Father, son team up with CGCC on AI program - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Father, son team up with CGCC on AI program

July 21st, 2020 development
Father, son team up with CGCC on AI program

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

Chandler-Gilbert Community College is preparing to offer one of the first known degree programs that specializes in artificial intelligence.

In collaboration with Chandler-based Intel, the college plans to start offering courses this fall semester that will prepare students for entry-level jobs in advanced technology.

“I am pleased to announce our partnership with Intel,” said Steven Gonzales, interim chancellor of Maricopa Community Colleges.

“This program will train our students for a competitive workforce, strengthen Arizona’s economy as well as help close the opportunity gap we see across the state and be a model for educational institutions across the nation.”

Though the college’s governing board has not officially authorized the program yet, Chandler-Gilbert is expecting to create at least six new AI courses that will cover a variety of topics in computer science, business solutions, and technological applications.

The AI field of study is generally defined as technology that’s capable of perceiving its own environment and solving problems with limited human interference.

As more businesses have become dependent on these intelligent machines over the years, the academic world has begun pondering how it can meet the industry’s needs by educating students in AI curriculum.    

According to research by Maricopa Community Colleges, knowledge in AI subject areas is already in high demand from several top employers and job growth for AI-related jobs in the local area is projected to expand by 22 percent over the next decade.

Chandler-Gilbert’s new two-year, associate’s degree program will ideally teach students specialized skills for future careers as a business analyst, java developer, data engineer or marketing manager.

Bassam Matar, who has been teaching engineering courses at Chandler-Gilbert for several years, will be teaching the college’s first AI course alongside his son, Habib, an Arizona State University graduate and current Intel employee.

There’s a great amount of excitement for this program, the elder Matar said, because there’s nothing similar to it being offered at any other community college campus.

“It’s going to be a unique program that does not exist anywhere in the nation,” Matar said.

The Matars have been involved with developing the AI program since Intel first approached the college a couple years ago about introducing this type of curriculum in Chandler.

Intel had apparently devised some AI programming and been testing it out elsewhere before seeking out Chandler-Gilbert’s help at implementing the curriculum for the local workforce.

The program will additionally offer a certificate option for workers and graduates looking to add some additional skills to their resume.    

Habib Matar, who notably earned an associate’s degree from Chandler-Gilbert at the age of 16, said they’re designing these new courses to help students get a better understanding of how modern technology works.

These classes will hopefully “clear the fog” on some of the complexities surrounding new AI technology, he added, and possibly push students to pursue more advanced degrees at a four-year university.

“It will really push for more beginner students to be able to get kind of a first taste,” Habib said.

The Chandler-Gilbert campus has spent the last couple years introducing innovative programs in cybersecurity and drone aviation, which have worked to revamp the college’s image as an institution that’s progressive about higher education in the 21st century.

The AI degree adds to that spirit of innovation, Bassam Matar said, because it creates another opportunity to learn about a form of technology that continues to change and develop from one day to the next.

Matar has been teaching courses at Chandler-Gilbert since the college first decided to form an engineering program in the early 2000s.

The engineering department only had about 20 students when it originated, he recalled, and now more than 500 pupils enroll in engineering courses annually at the Chandler-Gilbert campus.

There already have been a number of inquiries about this AI degree, Matar added, and the college’s students seem eager to know more about how this program can benefit their future job prospects. Within a couple days of registering the college’s first AI course online, Matar said he noticed a handful of students had already enrolled in it.

The first AI class at Chandler-Gilbert will be taught online due to restrictions the college has in place to protect staff and students from the coronavirus. Matar said the course will still have a “live” element to it and still allow for one-on-one instruction.

One of the overall goals of the program will be to explore the many sectors that utilize AI technology in their daily operations, Matar added. Aerospace, automotives, and health care are all industries that regularly depend on AI, he said, and students will learn how their degree can be useful within these various sectors.

“There’s a lot of things you could use AI for in all these different areas,” Matar said.

More information about the AI program can be found at maricopa.edu.