National HBCU Week Focuses On Career Pathways And Economic Development

National HBCU Week Focuses On Career Pathways And Economic Development

Career pathways, infrastructure, artificial intelligence, and economic development are among key topics to be discussed this week at the 2023 National HBCU Week conference, hosted by the U.S. Department of Education’s White House Initiative (WHI) on HBCUs.

The largest annual convening of historically Black college and university (HBCU) leaders and stakeholders takes place at a pivotal time, as the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in June and the U.S. Secretaries of Education and Agriculture last week sent a letter to 16 governors to address the $12 billion funding disparity between public, land-grant HBCUs and their non-HBCU land-grant counterparts.

“What we’re saying to our governors is that we’re in a global, competitive world and we need everybody at the table, and we need diversity at the table,” Dr. Dietra Trent, WHI executive director, told BLACK ENTERPRISE.

“If we’re going to be able to innovate and compete, we really need you to support your HBCUs so they can be a part of the solutions to some of the challenges we have.”

Themed “Raising the Bar: Forgoing Excellence Through Innovation & Leadership,” the conference takes place Sept. 24-28 at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City at Reagan National Airport in Arlington, VA. The WHI expects 3,000 attendees, including 101 of the nation’s 103 WHI HBCU Scholars, and more than 25 participating federal agencies.

HBCU week
hoto courtesy of the White House Initiative on HBCUs

Key conference topics include:

  • Infrastructure, particularly broadband access on HBCU campuses and surrounding communities. The Department of Commerce’s first-ever Connecting-Minority-Communities program delivered $134 million to 43 HBCUs to purchase broadband internet, equipment, and IT personnel. Private partnerships exist as well. The Student Freedom Initiative helped HBCUs apply to receive Internet for All grants, and they partnered with Cisco to deploy 5G internet at Claflin University.
  • Artificial Intelligence and its impact on HBCUs. Dr. Trent said this discussion includes the Department of Defense, Google, and Morgan State University’s Center for Equitable AI/ML Systems.
  • Economic Development sessions will explore how HBCUs can leverage partnerships promoting the economic wealth of HBCUs and the communities they serve. Trent said the Biden-Harris administration has invested a cumulative $7 billion directly to HBCUs over the past three years.
  • Executive Leadership: HBCU leaders will discuss crisis management, such as the bomb threats made against 30 HBCUs in 2022, of which the White House provided roughly $2.5 million in Project SERV (School Emergency Response to Violence) grants. Delaware State University received a $217,000 grant and president Dr. Tony Allen said the funds are useful for enhancing safety, training, and security through technology for his campus’s 6,400 students. Additionally, CEOs from Thurgood Marshall College (TMCF) and UNCF will discuss the HBCU Transformation Project, which recently received a $124 million investment from Blue Meridian Partners for this collaboration between TMCF, UNCF, and the Partnership for Education Advancement, to improve efficiency, increase enrollment and economic mobility.
  • Entrepreneurship: Trent said the WHI also works closely with federal agencies, the Small Business Administration, and the Department of Commerce to look at opportunities to “provide assets for our HBCUs,” including several universities that have business centers on their campus.

One of those campuses is Bowie State University, which has a state-of-the-art, tech-infused, 176,000-square-foot Entrepreneurship Living and Learning Community, a real-world innovation hub with student housing, retail space, and small business incubator. In collaboration with National HBCU Week, Bowie State is hosting the third annual HBCU+ Entrepreneurship Conference Sept. 27 from 8 a.m.- 7 p.m. The free hybrid conference takes place on Bowie’s campus in Bowie, MD and also online.

Johnetta Hardy, executive director of Bowie’s Entrepreneurship Innovation Center, said the conference drew 1,000 virtual attendees last year from 179 universities including Ivy Leagues and colleges outside the U.S.

“We added the plus symbol to make it more inclusive,” Hardy told BE of the HBCU+ Entrepreneurship Conference.

“We’re bringing in other universities and industry partners because it takes a village to make this happen. We want a conference with outcomes.”

Dr. Trent echoed this sentiment for the larger HBCU Week Conference, which features a free career and recruitment fair on Thurs., Sept. 28 for recent HBCU graduates as well as members of the public. Last year, Dr. Trent said 200 people walked away with jobs after the career fair.

“That’s what this conference is really about: I want my universities to walk away from this conference with something tangible in hand. I want my students to walk away with an internship or a job,” Dr. Trent said, “but I don’t want anyone to walk away from this conference empty handed.”

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