JULY 25, 2022
PHOENIX, AZ (July 25, 2022) – When Tennessee Jackson, homeless after escaping an abusive situation, found Fresh Start Women’s Foundation, she also found a future as a semiconductor engineer at Intel by graduating as part of the first class of the groundbreaking Semiconductor Technician Quick Start program at Mesa Community College.
Escaping years ago from an abusive relationship and having to sleep on the streets, Tennessee Jackson took one final shot at turning things around. Now she’s aiming at a tech job with Intel Corp.
Earlier this month, Jackson became one of 12 women who graduated from the inaugural Semiconductor Technician Quick Start program at Mesa Community College, offered through the Fresh Start Women’s Foundation nonprofit in downtown Phoenix.
The women gathered in a conference room with a lectern at the front and an elaborate charcuterie board in the back. Jackson sat at a table with her four children, all boys, as the ceremony began.
In May, they sat in a classroom and started the two-week, 40-hour intensive semiconductor boot camp. Funded by Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) and supported by Maricopa Community Colleges, the program teaches semiconductor basics, awards college credit and gives students the opportunity to interview with Intel for a technician role.
U.S. First Lady Jill Biden even met with the Maricopa Community Colleges District (MCCD) leaders when she visited the Intel campus in Chandler in March to discuss the program and its first all-woman class.
The semiconductor industry is growing in Arizona: Intel is investing $20 billion to build two new semiconductor factories, called fabs; Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company is well on its way to building its first fab on American soil in north Phoenix.
Intel used to wait for talent to come to it, said Angela Creedon, the company’s director of local government and higher education. Now, as the California-based company looks to hire 3,000 technicians in the next few years, the semiconductor boot camp is one way Intel is creating talent pipelines and engaging with the industry and higher education.
Community colleges were the perfect place to start this kind of program. The colleges can maneuver through their own system for quick development. In addition, most people who express interest in becoming technicians do not have previous college experience; 57% of incoming boot camp participants are first-time college students.
But Intel is taking it a step further: the target audience for these initial classes are women, veterans and underrepresented minorities. “We would really like to recruit that audience to the manufacturing industry and really change the way they think about our industry,” Creedon said.
Intel’s goal is to increase the number of women in technical roles to 40% and double the numbers of women and underrepresented minorities in senior roles by 2030.
Beacon of hope for women without a path
Fresh Start provides access and resources to help women facing barriers, including domestic violence, general poverty and unemployment, become self-sufficient and thrive.
Fresh Start President and CEO Kim McWaters said the partnership with Intel represents a life-changing opportunity for the women they serve.
The nonprofit served over 3,000 women in 2021, the majority of whom are single mothers. Two-thirds of the women are women of color. Approximately 70% are coming out of a domestic violence situation, McWaters said. And if they are employed, their income levels are typically below $25,000 annually.
Graduate Emily Tucciarone was going through a difficult period of her life looking for self-sufficiency. In the bootcamp, she said that, alongside skills that will provide for a better future, she found confidence, self-love and pride.
“A lot of times, especially women…we’re prideful, and we don’t want to ask for the help, or we don’t have the resources available to help. We don’t have the support,” said Tucciarone, who also gave a speech at the graduation that received a standing ovation.
Tennessee Jackson had to leave her whole life behind to run from an abusive situation — her career at a multimillion-dollar company, her home, even her children. She slept behind an abandoned building. But on her way to catch a bus, she caught the words ‘Fresh Start’ on a building. Something about it called to her.
“So I came back the very next day, and the moment that I came inside, it said to me that we’ve been waiting for you,” Jackson said.
Starting in 2019, she took classes that put a name to the domestic violence she had been through, a process that helped her bring her children home. She was also taught money management. She applied for the bootcamp to show she is correcting her mistakes.
“I realized technology is shaping our future,” Jackson said. “I wanted to be a part of something that touches the lives of everybody on the planet.”
Jackson met Max Torres, technical program manager at Intel and adjunct instructor at MCCD for the bootcamp. Torres said teaching is a pay-it-forward opportunity after Intel hired him to wipe down machines when he was in a similar position in college.
Torres taught everything from basic electronics and pneumatics to handing tools and probing tools. Jackson listed off more of what she’s learned: capacitors and loads, volts and volt meters, analog versus digital and model-based problem solving — a key skill necessary at Intel. Instruction is spread across 10 intense days of hybrid work, inside and outside the classroom.
