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DCO Tech NSF Grant

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DCO Tech: Expanding Regional Capacity for Training in Engineering Technology and Data Center Operations

Grant Overview

Data Center Operations Tech (DCO Tech) is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through its Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program (Award #2055717). The goals of this project are to improve regional pathways to careers in Engineering Technology (ET) and Data Center Operations (DCO). This project funds summer bridge programs for high school students, externships for high school counselors, and career development for NOVA’s ET and DCO students.

Common software systems, such as those based on artificial intelligence, often require a cloud-based computing infrastructure. As cloud-based computing has expanded, so has the need for the data center infrastructure needed to support it. Data centers require significant capital investment, as well as ongoing operational maintenance. Because of tax incentives enacted by the state legislature, data centers are expanding rapidly in Virginia. As data center capacity expands, a trained engineering technology workforce is required to run these data centers. To address this urgent need, this project will expand the engineering technology program at Northern Virginia Community College by improving the recruitment and education of qualified technicians. By fostering a community of practice between industry, secondary educators, and college faculty, the project team plans to improve the workforce pipeline for engineering technology in the northern Virginia region and ensure that students have the skills required to be successfully employed in the data center industry.

This project intends to advance understanding about the efficacy of bridge programs to promote recruitment of underrepresented minorities into higher education. It will also examine the efficacy of bridge programs and internship preparation for improving student career attitudes and readiness. It expects to increase the regional supply of engineering technology technicians through the following activities: (1) a two-week summer bridge program focused on career exploration and hands-on learning; (2) an internship preparatory program designed to support students in developing career readiness; (3) an externship for high school educators and industry professionals to develop first-hand knowledge of regional career pathways for engineering technology; and, (5) a veterans outreach program to inform military-connected students about the College’s engineering technology programs. This project is funded by the Advanced Technological Education program that focuses on the education of technicians for the advanced-technology fields that drive the nation's economy. 

The Engineering Technology bridge program helps students entering college learn about in-demand careers in engineering technology and data center operations, meet industry representatives and NOVA faculty, and visit regional employers.  

Summer 2022: Bridge students toured 2 NOVA campuses, visited industry partners (Micron and STACK Infrastructure) and conducted hands-on activities at NOVA’s mechatronics and data center labs. The program featured guest speakers from NOVA’s student support offices, IET faculty members, and industry volunteers. 20 high school students completed the 2-week program and earned 1 college credit with the opportunity to earn their OSHA 10 certification. NOVA provided free transportation between NOVA campuses to reduce barriers to participation. Read more about the first series of summer bridge programs.

Summer 2023: The program is underway for the summer. Due to regional demand, NOVA will be now offering two sessions of the program:

Session 1: June 20 – 29, NOVA Manassas & Loudoun Campuses

Session 2: July 17 – 28, NOVA Annandale & Woodbridge Campuses

DCO Tech funds career readiness for NOVA ET students through the Career and Leadership Readiness Institute (CLRI), which enhances leadership skills and develops career connections, teaching students how to interview, create a standout resume, network effectively, and manage interpersonal skills.

Additionally, students from the Engineering Technology (ET) and DCO programs visit regional employers for a site visit. 3 DCO students completed the CLRI program in 2022, and 3 ET/DCO students received job offers directly from the CLRI program. Read about CLRI’s 2022 Networking Event.

More about CLRI

For 2023, 10 DCO students are on track to complete the program. 

The K-12 Educator Externship raises awareness for Engineering Technology and Data Center Operations career pathways among secondary educators. The program provides teachers, counselors, and administrators with first-hand knowledge of engineering technology and data center operations through industry site visits and engagement with NOVA’s related programs of study.

In 2022, 18 educators completed the externship and participated in site visits to Micron Technology, Stack Infrastructure, and NOVA’s Fab Lab to help inform them on creating an action plan to improve the pipeline of students entering the workforce as technicians for DCO or Engineering Technology.

In polling, 100% of participants rated the overall externship as above average or excellent. All participants expressed moderate to very confident in their ability to provide information to their colleagues and to guide students to ET and DCO careers. 

Recruitment is currently underway for the 2023 K-12 externship. Apply here.

DCO Tech Grant Outcomes

DCO Tech Grant Graphic


NOVA shared project results at the ATE Principal Investigator’s conference (read more) and at the Association for Career & Technical Education’s annual meeting. At these conferences, NOVA staff provided insights for attendees interested in building connections with data centers in their own service areas.

NOVA commissioned the project’s independent evaluator, Magnolia Consulting, to conduct a series of interviews of K-12 administrators and industry representatives. The purpose of these interviews was to determine the state of the pipeline for ET and DCO careers in the Northern Virginia region. The results have been compiled into a report that suggested that these careers, while lucrative, are largely invisible to students, parents, and other stakeholders. Read the report here.