AFCOM Chapters Create Scholarships to Encourage Young Industry Blood

From the Big Apple to Denver, chapter board members proactively reach out to local universities to engage and introduce STEM students to the data center industry.

Karen Riccio

August 22, 2018

4 Min Read
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AFCOM’s local chapters in Denver and New York City/New Jersey Metro are certainly doing their share to bring awareness to the data center industry and create interest among students with new scholarship programs.

Let’s start with the good folks in Colorado.

When asked if the idea of sponsoring a yearly scholarship came after an “ah-ha” moment about filling the skills gap, Denver Chapter Board Member Mark Monroe laughed, answering: “I wish we were that advanced in our thinking.”

The real story goes like this: The Denver Chapter did such a good job fundraising, it came out with a surplus of money. During a meeting, Monroe suggested the group do something positive for the IT community like starting a scholarship. The idea was a hit, and his peers were happy as clams to nominate him as treasurer for the project.

Regardless of how the scholarship came about, the result is certainly accomplishing what the chapter set out to do.

After talking to the University of Colorado, Colorado State and the Colorado School of Mines, an engineering institute, they chose School of Mines.

The chapter endowed the original scholarship with $25,000 into the School of Mines (CSM Foundation) in 2015. This created at least a $1,000 AFCOM/Denver scholarship every year in perpetuity for sophomore electrical engineering, computer science and mechanical engineering students heading into their junior year.

Because the School of Mines owns the actual fund, the chapter can influence but not control the scholarship winners. Last year—the first of many to come—the School of Mines Financial Aid Department picked seven candidates, then the board recommended three of the students as scholarship winners. Everyone agreed.

The chapter provided an additional $6,000 in 2016 to allow for two $1,000 scholarships for the first three years of the program for a total of $31,000 donated to the CSM Foundation.

Monroe said the multiple scholarships were given early on to build interest and excitement for the program.

The school agreed that Samuel Warfield, Electrical Engineering; Rebecca May, Computer Science; and Abigail Wong, Mechanical Engineering, deserved the award. Although Samuel and Rebecca were able to attend the “introduction to the winners” meeting, Abigail couldn’t but recorded this YouTube video.


The winners then work with the chapter board members for the final two years of their education. Monroe said they invite the students to board meetings, bring them to symposiums, put them on stage and tell everyone in attendance how they would make great interns or hires. And, of course, they’re put to work in actual data centers.

Board Member Cindy Joos explained the importance of engineering graduates to data centers.

“They’re perfect for our entry level positions as they have a lot of engineering knowledge but little to no data center experience, which is exactly what we are looking for. No bad habits to break!” she said. “We start them with a facilities technician and go through a boot camp the first 6 to 9 months. It’s very structured while they’re mostly in learning mode. After that, they are on their own. What do I mean by that? They will take their learned knowledge from these first months and start being a productive member of the team. The scholarship can help shorten this timeframe in that this person has already been collaborating and hopefully doing a mentorship within the data center world so terms and technology are not brand new to them.” 

Although the board relinquishes a little control with respect to choosing candidates, the format works great operationally and allows for the scholarship to be given in perpetuity.

“If the board loses initiative, or no one has the time to review resumes one year, we know the school will pick up any slack and continue to raise awareness to students who are early in their engineering careers with an orientation toward data centers,” Monroe explained.

Now, onto the Big Apple. The NYC/NJ chapter has created scholarship opportunities as an investment in the future of data center managers and operators and to provide financial support for students looking to obtain a career in IT.

In the past two years, the chapter has awarded two, $2,000 scholarships. The first, the Future Data Center Manager Scholarship is awarded to a college undergraduate, or graduate student enrolled in an accredited college or university working toward an IT-related degree. Samantha Brand, a student at Manhattan college, earned this scholarship.

The second, the John Polidori Future Data Center Salesman Scholarship, was created in memory of the board’s friend and colleague John Polidori. This one goes to a student working toward a business degree with a minor in IT. The board presented this scholarship to Marist College student Kibria Biswas.

All scholarship winners must be sponsored by a chapter member, retain a minimum GPA of 3.0, have an IT Associates Degree, write an essay about data center and their visions for the future

This year, the chapter is adding a Girls Who Can Code program. It will run in conjunction with Middletown High School to help increase the number of women entering the computer science field. This would be awarded to a high school senior and details are still being worked out.

Learn more about AFCOM and its local chapter program.

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