UNCF is hosting its premier four-day HBCU Innovation, Commercialization, and Entrepreneurship Summit, November 16-19, with the goal of empowering African American STEM students and addressing Silicon Valley’s diversity problem.
Fifty-three students and 19 computer science faculty members, representing more than 30 historically black colleges and universities, will visit nearly a dozen Silicon Valley corporations during the summit. In addition, the faculty members will attend professional development workshops and develop innovative approaches to computer science curriculum and pedagogy.
Also on the agenda, students will pitch their startup businesses to tech industry leaders at the Kapor Center for Social Impact, which describes itself as working “at the intersection of technology and racial and social justice.”
Professional Development for Faculty Members
Dr. Chad Womack, UNCF’s national STEM director, explained the professional development aspect of the summit.
“UNCF, along with its partners including the White House Initiative on HBCUs and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), have organized the HBCU Computer Science Faculty Workshop. The #HBCUInnovation faculty workshop is a continuation of the recent UNCF-led and Google-sponsored HBCU Computer Science Summit in Washington, D.C., and is focused on innovations in curriculum development, faculty professional development, and building HBCU Computer Science Centers of Excellence,” Womack said in an email.
The faculty members represent 17 different HBCUs.
The pitch competition is another unique aspect of this summit. I asked Womack if students—more than 200 of whom applied for just over 50 available slots—needed to have an existing startup to be accepted to attend the summit. Womack said no.
“Student selection was competitive and based on GPA, personal statements, internships, computer science skills, and demonstrated leadership. Students were not required to have existing startups or startup ideas; they were not part of the criteria for acceptance.”
This is UNCF’s fourth such summit, and fortunately, it is bearing fruit. Nearly a third of former participants are now interning or working full-time at tech companies. I asked Womack what it is that tech companies are looking for in their new hires.
“This is indeed the question that everyone is asking, and is the topic of much discussion between UNCF and Silicon Valley tech companies,” Womack says. He described three key areas: lack of preparedness for interviews, bias, and skills; he stressed the need for skills.
“Students need to know how to code, program, and develop in different languages and on different platforms. Also, they need to be able to demonstrate those skills by building code, mobile apps, and digital platforms.”
For more about UNCF’s HBCU I.C.E. Summit, go here.