Learn AI in Iowa: A Guide to Artificial Intelligence Degree Programs & Certificate-Level Training Courses Online & in Iowa

Written by Rebecca Turley

ai piece of the puzzle

The power of artificial intelligence can be felt around every corner, down every hallway, and in every nook and cranny of business and society. It’s revolutionizing processes and practices in nearly all industries and forever changing how we approach problems. And it’s doing so at lightning speed, often in the least likely of places.

Those out of the tech loop may be surprised to learn that West Des Moines, Iowa, has become the epicenter of AI. For several years now, an Azure computer, which Microsoft built specifically for OpenAI, has been leading the artificial intelligence charge —in rural Iowa, of all places. Here, the supercomputing systems hosted by Azure (among the most powerful in the world, according to Microsoft) are behind the novel AI approaches being developed at breakneck speed for OpenAI’s GPT-4 model, which is now part of many Microsoft technologies. From search engines to AI-powered copilot applications, history is being made among the towering corn fields of Iowa.

Microsoft has been operating out of West Des Moines for some ten years now and today operates five datacenter campuses here. Iowa was an ideal host for Microsoft, offering the technology behemoth everything needed to power the future of AI – land, a skilled workforce, and a system of reliable and renewable energy sources.

Iowa has long positioned itself at the forefront of innovation, so it wasn’t a surprise that Microsoft singled it out as a home for its data centers and supercomputers. In fact, Iowa State College was where the first electronic digital computer was invented in the 1930s.

Microsoft’s growing advanced supercomputing infrastructure can’t run off energy alone; it’s supported by talent that’s made it the ninth-largest employer in the Des Moines region. With lofty plans by Microsoft to double its current workforce in the coming years, opportunities in the tech sector will continue to flourish in Iowa.

If you want to become part of the swiftly growing AI field, you’ll need a foundation that only a formal degree program can provide. Whether you’re interested in entering the field or advancing in it, a degree or certificate program will make you a serious contender for some of the most exciting AI jobs today. Fortunately, there’s a growing selection of degree programs that are designed to prepare tomorrow’s AI engineers, scientists, and analysts to spearhead what comes next.

UI Leads the State in AI-Powered Innovations

Call them innovations, breakthroughs, discoveries…

How ever they’re described, one thing’s certain —the AI-powered technologies being developed behind the walls of the University of Iowa are poised to solve some of society’s most pressing problems.

black holeVisit the University of Iowa on any given day and, chances are, you’ll hear plenty of chatter about artificial intelligence. And it’s no wonder. This university is where researchers at the UI College of Engineering’s Iowa Initiative for Artificial Intelligence (IIAI) are employing AI technologies like big data, computational power, and precision sensors to find solutions for some the most compelling challenges in medicine, business, the physical and social sciences, and much more.

Since 2019, the IIAI has been the site of no less than 28 research endeavors being led by interdisciplinary teams of students, researchers, and staff. And it’s now home to two new AI labs in the College of Engineering and the Henry B. Tippie College of Business, both of which are equipped with high-powered computers boasting machine learning capabilities.

Just a few of these AI-forward research endeavors taking place at IIAI include:

The Hunt for Black Holes – And Other Mysterious Stellar Objects

Picking through the galaxy in search of new and exciting cosmic objects is akin to finding that proverbial needle in a haystack. But An IIAI research team is making quick work of this game of hide-and-seek, teaching computers to sift through hundreds of thousands of images in an effort to recognize stellar objects that don’t meet specific criteria.

Using the power of AI, the team is training computers to examine massive data sets and locate anomalies like black holes, pulsars, and other mysterious objects that don’t fit the traditional astronomical mold. The project involves combing through more than 300,000 objects that were captured and documented by the satellite Chandra X-ray Observatory – a task that could never be carried out by people. To date, AI has located 119 objects to be further studied, potentially leading to exciting new discoveries in the years to come.

Identifying Flood Dangers Before They Become Catastrophes

The Iowa Flood Center through the UI College of Engineer’s IIHR – Hydroscience and Engineering was born out of a devastating flood in 2008 when the Iowa River breached its banks and caused more than $750 million in damage to the university.

With the help of IIAI, UI engineers have begun applying AI techniques like machine learning to predict where future flooding may take place, thereby allowing professionals to open and close dam gates at the proper times. They’ve developed a model that calculates rainfall uncertainties and then predicts water levels in real-time using large data sets. The AI algorithms can then control the dams as needed.