The bootcamp readies graduates for the technician role, basic operator level jobs that perform tasks like maintaining the machines in the fabs. It gives them a foothold to be able to train more onsite after graduation. Many of the graduates also need a schedule that works around small children, which a technician job can offer, Creedon said.
A potential job at Intel will double the annual income of a women served by Fresh Start, McWaters said. If a technician makes north of $20 an hour, their income turns into $50,000 a year. “That’s a huge difference for the women we’re serving.”
The bootcamp also gives graduates three college credits tied to a degree pathway, a head start on an associate’s s and bachelor’s degrees. Each graduate also receives a stipend that covers the cost of tuition for the bootcamp. Torres encouraged them to go on to pursue a degree.
Leah Palmer, executive director for Arizona Advanced Manufacturing Institute, a part of MCCD that works with industry partners to build these kinds of training programs, said the most important part is “they get an industry certification that’s affordable, so that they can take it to multiple groups and say, ‘This is what I know. This is what I can do for you.’”
Graduate Lisa Strothers, a single mother who was laid off from her job before coming to Fresh Start, said she had completed a second interview and was now completing a background check. Intel told her the bootcamp is her foot in the door, but with her background — one master’s degree and another about to be completed — the door leads to multiple opportunities.
Palmer said the women have all had interviews and are “very likely” to land jobs. And if not? “There are at least 18 other companies that are looking for the same talent,” she said.
The Semiconductor Technician Quick Start program, which is now teaching its second class in Mesa this summer, will expand to Estrella Community College and Chandler-Gilbert Community College in the fall. Intel and MCCD are looking to partner with more organizations like Fresh Start and branch out to other groups such as Chicanos Por La Causa, Palmer said.
As of graduation night, Palmer said the bootcamp waiting list had over 750 applicants.
Similar programs are also being developed by Intel in partnership with Portland Community College in Portland, Oregon, and with Columbus Community College in Columbus, Ohio, where the new campus will be finished in 2025.
Last week, Palmer said she talked to two national organizations inquiring how the unique two-week bootcamp model works.
Creedon thinks the semiconductor industry in Arizona, where Intel has been part of the fabric for over 40 years, has a bright future. As the CHIPS Act, which will provide $52 billion in funding for the semiconductor industry, stalls in receiving that funding, Creedon emphasized the importance of bringing the market share for semiconductor manufacturing back to the U.S.
“The chip industry is a huge part of our way of life,” she said, and it will continue to grow and expand. “I think it’s a rising tide that lifts all boats, and together we’ll all make it happen and make the semiconductor industry the best in the country and the best in the world.”
For Intel, Fresh Start and MCCD, the rising tide of an industry that has historically had challenges with diversity must include women and underrepresented minorities.
“We’re on a mission to do this for thousands of women. So, this is the first of many to come,” McWaters said.
In her graduation speech, Palmer, who described how she sometimes wavered in confidence after 20 years in an industry that isn’t traditional for women, pointed out the small mirrors placed before each graduate. She told a story of a mentor in a women’s program who asked her to look into her rearview mirror and tell herself “’Atta girl.”
“Ladies, hold up your mirrors,” Palmer said,” and I want you to say to yourself, ‘’Atta girl. I did this, I accomplished this and I’m going to keep going.’”
Jackson winked at her son beside her and repeated, “’Atta girl.”
Jackson isn’t just looking for a job at Intel, but a career. She wants to walk through that door at Intel, then walk back into community college to one day become a semiconductor engineer. Her 16-year-old son has also expressed interest in joining Intel as a technician, which made Jackson realize just how big of an impact this might have.
“I want this to be a huge part of my life,” she said.
For more information on Fresh Start please visit freshstartwomen.org.
Fresh Start’s mission is to provide access and resources that help women achieve self-sufficiency and use their strength to thrive. Our ultimate vision is to create unlimited opportunities for women. Over three decades, Fresh Start has supported more than 50,000 Arizona women, serving approximately 3,000 women each year, who are 18 years and older. 86% are mothers, 60% are single mothers and 64% are women of color. These women face a variety of barriers hindering their ability to be personally or financially self-sufficient, including domestic violence, generational poverty, and unemployment. Through our award-winning Impact Program, Fresh Start offers focused programs, services, access to training and education, as well as employment and career services to help women reach their personal and professional goals. For more information, visit freshstartwomen.org or connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn.