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Bowsprit: Securing Meaningful Outcomes for Employment

At Divergence Academy, we continuously innovate to help our Learners and Alumni secure meaningful outcomes towards employment. Initiatives such as our Bowsprit Program follow a simple formula:

Real Work + Real Learning + Real Opportunity = Real Jobs


To get a better idea of Bowsprit, we caught up with Rachael Ridenour, resident Business Intelligence Analyst for Machine Learning and Process Automation at Divergence Academy.

"Projects done in the real world for the first time often fail," says Rachael. "We view these experiences as invaluable learning opportunities that will separate you from book learners. These are real projects that are out to help real businesses; not classroom assignments where you get to check a box."

We’ve previously spoken about how the number one metric for Divergence Academy is employment. “The idea behind Bowsprit is to help every participant reinforce their new training with additional real-world, on-the-job work which serves as a great value add to their resume or LinkedIn portfolio.” Rachael proceeds to explain that at the end of the day, Divergence is all about “immersive training meets real experience.” Bowsprit offers just that.


Paving the way for successful employment


Launched in mid-Dec of 2020, the goal behind Bowsprit was to provide short-term, real-world project work for Divergence Learners & Alumni. Learners and Alumni would be able to further cement what they had learned from their respective immersive programs, allowing for two things:

  • Provide more real-life, on-the-job work scenarios to deepen the retention of new training and prep them for new career roles, and;
  • Facilitate the learner's hiring process, since most employers seek out candidates with this type of on-the-job experience.

As a result, Divergence Learners would be more marketable to hiring companies seeking talent with their specific skills.

"I think it's important that when you do things for the first time, you don't do it the best way,” Rachael continues. “You [have to] do it in a way where learning happens. What Bowsprit is out to do is to give you the chance to do that project again and again, and as a student, you take that learning with you."

Bowsprit covers a total of 120 hours spread out across six weeks. For participants, the expectation is that they treat the program as if it were an actual hands-on, professional opportunity.

“Divergence Academy is a vocational training school,” says Rachael. “We want to get Learners to understand that I'm looking for a professional applicant who is willing to put their best foot forward. At Divergence Labs, we don't do anything related to the teaching side of Divergence Academy. Instead, we're focused on solving real pain points with real projects for real businesses."

"I need people to understand that this isn't a check-the-box thing where [you just need to aim] for a passing mark. This is [your opportunity to] bring what you can to the table to help reduce the business' pain point and show off your professional skills."

This is crucial for learners to acquire the expertise they need to make it out there. “[When you work on a project like this, there will be moments where] it may feel like you've failed. At least, until you really sit with the takeaways you gained from doing the work, and [that’s when] you realize you didn't fail at all."

Rachael asserts that these “set-backs” are, in fact, necessary. “Expertise only comes with making mistakes. That's called learning."


Practical experience for real-world business needs


For US Army veteran Don Snyder, Bowsprit was an opportunity to put his Data Science knowledge and skills to the test. "[I was] so lucky to have been in the right place with an organization that's forward-thinking enough to offer a program like [Bowsprit], so that I could get some real-world, hands-on experience."

To elaborate, Don shared that while creating his Data Science Immersive capstone project, he was doing it with a theoretical client in mind. "Ultimately, I chose a problem that I identified and wanted to fix, and I fixed it in the way that I wanted to see it done."

"But that's not how the real world works," Don continues. "[In the real world], clients and employers often have their own business cases and requirements for the work that we're going to do. Bowsprit gave me the opportunity to take all of that incredible theoretical knowledge and apply it in a real-world work scenario, where I'm meeting a specific client's needs, the way that they need their needs met, not the way I think they should be met."

Don worked alongside fellow Data Science Immersive alumnus Quintan Gee to develop an inventory application that tracks, documents, and manages logistics for Divergence’s "Fedex" hub.


Bowsprit Preview 1

Preview of Divergence Inventory App by Snyder and Gee

"What we were working on is something that Divergence can take and use [day-to-day]." Quintan Gee shares. We previously wrote about how, given the challenges in 2020, Divergence pivoted to bringing the academy to learners. The distribution of learner kits to current and incoming students is a monumental task. By centralizing data on which inventory is available where, Divergence staff can now identify if resources need to be restocked.

