Employability and Future-Proofing Graduates: Pathways to Success at MDC:

Changing Higher Ed podcast 199 with host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and guest Madeline Pumariega

Table of Contents

Changing Higher Ed Podcast 199 Employability and Future-Proofing Graduates- Pathways to Success at MDC with Dr. Drumm McNaughton and guest Madeline Pumariega
Changing Higher Ed Podcast | Drumm McNaughton | The Change Leader

19 March · Episode 199

Employability and Future-Proofing Graduates: Pathways to Success at MDC

34 Min · By Dr. Drumm McNaughton

Discover Miami Dade College's strategy for future-proofing graduates with key skills for employability and industry partnerships.

Miami Dade College is a powerhouse, enrolling 125,000 students, and is dedicated to creating new pathways for employability and future-proofing graduates. By prioritizing partnerships with business leaders to identify essential industry skills, the college customizes its educational programs to meet these evolving needs. This strategic approach ensures that pathways for first-generation and low-SES students are not just about access but about equipping them with the skills for immediate workforce entry. Through this commitment, Miami Dade College champions the three pillars of modern higher education: academic knowledge, employability skills—including internships and apprenticeships—and digital competencies such as AI.


Under the visionary leadership of President Madeline Pumariega, the college has redoubled its efforts to align academic programs with the pressing needs of key industries, ensuring that graduates are not just educated but truly workforce-ready. This strategic focus on creating symbiotic relationships between education and business sectors has transformed Miami Dade College into an indispensable engine of community growth, opportunity, and advancement. In a world where the relevance and value of higher education are increasingly scrutinized, MDC’s innovative approach offers a compelling strategy for preparing students to thrive in their careers and upward financial mobility.


Aligning Education with Industry Needs

MDC pioneers a strategic alignment of education with the pressing demands of the workforce. President Madeline Pumariega emphasizes the college’s commitment to preparing students for immediate entry into the job market through educational programs meticulously tailored to industry requirements. This commitment is evident in the college’s proactive approach to identifying the skills most sought after by key industries and shaping their curriculum to bridge the gap between academic preparation and real-world application.


A cornerstone strategy involves forging robust alliances with business partners. These partnerships are not merely symbolic; they are integral to developing job pathways that ensure each graduate is not just employable but in demand. For example, the collaboration with industry giants and local businesses accelerates the transition of students from classrooms to careers, providing a seamless conduit for talent directly into the workforce.


This model of education, deeply intertwined with industry expectations, results in programs that are both dynamic and relevant. Students engage in learning that transcends traditional academic boundaries, gaining hands-on experience and insights into their future professions. Miami Dade College, under Pumariega’s leadership, showcases the power of education when it evolves in lockstep with the needs of the economy, ensuring that graduates are not only knowledgeable but undeniably essential to the industries they enter.


Embracing the Three Pillars of Higher Education

In a comprehensive approach to education, the institution centers on a triad of essential pillars: foundational academic knowledge, practical employability skills, and advanced digital literacy. This framework is tailored to arm students with a holistic set of competencies crucial for thriving in a complex, technology-driven era.


At the core of this model lies a commitment to academic excellence, where rigorous coursework is designed to cultivate not just subject matter expertise but critical thinking and analytical capabilities. The curriculum is enriched with real-world relevance, ensuring learners are well-versed in contemporary issues and prepared for lifelong intellectual engagement.


Parallel to this academic foundation, a strong emphasis is placed on practical experience through internships and apprenticeships. Such opportunities allow students to apply theoretical knowledge in real-world settings, bridging the gap between classroom learning and professional practice. This hands-on exposure is pivotal in nurturing a workforce that is not only knowledgeable but also adaptable and ready for the challenges of today’s job market.


Acknowledging the indispensability of digital acumen, the institution has prioritized proficiency in areas like artificial intelligence (AI) and cybersecurity. Given the ubiquity of technology in every sector, understanding and leveraging digital tools are presented as non-negotiable skills for the modern professional. Initiatives in AI and cybersecurity education position students at the cutting edge of technological innovation, ready to lead in a digitized world.


Through this triadic approach, learners emerge not just as graduates but as well-rounded, employable professionals equipped for success in a rapidly evolving global landscape.


Overcoming Negative Perceptions of Higher Education


Addressing the prevailing skepticism toward higher education’s value and affordability, it’s imperative to confront head-on the misconceptions that have led to a notable decline in public confidence. Recent data revealing that 52% of the population questions the utility of higher education prompts a reassessment of its perceived value. This skepticism largely stems from concerns over financial accessibility and doubts about the economic return on investment in a degree.


