WBL Internship Spotlight: May 2023

A headshot of Christa Hindman, a black woman with her hair up in a braid crown, wearing a yellow shirt with a Hibiscus plant in the background.

MEET CHRISTA HINDMAN

Age: 24

Hometown: Jacksonville, AR

Work-Based-Learning Internship: ACDS

MY BACK STORY

I’m from Jacksonville and I’ve lived there pretty much all of my life. I attended Pinewood Elementary School and was involved in some of the gifted and talented programs. That gave me a chance to explore unique places in Central Arkansas, such as the Museum of Discovery. Oh, I like doing well in school and being a part of something that feels special, I thought. So I kept my head in my work. My dad was a high school math teacher and he and my mom encouraged us, me and my other siblings, to do well in school.

MY EDUCATION

I had a lot of twists and turns in my interests, but at its core, I really was interested in the idea of rigor. I felt the need to just get out there and prove to myself that I could do this or that, given that I felt like in some areas I might have limitations.

I had this young aspiration to be a basketball coach. For some reason I just told myself I wanted to be a coach. Maybe it was the personality of coaches that I liked. About being a basketball coach, my dad implied that maybe I should focus on other talents. That was when he introduced the idea of computer engineering to me, because I liked doing math. I felt like math was so straightforward to me and that I could grasp it with the right teaching. I liked looking at computers and my parents had bought us a laptop, and when it broke down, I took it apart to see how it worked.

In middle school, I went to Lighthouse Academies’ Flightline Charter School on the Little Rock Air Force Base, and I continued with Lighthouse all the way through high school. That’s where I became serious with the idea of pursuing computer engineering, because the school catered towards college preparation. I took courses in computer science, calculus, and engineering design.

I also took Chinese while I was in high school. I was a fan of Japanese animation, so I thought, Learning about Asian culture is maybe in line with what I’m interested in. I continued learning Chinese all the way through the rest of high school. I participated in the Chinese Bridge Competition hosted by the Confucius Institute with the University of Central Arkansas. I also had the awesome opportunity to be able to go to the Chinese Bridge Competition in Texas.

The Chinese Bridge Competitions are for people who want to showcase their Chinese language skills. Usually there’s a written part. You answer fill-in-the-blank questions based on the translation. Then there’s the speaking part, where you tell a little bit about yourself in Chinese. So you’re speaking Chinese to a crowd, and you’re judged on your fluency, your use of tones, because Chinese is a tonal language. After that, there’s a talent show. For my talent, I sang a Chinese song [singing].

As high school graduation approached, I knew I wanted to get into a computer engineering program, so I applied to universities known for reputable engineering programs, like Baylor and Rice, among other schools. But the out-of-state options were a little expensive. If you scored high enough on the ACT you could get a scholarship to cover university expenses, so I was wanting to try to find a financial option that would be the most secure for my case. After looking into local options, I was offered a scholarship to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and their computer engineering program had high marks. So I accepted the scholarship and spent four years at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, living on campus and working on coursework related to computer engineering. The degree program is

called Electronics and Computer Engineering Technology, ECET for short. Some of the courses, to name a few, covered topics like microcontroller programming in C, operating a mini-conveyor system with programmable logic controllers (PLC) ladder logic, or simulating circuit behavior with schematic drawing software. For my senior capstone project, I constructed a long-distance item detector, based on radio frequency encoding. As challenging as it was, I stuck with it all the way to the end, and in May of 2021 I received my bachelor’s in ECET.

MY WORK LIFE

In that last semester before graduation, I worked with the Arkansas STEM Coalition as a technical support specialist. I worked specifically on the website, managing the content there. If there were helpful resources, I would post those, updating the blog. If there were any issues with the back-end website mechanics, I would access cPanel and manage the website there. Another one of my responsibilities was to manage and produce and release email newsletter content used in Mailchimp. I also scheduled and prepared laptops for delivery to educational institutions and non-profit organizations, among other tasks. This was a part-time job, because I was working on my senior capstone project fulltime.

I worked for the STEM Coalition for a couple of months after graduating, but the commutes started to become difficult because the job was in Little Rock, and I was now back living in Jacksonville. Also, I determined that it was time to explore new career opportunities. After leaving the STEM Coalition, I began sending out resumes, searching for new positions both remote and also locally, but landing the right position was difficult. Before I came to work with ACDS, I had almost a year and a half of unemployment, so that was a very tough period for me.

