President Obama and his administration continue to make STEM education and tech inclusion initiatives a priority for all Americans, especially when it comes to closing the growing gap that exists between open jobs and historically underrepresented groups. The White House Tech Inclusion Summit, which took place at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, DC on Thursday, gathered a diverse group of tech leaders to further discuss private-sector plans outlined during the Tech Inclusion Roundtable last August.
Hosted by Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Oakland-based non-profit Level Playing Field Institute, the summit served as a meeting of the (tech) minds where execs from groups such as the NAACP Washington Bureau Director and Senior Vice President for Advocacy Hilary Shelton, Dr. Chad Womack, director of STEM Education Initiatives and the UNCF-Merck Fellowship Program at the United Negro College Fund, and Jesse Martinez, founder of the Latino Startup Alliance detailed their proposals and plans of action in bringing STEM opportunities to their communities.
“I’ve been to the forgotten parts of rural America where there are people who have just as much entrepreneurship energy, just as much innovation, just as much drive, but have to fight their way to find the connectivity to the opportunity,” said Michael Strautmanis, deputy assistant to the president and counselor to the senior advisor for strategic engagement, in his closing remarks. He remarked that the administration would fulfill its promise of giving individuals who want to partake in this economy every opportunity to do so.
Well-known startup investor and computing pioneer Mitchell Kapor and wife Freada Kapor Klein, founder of LPFI, were also in attendance, as well as Principal Research Director at Microsoft Rane Johnson-Stempson, who gave a riveting presentation on the tech-job crisis affecting our nation and how a lack of knowledge will continue the cycle.
“We have a huge awareness problem in our communities, especially if we go into those at-risk neighborhoods that I grew up in” said Johnson-Stempson while discussing the Activate Local Communities initiative. “They don’t even see the opportunities, they don’t know the opportunities.”
In the next six months, this initiative will utilize mayors to help map resources and bring together a committee of groups dedicated to closing the gap. Johnson-Stempson hopes to pilot with four cities that are already working to further innovation in their respective areas: Chicago, Philadelphia, Portland, and Cambridge. Once plans have been written up, she envisions the participating mayors will present the plan and results at the United States Conference of Mayors, urging other city officials to sign on and get involved.
Chicago-native Neal Sales-Griffin, CEO of The Starter League (formerly Code Academy), has worked out a deal with his city, Chicago public schools and city colleges to train their teachers on how to educate students on the practical foundation for web development, which his company has successfully taught over 500 people since opening its doors. Sales-Griffin explained in his presentation, CS Online, the goal is for them to then teach over 2,000 students over the next year.
A similar STEM education initiative is being worked out amongst the heads of our country’s historically black colleges and universities. Dr. Womack discussed an extensive plan to get HBCUs competing in the tech marketplace, exposing and educating students and faculty about STEM opportunities, and building ecosystems on campus as well as in the surrounding communities. The initiative plans to loop in organizations such as Black Founders, NewME, and Black Girls Code, among others to help move the HBCU proposal forward.
Other initiatives discussed were Martinez’s Connect to Tech plan designed to banish existing tech silos, and co-founder and CEO of Citizen Schools Eric Schwarz and angel investor Kevin Eyres of GreyBella Ventures announced America 2020. The duo’s initiative plans to mobilize 1 million STEM professionals to work with and mentor today’s youth. Thus far, they have nine CEOs committed to donating 20% of their time, 20 hours per year, to mentorship.
“America is really built and defined by the bold things that we do. We rise to that challenge,” said Eyres. “It’s going to take a united effort to make a united change.”