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UCA, Metova Announce Opening of Arkansas Coding Academy

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Metova Inc. of Franklin, Tennessee, and the University of Central Arkansas in Conway on Tuesday marked the opening of the Arkansas Coding Academy, a hands-on program that aims to build a talent pipeline of software developers and programmers from the classroom to the workforce.

The academy’s leaders, who include instructors and mentors from Arkansas companies, said during a news conference that students will experience a hands-on approach to learning skills like building flexible user interfaces for multiple operating systems, developing apps, debugging apps and more.

The academy, which will take place on the UCA campus, begins Aug. 22. 

Nine students have already been accepted to the program, which can accommodate 15 students, according to Arkansas Coding Academy Director Mary Dunlap. Dunlap was most recently the campus director of the Iron Yard coding school in Little Rock, which closed in May.

The academy will offer three- and six-month programs, credits that support four-year degree programs, small classroom environments, scholarships, assistance for child care and transportation expenses for those who qualify and access to UCA resources.

The academy’s first-year estimated budget is $300,000-$350,000 and is funded by UCA and a $100,000 grant from the state Department of Workforce Services. 

The DWS grant will support the academy’s work with dislocated and underserved populations. Shelley Mehl, UCA’s associate vice president for outreach and community engagement, said the state agency would also pay $5,000 of the $6,000 tuition of each qualified student.

Metova, Acxiom Corp., Rock Pond, Rockfish, J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc., RevUnit and Field Agent have agreed to help find jobs for academy students. Company representatives will also serve as mentors, Mehl said.

Brad Lacy, a UCA board of trustees member and president and CEO of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce, said the academy will help the community supply workers companies need.

“I think that what we’ll see here is a perfect marriage between higher ed and business, and that it should pay dividends for our local economy, our students and our institution,” he said, adding that local companies need several hundred programers over the next three to five years.

“We could sit and watch these workforce reductions [in simple labor functions] … or we could lead by training the next generation of highly skilled workers,” said Kent Watson, vice president of technology at Metova, a cybersecurity firm with offices in Conway and Fayetteville. He also said companies worldwide need people with technical skills.

Daryl Bassett, director of the state Department of Workforce Services, said UCA has always been on the cutting edge, with leadership that has ushered in a new era. He said the academy will fight the perception that Arkansas doesn’t have the workforce companies need.

“We are in a revolution, and the thing about revolutions is you can sleep through a revolution. And you can wake up when it’s too late to fight,” Bassett said. “I don’t want Arkansas to sleep through the revolution, and wake up and realize the revolution’s over and it’s too late to fight.”

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