The truth, however, lies in the transformative power of education beyond high school. A high school diploma, once a ticket to the middle class, no longer suffices in the knowledge economy. The landscape demands a higher level of academic achievement and skill specialization—achievable through a range of post-secondary educational pathways. Whether opting for a college credit certificate, an industry certification, an apprenticeship, or an associate’s degree, the goal remains clear: to uplift individuals into competitive roles in the workforce, thereby fostering personal prosperity and fulfilling community talent needs.


Moreover, the argument for higher education extends into the realm of employability skills and digital literacy. In an era where the workforce increasingly values the ability to collaborate, solve problems creatively, and navigate technological advancements, the acquisition of these skills becomes non-negotiable. Institutions that prioritize a curriculum encompassing teamwork, critical thinking, and a command of digital tools like AI and cybersecurity are future-proofing their graduates and directly contributing to the cultivation of a skilled and adaptable workforce.


By making higher education affordable and realigning the narrative around higher education to emphasize its role in economic mobility and community development, it becomes possible to dismantle the barriers of doubt about the value of higher education. Education is, unequivocally, a cornerstone of individual and collective advancement, particularly for the lower and middle socioeconomic communities.


MDC’s Future-Proofing with Forward-Thinking Programs


The college’s innovative strides in artificial intelligence (AI) education begin with a robust faculty development program. In 2022 over 500 educators participated in AI workshops, preparing them to weave AI across the curriculum. This initiative ensures that students benefit from educators versed in the latest AI advancements, grounding their learning in cutting-edge knowledge.


Expanding its curriculum to meet the demands of a tech-driven economy, in 2023, the institution unveiled a comprehensive AI academic program. This includes a pioneering Bachelor’s degree in Artificial Intelligence, a first in the state, alongside certificates and Associate degrees. The AI program has attracted over 400 students, with an average age of 44, highlighting the college’s appeal to learners at different stages of their careers.


Interdisciplinary learning is central to the AI education strategy, ensuring students from various disciplines understand AI’s impact across sectors. This approach prepares them for a workforce where AI’s relevance spans from healthcare to business, emphasizing the importance of a multifaceted education.


Public-private partnerships are vital in enriching the curriculum and providing real-world learning opportunities. Collaborations with IBM and engagement with initiatives like the AI for All program exemplify this strategy. Additionally, funding and support from federal grants and partnerships with entities like the Mark Cuban Foundation amplify the college’s capacity to deliver innovative and accessible education.


These strategic efforts are complemented by a financial strategy that leverages grants and partnerships to support the development and expansion of AI education. This approach secures the resources needed to pioneer in AI education and ensures that students have access to a cutting-edge curriculum aligned with industry needs. Through this multifaceted approach, the college leads in AI education and sets a benchmark for integrating technology and education, preparing students for a future where digital literacy is paramount.


Workforce Readiness and Employability

The college actively expands career-ready programs in vital sectors such as cloud computing, healthcare, and education. A standout example of this commitment is the collaboration with Amazon Web Services to create a specialized curriculum in cloud computing, showcasing the institution’s dedication to equipping students with in-demand skills.


To complement these academic offerings, the institution fosters partnerships with local school districts and businesses, enabling students to immerse themselves in real-world experiences. Programs like the Educator Preparation Institute, for instance, accelerate the path for individuals transitioning into teaching roles, addressing the pressing need for qualified educators in local schools.


Healthcare programs also see a significant boost through strategic alliances with local hospitals, expanding opportunities in nursing and allied health fields. These collaborations not only cater to the urgent demand for healthcare professionals but also ensure graduates are immediately employable and equipped with practical skills and experiences.


By aligning educational pathways closely with industry requirements and offering hands-on experience through partnerships, the college prepares students for immediate entry into the workforce and positions them for long-term career success. This approach underscores the institution’s comprehensive strategy for education, which aims to create a skilled, adaptable, and ready workforce for the future.


Supporting Student Success Beyond Academics


The college’s approach to supporting student success extends well beyond the classroom, emphasizing financial accessibility, preparatory initiatives for high school students, and a culture of care that addresses holistic student needs.


Financial aid programs and scholarships play a critical role in making higher education accessible to all students, regardless of their economic background. By offering a wide range of financial support options, the college ensures that financial barriers do not hinder a student’s ability to pursue higher education. This commitment is evident in initiatives like the Future Ready program, which provides tuition-free education to local high school graduates, opening doors to higher learning for more community members.


To smooth the transition from high school to college, the college has developed initiatives to prepare high school students for the rigors of college-level coursework. Programs such as dual enrollment allow students to earn college credits while still in high school, fostering academic readiness and reducing the time and cost of completing a degree.


At the heart of the institution’s student support system is a deep commitment to a culture of care, recognizing that academic success is closely linked to student well-being. This culture manifests in comprehensive support services that address a wide range of student needs, from counseling and mental health services to career guidance and academic tutoring. By nurturing an environment where students feel valued and supported, the college not only enhances academic outcomes but also ensures students are equipped to navigate the challenges of college life and beyond.


