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Connecting at High Tech U

By David Lammers

Do you remember how you were first exposed to the semiconductor industry, to the idea that the field might be a good place in which to work?

For me, it happened to be in the early 1980s, reading an article in National Geographic magazine while manning the night editing desk at the Associated Press bureau in Tokyo. I remember the author wrote that making semiconductors was “basically a chemical process.” I had enjoyed my chemistry classes and a brief part-time job helping a chemist, cleaning beakers, watching the gas chromatograph, and the like. “Hey, maybe I could write about that,” I thought.

Perhaps a similar confidence-boosting process is underway for some of the 22 boys and 22 girls – high school students from Austin area schools — who attended the SEMI High Tech U program held largely at Samsung Austin Semiconductor recently.

Lisa Anderson manages the High Tech U program, which is part of the SEMI Foundation. In Austin, the students spent three full days rubbing shoulders with technicians from Samsung, listening to volunteer speakers from semiconductor equipment companies, and others. “We seek the good to average students, kids who could be even better. Our goal is to get them excited about math and science, to show them how what they learn in their chemistry classes can be applied. Getting them into an industrial setting can make a huge difference,” Anderson said.

On the day I visited, Samsung engineer Kim Gabor, a chemical engineer by training, was demonstrating what a Samsung technician does. She had several girls and boys working as a team with electronics kits, connecting wires to terminals and the like.

High Tech U includes the “soft skills” students will need when applying for jobs, how to speak clearly, dress properly for a job interview, and the like. Tom Ortman, CEO of Concurrent Design, led a session on critical thinking, for example. As one of the Austin teachers at the event said, “Generally speaking, the students who are good at math and science often are not the most social. They want to learn the soft skills, and this is a place that affords them that opportunity.”

The Austin event was the 25th High Tech U program for students, including a program in Singapore where the students (including a group which traveled from Abu Dhabi) went inside an Applied Materials Singapore cleanroom.  Another 103 teacher-training sessions have been held, Anderson said. Programs about LEDs and nanotech are being developed.

About half of the money to put on the Austin event came from the Fab Owners Association. Samsung Austin Semiconductor hosted the students for part of three-day event, and other support came from Applied Materials, Horiba, Microbinc, MKS Instruments, Tokyo Electron, Austin Community College, and Texas State University.

Anderson said in the early going it was fairly easy to get big companies such as Intel and Applied to underwrite most of a High Tech U program. While they continue to provide support, she said that in general “companies are strapped for funds, and it is not that easy anymore.” One solution is to get smaller amounts from a number of companies. It costs about $600-$700 per student to organize and put on the three-day programs.

Much of the organizational work in Austin was done by Judy Andersen, who is the CEO of a company, Microbinc, which provides clean rooms and contamination control supplies to data centers, bio-tech, and semiconductor companies. Andersen told the SEMI Austin committee, “It is never too early to start pulling in funds for the next event. Though we don’t have a date yet, we’d like to roll it out every six months. Samsung probably will want to be involved, but we do want to move it around.”

Catherine Morse, the general counsel at Samsung Austin, said the company had to work hard to recruit 1,400 technically savvy workers over the past couple of years. That awakened Samsung to the need to support career development activities, including bringing busloads of students to tour the Austin site. “During the last hiring cycle we realized we needed a strategy for galvanizing the STEM pipeline in Central Texas,” Morse said.

Who knows? By the time Samsung gets ready to build another fab in Austin, some of the students who took the High Tech U course may be graduated and looking for good jobs.

One Response to “Connecting at High Tech U”

  1. Bill Land Says:

    This sounds like something that knowledgeable electronics engineers and managers have bee asking for for 20 years or more. It sounds like it was more industry created and supported and not averwhelmed by the academic crowd, who don’t seem to get that the best training is “hands on” training. Good work, Keep it up

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