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By Nikki Cabus

NextEra completes successful 4-week AI Bootcamp through Mark Cuban Foundation

Read Time 2 Minutes

Just this past weekend, NextEra Energy Resources completed the 4-week AI Bootcamp in collaboration with the Mark Cuban Foundation.

There were only 30 locations across the entire United States chosen for this program and two were approved here in South Florida: one in Miami and one in Palm Beach County. Although a fairly new initiative founded in 2019 by the Mark Cuban Foundation, the program attracted over 600 high school students in 9th – 12th grades.

There were over 20 high school students in attendance for the Palm Beach County program. Florida Power and Light sponsored and hosted the program at no cost to students. The classes were held in the beautiful FPL Manatee Lagoon in West Palm Beach which is an FPL Eco-Discovery Center.

Grace Kurian (pictured above on right) , Executive Director of Information Technology-Nuclear at NextEra Energy Inc, previously stated that “FPL is proud to serve as the host company for Mark Cuban’s AI Boot Camp for students who would otherwise not have exposure to programs in STEM. Our corporate culture is focused on giving back to the communities where we live and work. We are intentional about supporting and building thriving communities for the next generation.”

The program spanned 4 Saturdays from October 22nd to November 12th, but took months of planning, 22 volunteers and over 100+ volunteer hours to make this bootcamp come to life. Volunteers ranged from entry-level developers to the VP of IT and Business Unit CIO at FPL, Michael Fowler.

Normally taught at the collegiate level, students had the opportunity to interact in hands-on workshops about chatbots, AI, Machine learning and Natural Language processing – topics many had never encountered before.

Aimed to increase AI literacy and understanding in students from underserved communities, the high schools students didn’t need any prior experience with computer science, programming, or robotics to apply and attend.

Students completed a final project and made a presentation to the entire class. This not only helped them showcase their newly found technical skills, but the ability to present, communicate and practice public speaking skills.

At the close of the bootcamp, one students gave a thank you card with a kind message to his volunteer instructor: “Thank you for helping me with this bootcamp. I appreciate all your time and efforts into organizing this camp. I really learned a lot these past 4 weeks. Thank you!” 

By Nikki Cabus

FPL Pledges nearly $1 Million to Support Black Students in Tech with Degree Completion

Read Time 3 Minutes

Florida Power & Light (FPL) announced an $800,000 investment in scholarships for black students to facilitate the completion of baccalaureate degrees at Miami Dade College (MDC) in the technology field. The funds from FPL will be used to cover tuition, fees, books and transportation costs for eligible black students facing a financial need over the next 4 years. This support will allow students to focus on their education, accelerating completion and entry into the tech workforce in South Florida.

FPL has had a long standing relationship with MDC. “We recognize the value in the contemporary programs, degrees and curriculum that they have developed. In some cases, we’ve partnered with them to ensure that the students are getting skills that will enable them to be competitive in technology careers,” said Michael Fowler, VP of IT and Business Unit CIO for FPL and Co-Chair of the South Florida Tech Hub Board of Directors. “I’ve personally been impressed with the nimbleness of the college to stay ahead of the technology curve.”

“It is extremely satisfying to have partners such as FPL who are raising the bar of good corporate citizenship, investing in our students and, in turn, in our community,” said MDC President Madeline Pumariega. “We must be intentional and strategic in our efforts to bridge the opportunity divide. I am especially grateful with this initiative because it is in line with and expands many things we are already doing with our groundbreaking Rising Black Scholars Program, our MOSAIC Initiative, Data Science 4 All and others.”

Last year, NextEra Energy was again named to Forbes magazine’s list of “America’s Best Employers for Diversity. “We highly value diversity of thought, style, technical and functional abilities, and leadership. Our company identified specific actions our company could take to make transformational impact in race equity,” said Grace Kurian, Senior Director, Information Technology- Nuclear. “Our focus for Black Girls Code (BGC) falls in three main areas: 1) BGC alumni engagement to strengthen the pipeline of BGC alumni, 2) upscaling BGC curriculum for students 7-17 years old interested in robotics, coding, artificial intelligence, & data analysis, and 3) scholarship endowment funds to ensure current & future BGC students have scholarships to fund for college.”

According to research, low-income working college students are less likely than their higher-income peers to get good grades or obtain bachelor’s degrees. These working learners are disproportionately black. These grant funds from FPL will potentially enable students who work full-time or part-time to work fewer hours or to stop working to concentrate on their studies without the burden of financial distractions.

“At FPL, we believe in breaking down barriers to opportunity for underserved communities, and we are always looking for ways to help empower our next generation of leaders,” said Pamela Rauch, Vice President of External Affairs and Economic Development for FPL. “FPL has long supported Miami Dade College’s technology programs and students, and we are honored to be able to expand opportunities for eligible black students to help them build an even stronger foundation for in demand technology jobs.”

As part of the Black Students in Tech grant, the School of Engineering and Technology (EnTec) lead by Manny Perez, Dean of Engineering, Technology and Design, will lead the recruitment, selection and retention of 30 students per academic year on a pathway to baccalaureate degree programs such as in Information Systems Technology, Cybersecurity, or Data Analytics. Eligible students will begin qualifying for the grants this summer term. For more information and to apply to the scholarship visit here.