Through these concerted efforts, the college reinforces its dedication to student success, demonstrating a holistic approach to education that values accessibility, preparation, and well-being as key components of the student experience.


Three Key Takeaways for Higher Education Presidents and Boards


  1. Emphasize Industry Collaboration: The importance of partnering with industry leaders cannot be overstated. By aligning academic programs with the evolving needs of the workforce, institutions can ensure that graduates are not just educated but prepared and eager to contribute effectively in their respective fields. Open the doors wide to these partnerships, fostering a mutual understanding that both academia and industry are collaborators in shaping the future workforce. These alliances enhance curriculum relevance and serve to create champions out of industry partners who believe in the mission and value of higher education.

  2. Align Budgets with Strategic Priorities: A deliberate and thoughtful alignment of institutional budgets with strategic priorities signifies a commitment to actualizing the institution’s vision. Whether the goal is reimagining student success, achieving academic excellence, or any other strategic objective, ensuring that financial resources support these goals is imperative. This alignment demonstrates a pragmatic approach to institutional planning, where every dollar spent is an investment in the institution’s core values and long-term objectives.

  3. Cultivate a Culture of Care: Perhaps the most transformative of the three, this takeaway underscores the indispensable value of human capital in the educational equation. The culture of an institution plays a pivotal role in its ability to enact change and foster innovation. By leading with care and appreciation for faculty and staff, institutions can nurture an environment where everyone is empowered to contribute to their fullest potential. This culture of care is contagious, extending beyond employees to touch every student, thereby amplifying the transformative impact of education on the community it serves.


About Our Podcast Guest

Madeline Pumariega is the first female president appointed to lead one of the nation’s largest educational institutions, Miami Dade College (MDC). Adding to the historic nature of this appointment is the fact that Pumariega is an alumna of MDC.

Prior to becoming MDC’s president, Pumariega was appointed the first female and Hispanic chancellor of the Florida College System (FCS). In that role, she designed and implemented strategies to keep college accessible and affordable for Floridians, especially for those entering high-demand job fields. In 2019, Pumariega became the executive vice president and provost of Tallahassee Community College. 

In her current role as President, Pumariega has prioritized working with business partners to identify the skills needed by key industries and tailoring higher education programs to match those needs. This intentional forming of strategic alliances and job pathways between companies and MDC students accelerates each graduate’s ability to enter the workforce immediately. Driving her relentless pursuit is the passion to develop leaders and build thriving communities.

Guest’s LinkedIn Profile →


About the Host

Dr. Drumm McNaughton is a consultant to higher education institutions in governance, accreditation, strategic planning, change management, and mergers.



Changing Higher Ed podcast 199 with host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and guest Madeline Pumariega
Employability and Future-Proofing Graduates


[00:00:31] Drumm McNaughton: Thank you, David. Our guest today is Madeline Pumariega, president of Miami Dade College. For those of you who don’t know Miami Dade, it’s an innovation powerhouse. It enrolls 125,000 students, creating new pathways for first gen and low SES students, and the average age of their student is about 45 years old.

[00:00:55] In her current role as president, Madeline has prioritized working with business partners to identify the skills needed by key industries and tailoring higher education programs to match those needs. This intentional forming of strategic alliances and job pathways between companies and MDC students accelerates each graduate’s ability to enter the workforce immediately.

[00:01:20] Driving her relentless pursuit is the passion to develop leaders and build thriving communities She herself is a first gen student and she joins us today to talk about how MDC is embracing the three pillars of higher education for today’s age academic skills and knowledge employability skills including internships and apprenticeships and digital skills such as AI.

[00:01:45] Madeline, welcome to the show.

[00:01:47] Madeline Pumariega: Thank you so much for having me. Happy to be here with you.

[00:01:50] Drumm McNaughton: Thank you. I’m looking forward to our conversation. You guys at Miami Dade College are doing some amazing things with preparing students for the future and aligning your curriculum to industry needs. Before we get into that, tell us a little bit about you and how you got to this position with such a great knowledge of this particular area.

[00:02:15] Madeline Pumariega: So, I was born and raised in Hialeah, Florida, which is a predominantly Hispanic community in Miami Dade County, and my parents had come from Cuba and at that time, many settling in that area. And so fast forward, I end up, coming to Miami Dade Community College, then as a student athlete to play women’s basketball. I signed a scholarship. And then, you know, went on and came back to the college. Spent about 20 years at the college from Dean to a campus President, and then left Miami Dade College after 20 years for two statewide roles. One of them was with a nonprofit organization called Take Stock in Children, that helps kids across the state of Florida break the cycle of poverty through education, through a college education. And then I was appointed as the first Hispanic and female chancellor of the Florida college system. And so, Miami Dade college is part of Florida’s college system, that really is the workforce engine. Across the state, there are colleges that work with their community partners in making sure that each of the communities have the talent they need and had an opportunity to lead that system and make Florida number one in higher education. And then the opportunity to come lead Miami Dade College as the first female president, presented itself in 2020. I was then selected, and it’s been an honor and a privilege to get to come back home and lead an organization that’s had such an impact in my life, but most importantly, such an impact in our entire community.

