How We’re Helping Clayton State Students Grow Their Careers

Students working on computers

Launchpad is a leadership academy at Clayton State University that helps students and faculty adapt to technical, social, and business expectations of the 21st century workforce. Mailchimp is investing $300,000 over 3 years to support dozens of Clayton State students as they grow their careers. Eight student leaders enrolled in the pilot and spent the Fall 2018 semester applying what they’ve learned in their classes to the environment of a quickly growing software company.

Joe Uhl, our VP of Operations, has served as an advisor to the university’s Computer and Mathematical Sciences Department (CIMS) since 2016. The idea for Launchpad was born out of the Regional Leadership Institute, a program organized by the Atlanta Regional Commission that engages leaders around the challenges and opportunities metro-Atlanta faces. Talent comes from everywhere, but metro-Atlanta’s undertapped southside stands in stark contrast to the opportunity-rich communities north of I-20.

A natural partnership

Clayton State proudly serves a student body that reflects the local community. About 40% of its students are the first in their families to attend college, and a significant number are over the age of 25 when they matriculate. We've noticed that partnerships like Launchpad are more likely to arise at a small handful of internationally renowned institutions with far reaching alumni networks. Mailchimp’s company purpose is to empower the underdog, so we found natural partners in Clayton State.

We spent the summer of 2018 getting a better understanding of what students and faculty wanted from our time together. We arranged for the cohort to hear from senior company leaders, shadow our staff, and visit one of our data centers. The students even got a crash-course in lockpicking, a hobby of our security team.

The students asked for more opportunities to apply their technical knowledge to a business environment and for a deeper exposure to teams for which they were unfamiliar. Reflecting on their own career journeys, our staff found ways for the students to develop their capacity for teamwork and troubleshooting.

With this feedback in mind, we helped the CIMS faculty design an experiential course for the fall semester. The final product blended classroom instruction from university faculty, primary source learning from Mailchimp employees, and project-based learning.

Students presenting

Getting down to business

Over the course of the semester, 7 senior members of our technical teams presented on data science, infrastructure operations, quality assurance, and security. Each lecture featured an exercise that provided hands-on ways for students to engage with the session’s content. During one class, students were asked to play the role of penetration testers and get to the bottom of a simulated attack. In another, our test engineers enlisted the cohort’s help to develop a strategy for including automation tests for a new continuous delivery/continuous integration (CI/CD) pipeline.

We challenged the cohort to use their final projects to build a software solution to a problem that the broader Clayton State community faces. After months of hard work, the students returned to Mailchimp’s offices to present their progress to university administrators and company stakeholders.

Students chatting while eating

Split into 2 groups, the cohort presented a pair of exciting solutions. One team prototyped a SQL injection prevention tool designed for the university’s IT team. The other group drew from the data science class, using machine learning to analyze sentiments expressed in tweets for the benefit of Clayton State’s communications.

We’re looking forward to growing the program over the next couple years. In fact, to round out the experience, we’ll offer full-time internships to a handful of the Launchpad students, starting in summer 2019.