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Degree Apprenticeships

University of Exeter degree apprentice awarded UK IT Apprentice of the Year

Marge, an Artificial Intelligence powered chatbot, helped University of Exeter Degree Apprentice, Lori French, to win the coveted UK IT Apprentice of the year prize.

Lori French, who studies Digital Technology and who works as an Emerging Technology Software Developer Apprentice for IBM, developed Marge for a leading financial company to help their employees respond to complex customer queries using a central knowledge database. Lori found developing Marge a challenging and interesting project, which gave her the chance to draw on the skills she had developed whilst working on IBM's consumer channel.

Marge was presented at IBM’s annual Think summit by Jay Bellissimo (General Manager of the Cognitive Process Transformation department at IBM) and Ian McLaughlin, (CEO of RBS) in front of 30,000 attendees. The chatbot was praised by IBM’s CEO Ginni Rometty for its highly innovative design.

Lori was announced the IT Apprentice of the Year at the British Computer Society (BCS) IT Industry awards event in Manchester in November 2019. She said: “I was absolutely delighted to win the award and I am grateful that it has given me a stronger platform to be an advocate for women in STEM subjects.”

Lori has led an event at IBM teaching girls how to build chatbots and she regularly visits girls' schools giving talks to encourage girls to study and work in STEM. The accolade of the award has also enabled Lori to take on more advanced consultancy projects at IBM.

Lori is in her second year of her Digital Technology Solutions Degree Apprenticeship. She wants to continue growing her software development and consultancy skills at IBM, working towards becoming a certified Senior Inventor.

Under the Degree Apprenticeship scheme, Lori has the opportunity to apply the theory she is learning from degree-level teaching at the University of Exeter to address real client problems using the latest technologies at IBM.

Lori said: “The best thing about my Degree Apprenticeship is it enables me to apply the skills I’m learning to real client problems, driving greater value for them and expanding my own skillset. For me the Degree Apprenticeship was the best opportunity I could have taken.”

As a Degree Apprentice, Lori earns a full salary without paying tuition fees, offering a cost-effective alternative to a traditional degree route.

Lori spends one day a week studying, receiving online lectures where she learns the foundations of IT and coding as well as how to apply project management frameworks. Lecturers are available to answer questions via email and Lori has an academic mentor who oversees her progress. She also attends residentials in Exeter three times a year where new topics for the term are introduced.

Having worked at IBM’s London office for the first two years of the programme, Lori has recently moved to the IBM research team in Winchester, where she will experience a new side to the business. In the research team, Lori has the opportunity to implement cutting edge technologies, in client proof of concepts that showcase value within industry, and has also filed for several patents.