BlueCross, ETSU Launch BlueSky Tennessee Institute

By Alison Sexter

Partnership aims to meet demand for tech expertise with two-year Bachelor’s degree program.

Pictured Above: Brad Leon, Executive Director, BlueSky Institute 

Starting in summer 2022, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee’s Chattanooga headquarters will host college classes in addition to office meetings. Students seeking a degree in computing will join the ranks of insurance professionals badging in each day on Cameron Hill.

Why? BlueCross has had more open tech jobs than it’s been able to fill with local talent. So they’ve partnered with East Tennessee State University (ETSU) to create the BlueSky Tennessee Institute, a program offering Volunteer State students the chance to earn a Bachelor’s degree and a job offer from BlueCross – all in just two years.

“The work of serving our members has become increasingly technology-driven,” says JD Hickey, BlueCross President and CEO. “With BlueSky Institute, we can meet a critical business need while expanding opportunities for students in our community.”

Learning and Working on Cameron Hill

BlueSky Institute will offer eligible high school graduates the chance to:

• Earn a Bachelor’s degree in Computing from ETSU in just over two years

• Gain real-world experience by learning and working as an intern at BlueCross

• Create a portfolio of projects while earning their degree

• Secure a rewarding job offer at BlueCross after successfully completing the program.

BlueSky Institute students will complete their coursework on the Cameron Hill campus in downtown Chattanooga, becoming part of the company’s diverse and inclusive workplace community.

The Mission: Meet a Need for Top Tech Talent

Tennessee has roughly 4,100 technology job postings per year and only 1,000 qualified graduates to fill them. And BlueCross is facing the same challenge as many other Volunteer State organizations – the company typically has more open cybersecurity and coding jobs than it can fill with local talent.

BlueCross joined forces with ETSU for BlueSky Institute based on the strength of the school’s existing computing curriculum and eagerness to innovate in partnership.

“In developing BlueSky Institute, we sought out a program partner that recognized the high demand for technology jobs in Tennessee and shared our vision to meet that need with a new approach,” Hickey says. “We’re excited to collaborate with ETSU to develop tech talent together, right here in our home state.”

ETSU’s curriculum for BlueSky Institute covers a wide range of topics including artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analytics, programming and more. University leaders are excited by the opportunity to join forces with BlueCross in an effort that responds to a real-world business need and offers the chance to make a positive impact.

“Our university is committed to improving the quality of life for the people of our region,” says Brian Noland, Ph.D., ETSU president. “It’s an opportunity for two entities with similar missions and a footprint that overlaps to come together to expand opportunities and open doors for students to realize their dreams.”

Focus on High-Priority Schools

The inaugural BlueSky Institute class will begin in the summer of 2022 with around 15 students. While any Tennessee student can apply, BlueCross and ETSU are placing a special focus on identifying and recruiting high-potential students from six Hamilton County high schools: Brainerd, East Ridge, Hixson, Howard, Red Bank and Tyner.

“Our students will get personal support every step of the way, including mentorship from BlueCross employees,” says Scott Wilson, Vice President of Corporate Communications and Community Relations for BlueCross, who helped spearhead the initiative. “We’re committed to making it easy for BlueSky Institute students to focus on their futures.”

BlueSky Institute will be led by executive director Brad Leon, an education expert who most recently served as chief of strategy and performance management for Shelby County Schools. Leon brings more than a decade of successful innovation to the role, with experience in blended digital/online and teacher-driven instruction as well as leading effective improvement efforts at some of the Tennessee schools most in need of turnaround.

“It’s an honor to be part of such a unique program that will propel students into high-demand career fields,” Leon says. “I look forward to seeing what our graduates accomplish in the years to come.”