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Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021

LSUS Strategic Partnerships Benefitting the Technology Workforce, Ark-La-Tex Students

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In the southeast corner of Shreveport amongst the crepe myrtle-lined sidewalks, a technology-centered educational revolution is burgeoning. Over the course of the past five years, Louisiana State University Shreveport has been undergoing a transformation. Under the direction of Chancellor Larry Clark, the university has made a conscious shift to increase strategic partnerships with industry leaders in the Ark-La-Tex and beyond. The growth of these partnerships has allowed LSUS to expand certification offerings and build degree pathways that directly impact the workforce.

Partnerships are much of what Dr. Julie Lessiter, vice chancellor for strategic initiatives, deals in. Lessiter regularly examines data points of the labor market to identify ways that LSUS students can fill employment gaps or how the LSUS Continuing Education Department can fill the skills gaps of the local workforce through alternative certifications. “Every partnership has to be mutually beneficial,” explained Lessiter. “LSUS has to be able to prove to industry that we are willing and able to help them, and private industry has to help us get there.”

The recent announcement of LSUS’s free Unity 3D certification courses in January is a perfect example of these symbiotic relationships. “The biggest change in the workforce of today and the workforce of 2030, will be the demand for technical programming skills,” said Melissa Oldrin, head education programs, social impact, Unity. “By partnering with universities like LSU Shreveport, who offer courses to help students become Unity-certified, we can enable more learners to build the skills necessary to compete in tomorrow’s job market.”

3D Media and Ingalls Information Security, two private Louisiana technology firms, recognized the need for skilled workers in 3D modeling and visualization. Both companies committed to funding the certifications if LSUS would teach the courses. “The modeling simulation and training industry is growing expeditiously,” said a company spokesman for 3D Media, a Louisiana-based company creating virtual and augmented reality defense training mechanisms. “In almost every industry across the globe, companies are investing in these technologies for a myriad of reasons, which in turn has generated thousands of job openings for Unity developers.”

“We know current and upcoming generations love to play computer games and participate in esports,” Lessiter added. “We are embracing this generation and helping them channel their love of gaming into in- demand, transferable skills in a growing career field. It is our mission at LSUS to prepare students to be successful in the digital economy.”

Embracing the technology-first focus, LSUS has had to incorporate some new and nontraditional models to garner the attention of novel industry partners. Esports, the growing online gaming phenomenon and multi-billion-dollar industry, has become an officially sanctioned sport on the Shreveport campus. Investment in an on-campus gaming arena and growth of the Esports Club’s popularity attracted George Foreman Jr., an LSUS alumnus and chief strategy officer of The Culture Equity, to partner with the university on a recent two-day esports tournament. “As an LSUS alumnus, I am personally vested in the strategic partnership between The Culture Equity and LSU Shreveport,” Foreman Jr. said. “Through this partnership, we are creating programming and experiences for the Ark-La-Tex region that demonstrate what’s next in education, innovation, esports and technology.”

The tournament attracted players from across the U.S., including teams from Colorado, Utah and Pennsylvania, for a total of more than 150 players. The university is already planning its next tournament with The Culture Equity and is looking for ways to expand the footprint of the event, as well as ways to utilize it for recruitment efforts.

“Our mission is to expose students in this region to gaming concepts to provide a gateway into careers associated with digital media,” Lessiter said. “Whether it’s video game technology, simulation, Unity 3D, development or any other ancillary jobs that exist in this industry, we can’t overstate the importance of normalizing the utilization of technology to spark innovation and creativity in the next generation.”

Recent national rankings for the computer science undergraduate and graduate programs of the university further accentuate LSUS’s commitment to being a leader in the tech space. Partnerships with firms like Ingalls and GDIT during the summer of 2021 allowed elementary school children to learn basic coding and game design in a completely free camp taught by students of the graduate program.

“We’re really trying to look at this from all angles,” affirmed Lessiter. “We want to figure out what we can do to benefit the community, build a workforce pipeline, engage current and future students, utilize resources we already have and cultivate new ones. There’s a synergy to it all, and we are well on our way to achieving it.”

Erin Smith, director of digital media and website management at LSUS

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