[00:03:55] Drumm McNaughton: Well, that’s really an amazing story. Does your family still live in the Hialeah, Miami Dade College area?

[00:04:04] Madeline Pumariega: They sure do.

[00:04:04] Drumm McNaughton: So, it must be amazing. And I’m getting a little off track here, but I, you know, I don’t care. This is interesting for me. It must be amazing for your parents who were immigrants coming over from Cuba to see their daughter have such a great career and in helping other folks to break the cycles of poverty.

[00:04:27] Madeline Pumariega: Absolutely. You know, when you grow up with immigrant parents, there’s one thing that they instill in you, and that is hard work and respect and dedication, but most importantly, the education. Because when you leave your country and they take everything from you, the only thing they don’t take is what you’ve learned.

[00:04:46] And so that was the motto, right? They can take everything, but they can’t take your education. So my mom, came to this country and then became a teacher and was a teacher for 35 years in the local public schools. And my dad, a banker in community banking in Miami Dade County. So our entire family stayed here and, you know, my uncle’s own businesses and really it is the path to the American dream, and opportunity, so, to be here, to serve our community, to be a role model for our students, is really an honor. And, you know, to be able to, show what can happen with hard work and persistence and perseverance.

[00:05:27] Drumm McNaughton: It reminds me a lot of a guest that I’ve had on the show who I like to call a good friend, Russell Lowery-Hart. He just recently, oh, you know, Russell. Okay. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:05:38] Madeline Pumariega: A great friend.

[00:05:39] Drumm McNaughton: He’s amazing. And, you know, just having transferred from Amarillo College over to take over the Austin Community College District. To me, he’s just a role model on what a college President should be.

[00:05:52] Madeline Pumariega: We’ve sat on a couple of panels together. We’re on the board of the American Association of Community Colleges together. And Russell is a beacon. He just, his care for the students and the community and what he’s done there is really remarkable. So, privileged to call him a friend and to be really a champion and to work with him.

[00:06:13] Drumm McNaughton: Mm hmm. I mean, the story that I love the most of, actually, there’s a couple of stories, which we won’t go into, but one was COVID and him taking the temperature of the students masked up. And then also at one point he had 99 students go homeless during one term and only one of them dropped out. I mean, that’s, that’s just amazing to be able to provide those resources, which are critical for low socio income demographics and first gen students.

[00:06:43] Madeline Pumariega: Without a doubt, when we think about that culture of care and thinking about how do we help students, not just in the classroom, one thing is to get them there and you put, you know, the best faculty in front of them and nothing replaces a caring adult in a student’s life that really wants them to learn and sets high expectations in a great learning environment. But second to none is the support services that you wrap them around with whether it’s emergency aid, getting their federal financial aid on time, academic support and tutoring, then being engaged on campus. That is really the recipe and the secret sauce of helping especially first gen students get to the finish line, is for them to have the sense of belonging and believing and that they can get there.

[00:07:32] And you know, graduation is my favorite day, it’s around the corner. Late April and early May. And, you know, we have an exercise during our commencement ceremony, which we ask if you’re the first in your family to walk across the stage, please stand. If you were working while you were studying, please stand. If you served our military, if you were a parent. And you can see all the students just begin to stand, right? And so when they walk across the stage, you know their story, you know the hard work and what it’s taken for them to walk across the stage. And it’s just a very special day.

[00:08:09] Drumm McNaughton: Oh, yeah, I can. I can just feel that, you know, in my body right now. Just that caring about it. I remember first accreditation visit. I ever did. The principal at the school said what makes us different is we all believe in the same mantra, “kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” and that’s what it’s all about.

[00:08:33] Madeline Pumariega: And that’s what it’s all about. Exactly.