AI Jobs in Iowa

Tech jobs are plentiful in Iowa and are only projected to grow in the coming years. According to CompTIA’s State of the Workforce report, net tech employment for the Hawkeye State was 65,906 in 2022 – that’s about 4 percent of its total workforce. The state was home to 4,918 tech business establishments during this time.

CompTIA projects that Iowa’s tech jobs will grow about 2.2 percent between 2022 and 2023 alone – a projected growth of 1,442 jobs.

According to the Department of Labor, jobs for AI engineers, scientists, analysts, and similar professionals in Iowa are expected to increase by 33 percent in the decade leading up to 2030. During this time, the state should see about 10 annual job openings in the field due to a blend of new job creation, retirements, and natural job turnover.

Artificial Intelligence Jobs in Des Moines, Iowa City, and Clive

Data scientists, machine learning engineers, software architects… the list of AI professionals in Iowa is as plentiful as you’d imagine.

AI Companies in Des Moines and Iowa City

From startups to established enterprises, there’s plenty happening across Iowa, particularly in the growing tech hub of Des Moines.

For example, the AI startup, ReFocus AI, recently made the move from San Francisco to Des Moines to grow its business model built on using an artificial intelligence algorithm that serves as a retention tool for clients in the insurance industry. More specifically, their model is based on the ability to alert insurance companies to customers who are likely to leave for a competitor. Their AI algorithm collects millions of records to predict future customer behavior. They chose the Des Moines metro area for its large insurance presence – about 850 insurance firms call it home.

MākuSafe in West Des Moines is another AI tech company that’s making big moves in Iowa. This company’s technology of the same name is a safety, data, and analytics solution that’s aimed at improving worker health, safety, and productivity. MākuSafe is a patented AI system that uses analytics and machine learning technology to turn data intro predictors that stop workplace accidents before they happen.

And in Iowa City, IDx, a medical diagnostics company that was born out of a University of Iowa research engine, is home to an AI-based diagnostic device that’s used to screen patients for diabetic retinopathy. The automated process, which the company hopes to earn FDA approval for in 2024, could be used to preserve the vision in diabetes patients and save money at the same time. And IDx isn’t stopping there. The company is also conducting research into other tools that can address glaucoma and macular degeneration.

Monumental strides in artificial intelligence are also taking place in Iowa colleges and universities. For example, the University of Iowa’s Iowa College of Engineering is home to the Iowa Initiative for Artificial Intelligence (IIAI), where interdisciplinary and cross-college research and discovery in artificial intelligence is taking place. Since its creation in 2019, the IIAI has fostered no less than 28 research efforts that address some of the most pressing topics today. (See “UI Leads the State in AI-Powered Innovations”)

AI Salary in Iowa

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), AI professionals, who fall under the broader BLS category of computer and information research scientists, earned a median salary of $136,620 in Iowa as of May 2022. Those with little experience earned about $99,410 during this time, while those with extensive experience and likely a graduate-level education earned about $232,010.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Master’s Degree and Certificate Courses in Iowa and Online

Careers in artificial intelligence are nearly always grounded in a formal education. Whether you have your sights set on becoming a software engineer, robotics engineer, data analyst, or computer vision engineer, a bachelor’s degree is a must. And if you’re a career changer or are currently working as a software engineer, computer scientist, or other tech professional and you’re interested in exploring what AI can offer, master’s degrees and graduate certificates in the field serve as excellent precursors to a career change or climb up the career ladder.

Bachelor’s degrees in AI are usually found in computer science or software engineering departments, although a growing number of schools now offer AI bachelor’s degrees as stand-alone degrees that draw from a number of colleges and departments within a university. Most AI bachelor’s degrees are built on a strong math core, featuring courses like linear algebra, calculus, and probability. AI courses in these programs are often focused on topics like machine learning, computer vision, and natural language processing.

Master’s degrees are housed in schools of arts and science, engineering, computer science, and more, which reflects the interdisciplinary nature of the field. Similar to bachelor’s degrees in AI, a growing number of colleges and universities also offer master’s degrees and graduate certificates in AI as stand-alone programs that draw from multiple schools and departments.

Though AI degree options aren’t yet plentiful among Iowa’s colleges and universities, a growing number of schools throughout the country are increasing their AI degrees at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Because many of these programs are offered in fully online formats, students in Iowa or anywhere across the country can earn their AI degree from the comfort of their home.

2022 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures for computer information and research scientists. Job growth projections from the US Department of Labor-sponsored resource, CareerOneStop. Figures are based on state data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed January 2024.