MY TURNAROUND MOMENT

Back when I was in college, I met up with an old instructor that I knew. I just happened to see her on campus, and we stopped and talked a little bit, caught up with each other, and she told me, “There’s this nonprofit organization that helps individuals start apprenticeships.” She was talking about ACDS. I was like, “Oh, that’s interesting. I’ll look into it.” I did check it out and thought it looked interesting, and then I went on and graduated. So later, when that period of unemployment set in, I recalled what my old instructor had mentioned about ACDS, and I thought it would be a good resource for me at that particular time.

Even though the unemployment period took a toll on me, reaching out to ACDS and going to their webinars gave me a sense of hope that I could bridge the gap between graduating from college and actually getting workforce experience. Okay, I thought, maybe I can prepare for interviews with them, build my resume with them, get familiar with their services….

I first got in touch with Jenny Sales, the talent recruiter who was running the resume prep webinar with Kristen Shryock, manager of ACDS’ Work-Based-Learning program. Initially, I was looking for apprenticeship positions with some of ACDS’ partner employers, but I didn’t really get a catch there. In college, most of the languages that I learned were C, C++, HTML, but not SQL, which could have made a difference as a great asset to my skillset for potential employers.

It was starting to look a little bleak for me, but then in December of 2022, Kristen reached out to me and let me know that ACDS was hiring internally for a work-based-learning data analyst intern position. It sounded like something I could do, and I was certainly interested in being part of a team that really does help job-seekers like me. I thought, You know what? I think I’ll give this a shot.

MY WBL INTERNSHIP

I had an interview with Logan Hunt, the ACDS Grants Manager, who I would be interning for. Then Logan and Kristen got on a call for a second interview, and the rest is history: I was hired.

They had hoped to have me start in December, but with holidays coming, it ended up working out to where I started on January 3rd of this year. Early on I met with Executive Director Bill Yoder, Director of Apprenticeship Lonnie Emard, and Director of Client Relations Lisa Wiggins, and we had a nice chat about the position, about what they do, and what kind of work this would entail. Since this was a work-from-home position, we then got me set up with the necessary equipment and activations.

Then Logan and Kristen gave me an orientation. They did a great job setting the stage for the internship. Going in, I thought that even though this internship was focused on data entry, there was the possibility of being able to move into more interactive tasks built on independent learning. What I didn’t know was that this internship was also going to help build my skills with a data analysis course.

ACDS had recently onboarded a new apprenticeship management system, ApprentiScope, and at the start of the internship my job was to transfer data from the old system to the new one for some 500 apprentices and some applicants as well.

Sometimes in the data cleaning process there were corrections needed, and occasionally I would have questions for Logan on how to deal with these cases. I noted the specific profiles that these issues occurred, and then just wrote a quick note on what the issue was, and the next time we would meet virtually, we would talk about them. Eventually there were enough issues to say, “Okay, I can make a little reference workbook. If this issue comes up again, I can refer to the workbook.” That was the first part of the internship. By this time, I had also gotten in contact with Dr. Donald Walker, Director of Training, about the data analysis cohort. The starting dates worked out to where I was able to join in on the data analysis cohort to do some supplemental learning in Microsoft Excel, MySQL, and Python.

As the three-month internship progressed, Logan and I tossed around lots of ideas of what else I could do to help ACDS with its processes. Logan had the idea of me developing an application so that ACDS could upload a spreadsheet and the application would generate a heat map of all of the profiles that appear in their respective regions. I also experimented with an app called OutSystems that I would call a high-level logic organizer, where you can drag and drop specific parts of a web application and give it functionality, creating a website that’s interactive. Also, with a free trial of Tableau I created an interactive color-coded county map of Arkansas because our executives wanted to get some profile data on our

apprentices by location.

We kept coming up with good ideas, but we had to keep reminding ourselves that we needed to narrow our choices based on the time we had left—a three-month internship flies by, and we had to focus on something that was actionable right now.

What we decided on was for me to create a data analysis report based on the demographics of the apprentices hired. That involved running reports from ApprentiScope and the Department of Labor’s apprenticeship management system, RAPIDS. This also entailed using Microsoft Excel to create PivotTables, finding the hard numbers on counts, percentages, averages on data points like gender, race, and wage. This led to ACDS’ being able to present this data before representatives of the Department of Labor, as well as before our internal team.

MY CAREER GOALS

Right now, I’m looking for a company that I can settle into and grow with, so that I can not only build my own character skills and development, I can also build a reputation with a company.

This ACDS work-based internship has changed the trajectory of what I’m looking to do in my field, specifically. I’ve worked with hardware in my academic experience, and also software in regards to the programming. Now, I’m feeling that this demographic analysis project that I did with ACDS opened the opportunity for me to want to go more into research. While getting my footing, I’m looking locally for career advancement and new avenues to explore. I’m thankful for ACDS for opening new doors in the IT workforce.