[00:08:35] Drumm McNaughton: So to be able to get to where you are right now in Miami Dade, and you’re doing some amazing things, you’ve had to come up against the negative perceptions of higher ed right now, you know, there’s a large population out there. I mean 52% say higher ed is not good for you. It’s the first time I think ever, that people have in you know, modern history that they’ve said it’s not for everyone and I don’t buy that

[00:09:05] Madeline Pumariega: Yeah, I don’t either. Nothing, nothing points in a knowledge economy to just a high school diploma. You know, the high school diploma was your ticket to the middle class for many years, but today you need something beyond the high school diploma. And it can be a college credit certificate, it can be an industry certification, it can be an apprentice program, it can be an associate’s program. So I think we have to rephrase that. You know, maybe a private four year university pathway is not for everyone, but absolutely a path that lets you upskill and get the skills that you need to be competitive in the workplace is absolutely for everyone, because that’s how we create the path to prosperity. That’s not only how we create that path for our students, but it’s how we meet the talent needs of our community. And so, it’s unfortunate that at some level, that’s the narrative. And for people who are sending their kids to college, they’re ignoring that.

[00:10:10] But who does listen to that is someone who may not think college is for them. And they might think that you have to get into debt, and not that there’s financial aid available to them. They might think that college is super expensive. Not that there’s a community college in their community, that’s very accessible and affordable. And that there are scholarship programs to help. And so I think we have to continue to make sure that we prove the value of education and how important having a talented workforce is for the country and for the respective communities throughout our entire country.

[00:10:48] Drumm McNaughton: And it’s like you said before, it’s education. They can’t take that away from you They can take everything else, but they can’t take that knowledge and that education and the other piece with that is I go back to the AACNU, the American Association of Colleges and Universities. They do studies every couple of years on what employers want in graduates and the top skills; teamwork, critical thinking, the ability to analyze data and draw conclusions. I mean, how do you get that without a college education, whether it be a two or a four year.

[00:11:24] Madeline Pumariega: Correct. I mean that, you know, I really believe that students need to graduate from Miami Dade College. It’s our goal is that they can demonstrate the academic skills and those clear academic skills of computation and understanding history and, writing and communication.

[00:11:42] But there’s employability skills that they need to know. I call them future proof. Because it doesn’t matter where the future goes. If you know teamwork, problem solving, if you’re dependable, if you have those great interpersonal skills, you’re going to be future ready. And then the third set of skills, just as we seethe future of work evolving and particularly around technology and AI and cyber security, the digital skills. Understanding and applying digital skills to the workplace and to your everyday life.

[00:12:16] So we’re really trying to focus on making sure that students acquire those distinctive skills because we believe then it makes one, the college education really meaningful and valuable. And I think that’s another aspect. You see some studies out there of how many students who maybe went to a four year degree or institution and they’re underemployed. Well, that’s not the fault of their degree. That’s a little bit of the employability skills and the digital skills. Did you have the next set of skills to be competitive in the workplace.

[00:12:53] It may not just be a degree. It may be all the other things that you do in the process of gaining that degree, working part time while you’re studying, being in leadership opportunities, volunteering, getting an internship, being part of an apprenticeship program. So lots of other value that we have to make sure that students know about and that we partner with our industry leaders to give those opportunities to students so they can see the high value of coming to college and getting that education.

[00:13:27] Drumm McNaughton: It’s interesting you bring up the apprenticeships and the internships. I just read something this week that there’s a big delta between students and employability with or without internships and apprenticeships.

[00:13:43] Madeline Pumariega: Yes, it’s the work based learning. So a lot of employers would like to hire students who graduate and have the work based learning skills and how you acquire those are internships. And what I mean by work based, is that you really get to apply what you’re learning. You’re in the work environment, you understand the cadence of meetings and other things. And so that happens when you’re in an internship program for six to eight weeks in the summer, you get those skillsets. And if you’re path to a degree is through an apprenticeship or your certification is through an apprenticeship, you get it because it’s really that on the job training while you’re learning as well.

[00:14:24] Drumm McNaughton: I want to cycle back to those three skills that you talked about just a bit ago, the academic skills, the employability skills, and the digital skills. These skills, I think that is a great way to break down what graduates need to have. I mean, you need to have knowledge, which you get from the academic skills.

[00:14:45] You have to have the employability. You know, how do you work with people, etc. The digital skills in today’s day and age is, that’s a given. I mean, those three things pretty much sum up what you need, and then there’s the experience, or the employability, that comes from your internships. That to me, you’ve captured that very nicely.

[00:15:07] Madeline Pumariega: Thank you. And I think that’s what we have to do in the higher education ecosystem to change the 52 percent confidence rate, if we want to get back to really seeing the value of education, we have to be able to do that and deliver on that with a level of confidence, to get consumer confidence in higher education once again.

[00:15:29] Drumm McNaughton: And one of the things that really impressed me when we spoke last week was how Miami Dade has embraced AI. With a lot of other institutions, it’s like, stay away, you know, this is academic plagiarism, et cetera, et cetera. You’ve embraced it.

