On February 26, President Obama signed an executive order renewing the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The program dates back to the days of President Jimmy Carter, who signed Executive Order 12232, effectively establishing a federal program “… to overcome the effects of discriminatory treatment and to strengthen and expand the capacity of historically black colleges and universities to provide quality education.”
At the February event President Obama spoke about the importance of the Nation’s 105 HBCUs, which serve more than 300,000 students.
“Strengthening America’s historically black colleges and universities isn’t a task that falls to the Department of Education alone,” Obama stated. He emphasized the importance of everyone getting involved to ensure the achievement gap between African American students and their white counter parts begins to close:
We’re not only doing this because these schools are a gateway to a better future for African American students. We’re doing this because their success is vital to the a better future for all Americans.
As an answer to the President’s call, Microsoft, a leader in diversity, is getting involved.
This April, Microsoft will present an Education Alliance Forum on the campus of Morehouse College. Microsoft representatives will be briefing the Presidents and Chief Information Officers of HBCUs about Microsoft Education offerings for faculty, administrators, and students.
The corporation will also open the event up to science, technology, engineering, and math high school students from Atlanta Public Schools.
Politic365 had an opportunity to speak with Tara Walker, a Microsoft Executive/Academic Developer Evangelist, about the forum.
“We just wanted to demonstrate to HBCUs our commitment to working with all colleges and universities; and make them aware of all the resources, many of them free, we have to offer,” she said.
She went on to note that many schools are unaware that Microsoft has “free software, app labs and will come in and do coding sessions for kids at no cost.”
In addition to receiving information about Microsoft’s offerings, attendees will get the opportunity to meet the HBCU Imagine Cup 2011 teams. According to Walker:
The Imagine Cup is the premiere student technical competition . The whole goal is to generate solutions via technology that can change the world. The solutions must be based on challenges outlined in the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, like ending poverty and hunger, enabling primary education for all, environmental sustainability, child and maternal health.
A first for HBUCs, Walker made it her mission this year to inform the school’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students and faculty about the opportunity to compete and innovate. A program in its ninth year, Walker says, “HBCUs weren’t being excluded from the competition, it was a matter of awareness. It was imperative to me that we reach out to the HBCU STEM programs and ensure they knew about this competition.”
Walker went on to detail how the schools not only got on board with the competition, but how many even incorporated Imagine Cup into their curriculum as a way for students to apply what they were learning in a real world solutions and innovations way.
Participating in the Imagine Cup and the Education Forum will be quite an opportunity for not just student teams, but for everyone in attendance to collaborate and discuss the importance of the science, technology, engineering and math disciplines.
“We have so many unfilled jobs, that we will not be able to fill. We are forced to fill these jobs outside of the U.S. because there are simply not enough students graduating with STEM degrees,” Walker stated.
Beyond the April Forum and the investments being made in academia, Walker wants parents and community leaders to know that Microsoft has something for everyone and is encouraging them to get kids excited about technology because “the 21st century work place will be a technology based work place.”
A few suggested websites:
DreamSpark: gives students Microsoft professional tools at no charge.
Kodu: a site dedicated to teaching kids how to program (they can even create Xbox games)