#NationalVolunteerWeek ITWorks Spotlight: James Collins

James Collins.jpg

James Collins, Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the State of Delaware in the Department of Technology and Information (DTI), has been involved with the ITWorks program nearly since he first took his position. 

ITWorks is an award winning 16-week job training program that changes lives. The program provides free, IT training to young adults– high school graduates, between the ages of 18-26 years old, who have not yet completed a Bachelor’s degree. Students earn a professional certification in IT and a real-world internship inside leading corporations and nonprofits. 

James has not only personally served as a mentor to several students and hosted numerous Lunch & Learn sessions to talk about his experiences, but he’s also gotten other DTI team members involved by hosting interns and employing ITWorks graduates. Having the support of James, and the entire state, is instrumental to the success of the ITWorks program in Delaware. We were able to interview James to hear more about his experience volunteeering. 

How did you first learn about the ITWorks program? What compelled you to get involved as a volunteer? 

I first heard about ITWorks from the Executive Director of Tech Impact, Patrick Callihan. He reached out to me when I first came to be CIO for the State. He wanted me to be aware of everything that was going on with ITWorks, and inform me of the volunteer opportunities available. I thought it would be a great way to get involved, and be part of the landscape of the state.

You volunteer in a variety of capacities – do you have a favorite way to get involved?

You know, I really enjoy all the ways I interact with the program. After that first introduction to the program, I met one of our most dynamic employees – Janelle Jackson. I learned that she came to us through the ITWorks program, and that compelled me even further to get involved. I love being a mentor because there is such a personal connection, and I really get to be part of the development of one student. Coming in for Lunch & Learns is personally gratifying as well, because it allows me an opportunity to tell them what I wish I knew when I was in their shoes. Being able to support them at that stage is meaningful. We’ve also had numerous interns on different teams. That is so important as they are getting started because it gives them real-world access to life in the IT field. We were able to recruit another great team member – Imani Coleman – so we’ve had great success with placement as well. The last thing that is really motivating for me is attending graduation. I am able to see the pride of not only the graduates, but of their family and friends. That is a feeling of great accomplishment, and the true launch point for their futures. All the work is very meaningful.

Describe one experience with a student(s) that stands out as being particularly impactful for the student(s), yourself, or both. 

One immediately jumps to mind; well actually a couple of them. Whoever does the job of matching mentors to mentees does a really great job! When I met the student I was going to mentor, Imani, we just had so much in common right from the start. She was in the military reserves of the same branch I was in, and she was so ready to dedicate and commit herself to the IT field. She was also selected as the intern for DTI during that session. She had a few other employment positions, but she eventually did pursue a position with DTI – and she’s employed here now! During that internship, there was one particular day where we had a lot going on with the Governor’s office. He was signing an order dealing with cyber security. Imani had an opportunity to see the legislature in action, meet the Governor, and participate in some cyber security activities. It was amazing to see them immersed in this new environment, and really thriving there. Sometimes life is about exposure, the more we can get people exposed to it just broadens their horizons; and I got to see that first hand.

 

I can’t go without saying that just having the opportunity to meet each class, which are always uniquely different, makes me admire the work that ITWorks does – taking these young people and molding them for a successful future. I love the diversity of the program, as well. It’s public knowledge that many organizations struggle with diversity, so seeing the classes and the various opportunities they have just goes to show that diversity can be found in IT professionals.

What do you think the benefit is for volunteers who get involved with ITWorks? 

I have to start with the obvious. A lot of times you think you’re walking with the expectation to only give to someone else, but you leave having received just as much. Spending time with the students in this program reminds me of when I was there and how far I’ve come. It’s almost an inherent obligation to pay it forward to help someone else accomplish their dreams. And there’s something really gratifying about that. It may sound cliché, but it’s so true. From a purely selfish perspective, we’ve gotten a couple of great team members from the partnership. So, it’s great for volunteers to scope out some talent as well. But really, it’s about helping Delaware move forward.

Do you have any insight for organizations or individuals who are considering a volunteer opportunity with ITWorks? 

You always feel like you don’t have time to do it, but afterwards I can guarantee that you will be happy you did. Every time I leave thinking to myself, “That’s why I do this.” It’s really important and gratifying work because you’re helping other people. If that is part of your own value set, then it definitely aligns with getting involved with ITWorks.

 

As long as ITWorks is around and is willing to have me, I look forward to being involved. It not only serves the students in the program, but the people and future of our state in general.

The Department of Technology and Information (DTI) is the state's central IT organization, providing enterprise IT, telecommunications and related services that enable other state organizations including the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches, public schools, and various other agencies to effectively fulfill their missions to Delaware residents. Partnership with ITWorks dovetails well with DTI’s practice of seeking a diverse workforce. Internships have been a key factor in helping DTI to recruit the best and brightest. DTI is proud of the number of ITWorks graduates that have interned or become full time DTI employees. 

Our volunteers are such an asset to our programs and make a huge impact on our students. Tech Impact would not be the same without them!

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