[00:15:50] Madeline Pumariega: We have. When I became President in January of 2021, that fall, we had 500 of our faculty go through artificial intelligence workshops and learn what artificial intelligence was about, how it was evolving. So think about this is 2021. In 2022, we set aside some funds to have our faculty write grants on how they could use AI to enhance student success and learning outcomes. And so we awarded faculty who wrote those grants, ways to be creative and use AI. So by the time November of ’22 came out, where chat GPT and people were calling for the banning of Chat GPT. In that January, we were having just conversations about, we were already on the path to, you know, to building academic programs.

[00:16:44] And we launched in 2023, our first college credit Certificate in Artificial Intelligence. We launched an Associates in Science in Artificial Intelligence, and we launched the first, Bachelors in Artificial Intelligence approved in the state of Florida. And so we’ve embraced it as an opportunity, for us to really enhance learning and the student experience.

[00:17:09] And we’ve now made it part of our quality enhancement plan. Our QEP, when you go through accreditation is the digital skills, the acquisition of digital skills and AI awareness among our students.

[00:17:24] Drumm McNaughton: And when you go back to those three skills needed for the workplace, the academic skills, employability, and digital skills, you’re aligning your curriculum to what’s students currently need, or graduates currently need, and what they’re going to need in the future. I mean, AI is going to be, it already is, but it’s even going to be bigger, you know, in the next 5 to 10 years.

[00:17:48] Madeline Pumariega: Right. I mean, we didn’t start AI as a major. We really started AI with faculty training because we believed it was going to be interdisciplinary. AI is changing the way that we work, the way that we learn, travel, healthcare, everything. So we wanted our nursing faculty to know about artificial intelligence platforms, improving patient outcomes, so that way they could, you know, inform their students. And now nursing students have access to AI, not just our technology students. And then our education majors and our education teachers being able to know that there’s artificial intelligence platforms that are helping enhance K 12. Conamigo is an AI tool that helps students gain those skills, those academic skills that they need.

[00:18:38] So we really treated it as an interdisciplinary approach, knowing that it aligned to the future of work versus just saying it’s a major and only a group of students are going to have that if that’s their major. We really wanted it to be across the disciplines and throughout the college.

[00:18:57] Drumm McNaughton: So there’s not only the student learning aspect. You started with the faculty. Did it require any faculty buy in?

[00:19:06] Madeline Pumariega: You know, it, not a lot. I think everyone was curious. They bought in into, you know, we weren’t going to make you do this exorbitant amount of homework. You’re just going to these artificial intelligence workshops, right? And you’re learning about AI. And then we were able to get a grant, for All, and then the Good Jobs grant from the federal level.

[00:19:26] And that just helped, also faculty get excited. When we got the AI for All and the IBM partnership, now we had IBM helping support our curriculum and different AI programs. And then the Good Jobs grant that came out of the federal government then was really creating a tech coalition, the Miami tech coalition, which is a group of industry and academic leaders really conspiring to have a good impact and making sure that Miami Dade County is ready for the future of work and has the tech talent that it needs. So there’s been so many good validating points along the way of what we were doing was in the right direction. We got some of the private and public funding to be able to scale our work and to be able to go across the college and not just vertically in one academic area.

[00:20:20] Drumm McNaughton: So, you’re doing the AI training, you’ve got grants for faculty training, you’re teaching students how to use it, but one of the things that I think you’re doing that other people aren’t really thinking about is you’re teaching critical thinking and ethics integrity around AI. Tell me a little bit about that.

[00:20:41] Madeline Pumariega: So when we launched AI, we thought maybe we’ll have a hundred students. We’ve over 400 students, average age 44, in the

[00:20:50] Drumm McNaughton: Get out of here. 44

[00:20:52] Madeline Pumariega: 44. And the first course that they take is AI and ethics. So we have the conversation about the ethics of AI and how do you use it for the good? How do you use it to advance knowledge? You can choose to be a cut and paste generation, or you can choose to use it and think critically about it and even learn more about something. You know, I think understanding the difference between generative AI, which is going to be very hard to regulate. It’s the internet. It’s trying to put that genie back in the bottle is not going to happen. But I think on AI platforms, there’s opportunities for us to think about the ethics of it, the data privacy about it. And so I think, those are good conversations and just having the understanding of generative AI and a Chat GPT platform, and other platforms that use AI, to personalize your experience with them.

[00:21:50] Drumm McNaughton: Yeah, we’ve also leveraged public private partnerships with this. You mentioned IBM, you know, state federal grants, but you’re also working with the Mark Cuban Foundation. Are you not?

[00:22:02] Madeline Pumariega: Yes, we are. The college has an idea center, which is our center for entrepreneurship. The college supports entrepreneurs and small businesses in our community. 80 percent of businesses in Miami Dade County are considered small businesses, which mean they employ 50 people or less.

