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AWS Jam at SNHU: Experiential Learning for STEM Students

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In early April, Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offered Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) students an experiential learning opportunity to help advance their skills in their degree programs and connect with the SNHU community. 

SNHU, Amazon Web Series (AWS), Red River Technology and the Red River Charitable Foundation, collaborated to encourage students to continue their studies in science and technology, by hosting an AWS Jam session for the inaugural Red River Charitable Foundation Cloud Cup.

Ed Ithier with the text Ed Ithier “The Red River Charitable Foundation Cloud Cup is a collaboration between Amazon and Red River and SNHU,” said Ed Ithier, director of development at SNHU. “Monetary support is provided by the Red River Charitable Foundation and employees of Red River and Amazon AWS spearhead the event.” 

An AWS Jam is a cloud computing competition where students work together in a team of 3-4 people on a series of challenges. 

It's an innovative event to provide students, both on campus and online, a chance to show off their cloud computing and computer science expertise and learn valuable career skills. 

How Does SNHU Integrate AWS into STEM Courses?

Renard Spratling with the text Renard Spratling "Amazon's cloud platform, Amazon Web Services (AWS), is the most broadly used cloud platform worldwide, and people with AWS skills are highly sought after by employers," said Renard Spratling, associate dean of STEM at SNHU. 

Spratling noted that SNHU integrates AWS in several information technology and computer science courses. Students complete hands-on lessons and projects in the actual AWS environment, learning a range of skills. After completing these courses, students are prepared to take an AWS certification exam.

Arana Fireheart with the text Arana FireheartArana Fireheart, an assistant professor of information technology (IT) programs at SNHU, said that after learning the foundational skills in these courses, students will build and deploy a professional multi-server web server in the AWS environment. 

"Students are also given the opportunity to take certification courses provided by Amazon. These courses are outside of their regular SNHU curriculum and are available to students for free,” said Ithier. “One of the benefits of this option is that students can complete the courses on their own time at a schedule and pace that works for them. As a result of completing the courses, they are prepared for AWS certification exams."

What Did Students Learn from the Event?

The AWS Jam offered a hands-on experience for students to network with instructors and industry workers and was an excellent opportunity for students to work in a team setting with like-minded students in similar programs.

This year's event had 45 participants, with 17 on-campus students and 28 online students. 

"While it was a competition, I also wanted to sharpen my AWS skills and encounter some real-world scenarios," said Ben Angel, an IT student in the first-place winning team. "I also liked having the opportunity to work through challenges with my peers and experience working as a team to solve challenges."

One of Angel's teammates, Carly Grass, earning her IT degree on campus, said working cohesively with her team played a significant role in them winning the competition. 

"My team won in the last few minutes, right on the wire, and the stress was worth it for the elation," she said. "My teammate Adam (Clement) and I worked together on all the lower-level tasks without needing to use any hints, and I fully believe that that's the only reason we were able to pull ahead."

Her teammate, Clement, a fourth-year IT student, reiterated he also had a great time working on this competition with his team as it was a great way to learn more about the cloud platform.

"It's a good way to learn about AWS and problem-solving," he said.

An AWS Jam can be instrumental in preparing students for future career opportunities and expanding their knowledge and skill sets around security, migration, dev-ops, artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML), and more. 

Is Participating in an AWS Jam Worth it?

Being a part of an AWS Jam can be worthwhile for STEM students interested in developing their cloud computing and computer science skills. 

Sonja Moffett with the text Sonja MoffettSonja Moffett, a career engagement partner at SNHU, believes experiential learning opportunities like AWS Jam will enhance a student's education and that students need the experience. She considers a student's education a qualifier, but the experiences are the differentiators.

“By participating in competency-based learning experiences like AWS JAM, students can develop newfound skills, network with industry experts and one another,” Moffett said. “They can also include their new skills on their resumes, in an interview setting, and share them on their LinkedIn profiles – and one of the greatest benefits of participation is that they are able to use these skills immediately, on the job.” 

This year's competition is the first of a what is anticipated annual event between SNHU, Red River Charitable Foundation and AWS, so there will be plenty of new opportunities to get involved. This year's participants felt it is more than worth it. 

Christopher Biele, a cybersecurity major, said," I would recommend this event to any student who wants to learn about AWS, compete in a tech-related competition, or simply wants to participate for fun. I felt honored to make it into the AWS Jam this year, and I am already looking forward to next year's jam."

Grass agrees and said that the learning experience alone is worth it for others to compete in years to come. 

"Getting to interact with the event coordinators was an enlightening experience, and the chance to work in a team-based environment to solve realistic scenarios is a chance I think anyone would see the benefit of," she said. 

Being involved in an AWS Jam can provide a valuable experiential learning opportunity for STEM students to establish connections in the industry, gain technical knowledge develop, soft skills and position students for success. 

"This is the benefit of participating in experiential learning challenges like AWS Jams,” said Moffett. “It is a proactive approach to career readiness that develops their professionalism and any core competencies they will need in addition to the theoretical knowledge they gain in their degree program.”

A degree can change your life. Find the SNHU STEM program that can best help you meet your goals.

Alexa Gustavsen '21 is a writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.