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Taking flight: Q&A with three new BlueSky Institute students

We believe our mission to provide peace of mind through better health depends on fostering technology talent locally and developing future leaders of our company. BlueSky Institute makes that possible by providing high school graduates with the unique opportunity to have a college experience in a corporate environment. 

Through a partnership with East Tennessee State University (ETSU), BlueSky offers a path to a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a job offer in just 27 months. In August, our second cohort of 30 students arrived on the BlueCross campus in Chattanooga to begin our one-of-a-kind workforce development program.   

In addition to starting their coursework, these students participated in group events as part of BlueSky’s “summer bridge,” which involves everything from hiking to volunteering to workshops on topics like time management and goal setting. They’re also getting to know Cohort 1 students — including their peer mentors — learning about BlueCross as a business,  and enjoying aspects of the classic college orientation experience. 

We spoke with three students who’ve recently begun the BlueSky program — Cassandra Bolton, Nathan Kozlica, and Corben Smith — about what brought them here, what they’re excited to learn, and what they hope for the future. 

From left: Cassandra Bolton, Corben Smith and Nathan Kozlica

How did you first hear about BlueSky? 

Cassandra: I’m from California originally and was going to Northern Arizona University. I was in the process of transferring schools because it wasn’t the right fit. I applied to ETSU and put computer science down as my major. On the application, it offered BlueSky as an option. So I started looking into what that was, and then I applied. 

Nathan: I attended Red Bank High School, and our Future Ready program was the first to partner with BlueCross. I learned about BlueSky through that. I also helped manage some of our social media stuff at Red Bank and noticed a lot of BlueSky-related pages were popping up. I was very interested, so I just continued the research. 

Corben: My computer science teacher at East Ridge High School was the first person who mentioned BlueSky to me. He was pretty psyched about it, especially because we sent people last year. That teacher and my career advisor in high school were my biggest advocates. 

What excited you about the opportunity? 

Cassandra: I’ve been interested in computer science since middle school. Back then a family member got hacked in a massive Social Security leak and lost their entire retirement fund. Even through that I saw all the good that could be done with computer science, as I heard about experts who helped my family with this case. I wanted to major in computer science after that. BlueSky Institute Cassandra Bolton

Also, I always wanted to move to the East Coast and BlueSky gave me an opportunity to do that. I really like that it offers an accelerated degree, because I want to get working as quickly as possible. Plus, it comes with an internship built into it, which is always great. 

Nathan: I found the structure very appealing. I’m an Eagle Scout, and I also did Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps all four years of high school. Growing up, my mom wasn’t in the military but my grandfather was. And my dad, who immigrated to the United States, was basically Special Forces in his home country of Bosnia. So I’ve had several retired veterans in my life who’ve told me, “Consider your options.” 

“For me, most of the BlueSky appeal was the work study. A lot of colleges generally won’t give you a work study experience; you have to seek it out yourself.”

But having that already integrated into your education is great, and something that I know I’ll benefit from.

The accelerated degree and the opportunity to start working a bit earlier, just to support my family a bit, also interested me.  

Corben: Computer science has always been what I’ve wanted to do. When I was a kid, I told my dad that I wanted a Ph.D. in robotics, even though I had no clue what that meant. Like most kids in the program, I’ve tinkered a bit, done a bit of programming. And I took a computer science course in high school. I’m not coming in completely ignorant, but I’m ready to learn more. 

BlueSky Institute Corben Smith

It’s an amazing opportunity. The biggest things for me are the financial aid and the smaller community. For a lot of people entering college, having so many people in a room is a big fear and can cause a lot of anxiety. Also, BlueSky results in a bachelor’s degree quicker than normal, which I’m psyched about. I don’t want to spend four-odd years in college when I can be closer to getting a real paycheck after 27 months.  

Now that you’re here, what are you most looking forward to? 

Cassandra: Because we’ll be working so closely with one another, I’m looking forward to getting to know the first and second cohort all together.

“I’m hoping to make some good friends so when they go off to their jobs, I can still call them if I ever need help on anything related to my job.” 

Nathan: I’m looking forward to learning and expanding what I know, and carrying that forward to future goals, like one day teaching at a military academy. Having a more diverse portfolio and being more experienced in the computer science field would certainly help me do so. 

BlueSky Institute Nathan Kozlica

Corben: I’m looking forward to meeting and being around a lot of like-minded people, and generally just learning more about computers, which is something I’ve been passionate about for as long as I can remember. I’m excited to get started. And the food here is good, too [laughs]. 

Looking ahead

Classes are currently underway for Cassandra, Nathan, Corben, and the rest of the Cohort 2 students. They’re building upon the skills that led to their acceptance to BlueSky Institute, meeting with their mentors, and working their way toward a job offer at BlueCross upon successful completion of the program. 


About Jesse Thompson, Senior Communications Specialist

A photo of the authorJesse joined the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee corporate communications team in 2017. A Chattanooga native, he has more than 15 years’ experience in content creation, management, and strategy for consumer audiences, including a six-year stint in health care marketing.

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