said UAB IT has helped him realize the amount of help the department gives to the University.

 “One of my forensic professors told me that this was probably one the greatest jobs a student in my field could get. We are exposed to all the different technologies and also the experience of troubleshooting the issues that arise with them,” Crouch said.

Many of these students come into the field with basic knowledge for the job. Some may already have a background in coding, software systems, or customer service. The point of students working here is to build upon the skills and translate them to the next phase of life.

“I really enjoy getting to work with the students. It is rewarding to teach them skills and to learn from them as well,” said Lisa Lee, manager for TechConnect, UAB IT’s on-campus technology store.

Tech Connect opened its doors in 2015 and has helped student employees learn skills such as customer service, troubleshooting, and more. Even though it is considered a retail position, these students are still being enriched in the experience of working with the public and handling important devices.

Jones, a human resources administrator who helped co-found the Next-Gen IT student group, remembers beginning her career at UAB IT as a student assistant in 2017.

“I was so nervous because this was my first real, big girl job,” Jones said. “My nerves were quickly put to ease when everyone was so inviting, warm, and friendly on my first day of work. Everybody took me under their wing, and I instantly felt like I was part of the team.”

After graduating Jones quickly became a full-time member of the Human Resources team and now helps run the student organization for UAB IT students. Some students will continue their career in the department, as Jones and Moon did, while others will take the skills they learned to new opportunities.

“Every student is a vital part of the department; our assistants keep us on our toes and bring new ideas to the table," Carver said. “As each assistant moves on to the next part of their life, we hope that UAB IT has supplied them with the tools to take on the next big innovation of their career.”