MDC and FPL will host an event with students accepted into the program this coming August and ahead of the fall term to provide an update on progress and celebrate student achievement.

 

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | FPL

Read Time 5 Minutes

Business: Florida Power & Light Company is the largest energy company in the U.S., serving 10 million+ people across Florida. FPL is one of the state’s largest employers.

Parent company:  NextEra Energy, a clean energy company and the world’s largest utility firm. 

Headquarters: Juno Beach, FL

No. on FPL tech team: 1,000 (approx. including contractors)

Speaking with: Michael Fowler, VP of IT at FPL

Fowler’s advice: “You have to be constantly refreshing your skills. If you graduate today, you will have to keep learning at an intense pace for the rest of your career… Otherwise you will be left behind.”

 

Michael Fowler is the Vice President of IT for FPL, leading one of the state’s largest tech teams. That includes all the IT professionals who support customer service, all who help get your power back on after an outage, and those who develop and maintain FPL’s mobile app and website. Under Fowler, about a thousand people work on FPL’s tech.

If you don’t know Fowler yet, you will. In addition to his executive role at FPL, he is the chair of Palm Beach Tech. He is also a leader on the Technical Advisory Committee for Palm Beach County Schools, passionate about nurturing the next generation of tech talent.

Let’s hear his thoughts about hiring tech talent and growing a tech community.

 

‘I DIDN’T KNOW THIS IS FLORIDA’

Before accepting a position at NextEra Energy, FPL’s parent company, about 9 years ago, Fowler spent 23 years in utilities in the Washington DC/ Baltimore area.

“Who can say no to West Palm? Part of it was the job opening was similar to what I was doing in Baltimore. And the other draw was NextEra, with their focus on renewables – it is just a great story. Why would you not want to work for a company that is driving toward the next era of renewable energy at scale? How many times do you get the opportunity to jump onto that train?”

And he adds: “On my first visit, I said wow, I didn’t know this is Florida.”

Still, Fowler quickly learned that hiring in South Florida was not nearly as easy as in the Washington DC area. “When I stumbled upon Palm Beach Tech and their vision to make this a tech hub, selfishly I became very interested. I always have needs for IT people,” said Fowler. “It’s connectors like Palm Beach Tech that have brought the community closer together.”

 

MAKING IMPACT AT SCALE 

Should you think working in tech at a utility isn’t sexy, think again.

“When you peel back the covers, we do some really interesting work. And I think that we do interesting work because we have a lot of smart, creative people,” Fowler said.

In the old days, FPL field work would always take a human and ladder. Now drones do some of that work.

“What you will see in the future is not only is the drone taking pictures of the work or the inspection, but when you add in AI it will get you to better, faster answers as well. It is a really exciting to be here at a utility with utility scale problems and being in IT to help them figure out how to do that better, faster, cheaper and by the way there is the safety component. If you don’t have someone crawl up on a ladder, you have just made the world a safer place.”

There’s more, said Fowler. “We have done smart outage – how do you give customers the best, most reliable answer on when their service will be restored? Customers want better, faster, more accurate data. My team has tackled some of those challenges, as well as getting the technology into the hands of the people who work in the field.”

 

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE NETWORKING

Fowler meets job candidates through networking at Palm Beach Tech’s meetups and hackathons and through PBT’s career boards.

“They just don’t stumble onto Juno and walk in the front door and say I want a job… They don’t sit at home with a bookmark on Careers at FPL and look at it every day. It takes proactiveness on our part to get out there and find the people.”

In his role on the Palm Beach County Schools Technical Advisory Council, which also includes local universities, Fowler tries to figure out how to build stronger partnerships not only for better curriculum but also to better connect students with the jobs they are looking for, he said.

A Palm Beach Tech project Fowler is focused on is bringing on an apprenticeship program that will build even more technical skills in the region. Palm Beach Tech is in discussions about collaborating with Miami Dade College, which received grant funding to build such a program.

“If we want to be a regional player, we need to figure out how to make these programs scale regionally. We’re stronger as a region if we can develop these programs that allows you to live, work and learn near where you want to do that,” Fowler said. “But we need a lot of participation from businesses up and down the region.”

 

PREACHING CONTINUOUS LEARNING

The apprenticeship program will help people to skill up, whether they have been in the workforce and want or need to learn tech, or they received an IT degree but need to polish up with some certifications, said Fowler.

Tech professionals need to be constantly updating their skills. Fowler uses Cloud skills as an example. Two years ago, just 2 of the 30 FPL IT interns used Cloud in their projects. Last year about half did, and this year all 33 interns used some form of Cloud in their projects. “In the space of two years, we have gone from the Cloud is sort of interesting to it is ubiquitous – you have to be there.”

Fowler also believes everyone should look for ways to invest in the next generation. “If you are in a leadership position, figure out how to make that next opportunity for that intern or that new college hire,” he said.

 “We are only going to win in this world economy by focusing on education. We will win in the global economy if our people are the best prepared to do their jobs.”

NextEra completes successful 4-week AI Bootcamp through Mark Cuban Foundation
FPL Pledges nearly $1 Million to Support Black Students in Tech with Degree Completion
Member Spotlight | FPL