But while the initial brief was focused largely on managing business inventory needs, the reality of the project’s scope turned out to be far greater.

“We were going to create [one] app, and that turned into three applications. Because we realized that the business problem that we had to solve was three separate use cases. [Parsing the business problem] turned out a little bit more involved than what it looked like on the surface. And that's what it's like when you're actually on the job."

While Don worked on the front-end of the project, Quintan was tasked with working out the back-end. “We initially had a meeting with Case Copeland and Bret Harder to understand exactly what they wanted and what they were looking for. Basically, the requirements for a minimal viable product.”


Bowsprit Preview 2

Preview of Divergence Inventory App by Snyder and Gee


This kind of hands-on experience is in line with Bowsprit’s hope that participants will be better equipped to understand and realize their career goals.

Speaking again with Rachael, she shared that before participants start, there is a briefing that lasts about 45-minutes to an hour so that she can get to know them better. “From there, I assign a project that is going to help the Learner move forward in the direction that they feel like they are trying to get to."

As for supporting Learners throughout the experience, she expounds on how: "Part of my job is to go ahead and let [the Learner] struggle a little bit. Because it's in the struggle that learning occursas you're trying to put things in context and use it, and not just read about it."

When asked about instances where participants get stuck, Rachael explains that she has subject matter experts on call to help out. "I don't want you to struggle for too long. If you get to a place where you really can't do it, [you have the option to] just reach out. We're here to help coach you and give you the mentorship so that you can continue to move forward with that learning experience."


Bowsprit Preview 3

Preview of Divergence Inventory App by Snyder and Gee


"This is a real opportunity. Our ultimate goal is that if you, as the participant, treat this like a six-week job, you get to use me as a reference. And I will legitimately get to say that I'm absolutely willing to hire this person."

For Divergence Academy Preferred Partners, Rachael sees plenty of opportunity to help the recruitment pipeline along. "I get to know [the participant], I'm able to recommend the right person to the placement specialist, maybe for a job where you might be the right fit."

In terms of time management, Rachael explains that the program is flexible. "It's up to [Learners] to manage their time. You'll have a project, or a series of projects, that are due every Sunday by 6 PM CT. If you want to work 10-hour days, you can. If you want to work four or five hour days, you can. It's completely up to you to orchestrate your schedule. Because [the participants] are all alumni, a lot of them often have jobs or family commitments."

Bowsprit projects can be done individually or collaboratively. For the most recent round of participants, Rachael has partnered up with both cyber and data science students, the latter of whom are working on individual projects.

Rachael continues to explain that part of the considerations during assigned projects is the Learner's comfort level. "It really just depends. If somebody is comfortable [working on their own], I'm going to give them what they need to support their outcome. I've got two people who specifically said that they don't want to work alone and how they're not comfortable yet. In cases like that, I'm going to pair them with somebody that's going to help lead the way."


Bowsprit goes hand-in-hand with the initiatives spearheaded by Career Services


"Part of my job is to give you new software, a new project, a new element, a new angle. So that Learners are also learning and expanding from what they picked up in the ten weeks they were in the cyber or data science programs. Bowsprit [is an opportunity to] help you refine your resume and reinforce the fact that you are a lifelong learner."

"[Career Services] is absolutely available to support [Learners] with updating resumes in that last week and talking with them about how best to articulate the program." Rachael stresses that Divergence Learners have every opportunity to utilize these services so that once the participants have finished the program, they come out of it with an updated resume and portfolio that best showcases their efforts.

"We always say at Divergence that placement is our number one metric. And you have to be able to speak confidently about your skillset to ace an interview. Again, [Bowsprit] helps reinforce the skills you need to get that successful job. We'll coach you through a mock interview, and we'll let you practice. We have feedback loops in place. If we're able to do [the interview] on Microsoft Teams, we'll record it. Part of the assignment for that next week is to go back and listen to yourself, so you can tell me how you did or what you would do differently."

In terms of the program's success, Rachael has cited that a number of Divergence Academy graduates have achieved positive employment outcomes.

"It's really hard to take a cutting edge immersion program and real world experience and not find a job," she laughs. "We've had several students, mid-Bowsprit, get job offers from external companies. I think that's a great way for me to tell you goodbye."



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