HBCUs Take On Tech at Wall Street Project Economic Summit

Strategies for feeding the diversity technology pipeline

HBCU logoThe HBCU and Technology Roundtable panel at the Rainbow PUSH Wall Street Project on Feb. 16, 2016 examined the tech space—the promised land of professional opportunity, high-paying jobs, and the engine of job growth for the foreseeable future.

Expertly moderated by Rev. Janette Wilson, senior advisor to Rev. Jesse Jackson and National Director of PUSH for Excellence, the panel’s speakers represented both the corporate tech arena and that of historically black colleges: Frederick Humphries, corporate vice president of U.S. Government Affairs at Microsoft; Cheryl Pearson-McNeil, senior vice president, U.S. Strategic Community Alliances and Consumer Engagement at Nielsen; and Tiffany King, regional human resources manager at Apple, represented the corporate side. Representing the academic area were Mickey Burnim, Ph.D., president of Bowie State University; Lesia Crumpton-Young, chief research officer and vice president of research at Tennessee State University; and David Wilson, Ed.D., president of Morgan State.

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Pearson-McNeil began by describing Nielsen’s broad range of work. “We measure consumer behavior,” she asserted, which encompasses so much more than just what TV programs or how much television people watch. A global behemoth, the company measures consumer behavior all over the world—from cell phone usage to toilet paper purchases to social media behavior.

King described Apple’s extensive diversity efforts. The tech giant is collaborating with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund to recruit diverse talent for internships. King stressed that African American interns are included with the 1,300 other interns, yet some events are planned specifically for interns of color.

“The heart of the tech space is computer science,” said Microsoft’s Humphries, stressing that it is essential no matter what your major or future plans.

On the side of academia, Burnim said that Bowie State is starting at the pre-kindergarten level and developing mentors and corporate sponsors to develop its tech focus. Bowie also has a business incubator on campus that’s open to all students, not just business majors.

Wilson declared that Morgan is developing innovators, not just students who can follow the rules. A current Morgan student in attendance was certainly an exemplar: a 4.0 student who’s involved in technology, he took a business course at Harvard, receiving an ‘A.’

Pearson-McNeil stated that Nielsen offers internships, as did a member of the audience from Farmcredit.com, which he said was hiring.

Students were urged to take foreign languages, especially Spanish, French, and Chinese, because of their utility in business contexts abroad. Taking advantage of global studies programs was also encouraged.

One speaker advised students to develop a relationship with at least one professor every semester such that he or she could write a recommendation for you. You need to make sure your professors know you.

“Develop a personal board of advisors,” asserted Julianne Malveaux, Ph.D., president and founder of Economic Education and a former president of Bennett College, the historically black college for women, in closing remarks.

For more about the 19th annual Wall Street Project Economic Summit, go to www.rainbowpushwallstreetproject.org. Follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #WSPES2016.