[00:22:22] And so we have a couple of partnerships there through our business and idea center. One is the Goldman Sachs small business partnership and we’ve put now almost 800 small businesses through a rigorous program that helps them grow and sustain their small businesses. We have a program called Scale Up, and scale up, which the idea center and in support with the Mark Cuban foundation, helping small businesses do exactly that.

[00:22:52] And then work with our students that are entrepreneurs, that have ideas, be able to go to the idea center and develop those ideas and partner with faculty and other industry leaders. And thenwe were able to also expand the Idea Center to other areas of the community out in Homestead, and our West Campus, which is out in Doral through a partnership with Blackstone.

[00:23:19] Drumm McNaughton: I’m just blown away. You know, how many students do you have all total at Miami Dade?

[00:23:26] Madeline Pumariega: About 125, 000.

[00:23:28] Drumm McNaughton: Oh, okay. So, you know, you’re just kind of small.

[00:23:31] Madeline Pumariega: We’re little,

[00:23:33] Drumm McNaughton: 100

[00:23:33] Madeline Pumariega: We are, I will say we have eight campuses. And so if you go to the Hialeah campus, you’re going to get Cafecito at 3:05, and everyone’s going to know your name. And if you go over to the West campus, it’s almost like you arrived at a little boutique hotel and all of student services and everybody’s in one area and our southern most campus is out in Homestead and that also has that small feeling as well as our campus in Little Havana. And then we have our three larger campuses, you know, if you go to the Kendal and the North campus, it feels, you know, green grass area and that traditional college campus.

[00:24:15] And then the Wolfson campus is at the heart of downtown, and it sits in the urban core of Miami. And so if you love the hustle and bustle of downtown, you love the Wolfson campus, right? And I think, because we’re in every part of the community we need to be students never feel that they’re part of this massive institution. Instead, they feel like they’re part of this community and have access to all the different programs that are at any one of our eight campuses, because we have a campus which is just medical programs and that’s in the health district and that campus focuses on nursing and health science programs.

[00:24:59] Drumm McNaughton: I’m blown away. This is this. I’ve heard so many good things about Miami Dade. But speaking with you on this, I really am. I am blown away by everything that you’re doing. We’ve talked a lot about AI and how you’ve embraced that. What are some of the other programs that you’re doing to generate employment ready graduates? Certificates, micro credentials, things along those lines.

[00:25:27] Madeline Pumariega: Yes. So we, for example, in cloud computing, we partnered with Amazon Web Services and we created a college credit certificate that leads right into the associates and then a bachelor’s into data analytics. One of the things that we’re doing is partnering with the superintendent to make sure that we’ve got enough teachers. And so we’ve created the educators prep Institute, which allows second career changers to come through a rapid training program and get them ready. We’ve also created a residency program with the superintendent. If you’re in the last semester of your teacher prep program, you get hired by the school district and you do your final internship hours there, instead of as a volunteer, you actually are in the school district, you’re being paid, you have access to professional development mentors as well.

[00:26:20] And then we’re launching an apprenticeship program for teaching so that you can start into an apprenticeship program. And those are ways that we’re partnering there. In the healthcare field, we’ve partnered with our hospitals. We have expanded our certified nursing assistant program, grew our licensed practical nurse program, and then have grown our RN program by almost 30 percent working with the hospitals, and then launched a surgical tech certificate program as well. And so I think in all of the different areas, we’re really working to meet the employers where they are, whether it’s in banking and finance through an apprenticeship program, or whether it’s the construction trades Institute. We just got an EDA grant and the state invested in a job growth grant where we’ll be able to really do MDC builds. And have students, in those important trade pathways as well as in robotics and semiconductors. And so doing that stuff around the workforce, but I think the other part that’s really important to us and will remain important is the number of students that earn their associates of arts. And then head to one of Florida’s best universities, whether it’s FIU in their backyard, or UF, or FSU, or UCF, or off to MIT, Harvard, Princeton. We’ve got a couple of our students that are at MIT, all computer science and engineering students. And, and so I think that remains still really important to our mission.

[00:27:57] Drumm McNaughton: So, not only are you providing a pathway for jobs through, whether it be, short term, long term, etc. You’re also providing an excellent pathway to a four-year degree to something else.

[00:28:14] Madeline Pumariega: Correct. Our two plus two articulation agreement in Florida is really the national model where if you take an English 1101 here, it’s the same English 1101 as the University of Florida. We have the common numbering system, which ensures that students don’t have a loss of credit in that transfer pathway. We’re working, knowing that so many of our students want to access the two plus two. It’s affordable, they get to stay home for two years, our tuition is very affordable and with high quality faculty members preparing them for the universities. And then they get to finish those final two years.

