Tech Guru Omar Wasow On Putting 'Tech' into Education
Black Enterprise Magazine July/August 2018 Issue

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Omar Wasow, co-founder of BlackPlanet, launched the Brooklyn Excelsior Charter School in 2003 (Image: Wasow)

To cultivate a conversation about the critical challenges facing American education, Black Enterprise partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to host Today’s Business Crisis: Educating Tomorrow’s Workforce, a symposium to be held May 15, 2013. Its goal is to draw upon the resources of top leaders in business, philanthropy, and education to help find solutions and resources to the education crisis. The symposium will analyze the application of technology within education and investigate new learning models to engage and improve the academic performance of K-12 students, as well as prepare them for post-secondary education.

To this end, we’ve invited a number of experts and entrepreneurs in the hi-tech industry who have a dedicated interest in expanding and implementing new technologies in classrooms to assist teachers, inspire students, and sustain parents. Omar Wasow, 42, who co-founded Black Planet in 1999, will moderate the conversation. Wasow became one of the first African Americans to develop a social tool to demystify technology and help plug the digital divide between blacks and whites. Since he left the organization in 2005, Wasow became particularly interested in the charter school movement and helped launch the Brooklyn Excelsior Charter School in 2003. This month he is finishing a Ph.D. in African and African American Studies along with an M.A. in Statistics and Government at Harvard University, and then he will start working as an assistant professor at Princeton in the Department of Politics.

In this Q&A leading up to the symposium, Wasow explains why he is passionate about education; gives advice for tech professionals who want to give back to schools in their communities, and tells teachers and school districts what they can learn from the hi-tech startup culture.

What inspired you to help launch a charter school?

Almost everyone in my family is an educator. When I was an entrepreneur, charter schools were an ideal way to marry my commitment to improving the quality of education for low-income kids with my interest in innovation and new ventures.

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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.