[00:28:55] And we expose our students to undergraduate research so that when they arrive to the universities, they’re not at a loss that the freshman or sophomore might’ve had a research opportunity, but here working through our school of science and others doing undergrad research as well.

[00:29:13] Drumm McNaughton: Wow, we could spend another hour and a half talking about all this stuff.

[00:29:17] Madeline Pumariega: Yeah. You know, look, our motto is BMDC. I love everything that we’re doing at the college and really the world class faculty and staff and leadership team that is along with the ride, you know, they’re innovating, coming up with new ideas and it’s great to be able to say, “Yeah, let’s do it. Let’s try. Why not? Let’s build this program.”

You know, we launched a scholarship program for local students, we not only had the honors college scholarship, but we launched the presidential scholars and rising scholars, which provide high achieving high school students a path to Miami Dade college tuition free. And we just launched with the County mayor, a program called future ready. And it’s going to also allow every high school resident that graduates in Miami Dade County, the opportunity to earn their associate’s tuition free regardless of what their GPA, it’s a great, last dollar program because it’s really intended to help the working class and middle-class families that might think that college is out of reach for their child. And we want to say it’s within reach and we’ve got great dual enrollment programs with our high schools to get those students ready and prepared and hit the ground running when they come to Miami Dade College.

[00:30:37] Drumm McNaughton: Yeah, that’s fabulous. Programs of helping the high school students get ready reminds me Madeline Atkins from Mary Cavendish College, which is part of the University of Cambridge, has the same kind of program, and you think about Oxford, you think about Cambridge, and you think, you know, elite prep schools, et cetera.

[00:30:58] No. Mary Cavendish admits 90 percent of its enrollment from public high schools.

[00:31:06] Madeline Pumariega: That’s fantastic.

[00:31:07] Drumm McNaughton: It is. And that’s, you know, it’s not unlike what you’re doing there at Miami Dade. Well, this has been a fabulous conversation. I really appreciate your, your taking the time with us. Is there anything that we haven’t covered that you, are especially proud of.

[00:31:22] Madeline Pumariega: You know, Miami Dade College is democracy’s college and because it’s about hope and opportunity and we serve as our community’s workforce engine and our cultural engine too, because we have programs like the film festival and book fair that are also critically important to our community.

[00:31:39] Drumm McNaughton: That’s great. To wrap up our, our closing questions, as we always do, three takeaways for your fellow Presidents and Boards.

[00:31:49] Madeline Pumariega: I think, number one is, the importance of working with industry partners and helping align those workforce programs to what they need. Opening the doors to them to make sure that they know that they’re partners in the work with us, because they’ll serve as our champions.

[00:32:05] Drumm McNaughton: Mm hmm.

[00:32:06] Madeline Pumariega: I think the other, is to me one that’s really important, setting out your strategic priorities and then making sure that your budget aligns to those values. And so if you’re really thinking about reimagining student success, how are you going to do it? And is your budget aligned to that as well as academic excellence, and everything else.

[00:32:27] And I think the third, so critical and important is that the human capital, our human capital, our employees leading with a culture of care. I really believe that if we want our institutions to be transformative, if we’re transforming our students, we have to make sure that our folks on the ground every day feel the appreciation and the care so that they can do the great work ahead of us.

[00:32:56] Drumm McNaughton: Yep. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

[00:32:59] Madeline Pumariega: That’s right. 100%.

[00:33:01] Drumm McNaughton: Great. Well, thank you so much. What’s next for you and MDC? I mean, you’ve got so many different things going, we could probably devote another half, three quarters of an hour to just talk about this.

[00:33:13] Madeline Pumariega: You know, we’ll continue to do the great work we’re doing. We’ll build out, I’m sure, more workforce programs, as the community needs it. We’re hyperly focused on really reimagining that student experience, that students have that type of Amazon experience. experience when they come to the college, easy for them to get their classes, get everything transformed, and we believe focused on academic excellence and innovation, we’re going to continue to increase our success rates among our students and make sure that they’ve got the credentials that they need for the future.

[00:33:47] Drumm McNaughton: Well, Madeline, thank you so much for being on the show. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. I look forward to having you back on the show another year or so to tell us about what other new things you’ve done beyond AI.

[00:33:59] Madeline Pumariega: Anytime. Thank you so much.

[00:34:01] Drumm McNaughton: Take care. Thanks for listening and a special thank you to our guest, Madeline Pumariega and for her sharing with us what Miami Dade College is doing to ensure its graduates are workforce-ready and how it’s embraced AI instead of what most colleges have done, push it away. Join us next week for our 200th episode of Changing Higher Ed when we welcome Amrit Aluwalia, former imagining editor of Evolution, and we’ll examine what’s going on in higher ed today, how we got here, and what we need to do to remain relevant in the public’s mind.

[00:34:39] Thanks for listening. See you next week.


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