Dec 26 2022

Big Tech Investments Build Tomorrow’s Workforce at HBCUs

From computer engineering to tech law, investments from companies such as Intel are creating opportunities at historically Black colleges for the next generation of workers.

As the tech industry addresses a skills shortage, it also needs to boost its talent pipeline to bring tech jobs to underrepresented communities. With Black students earning just 7 percent of STEM degrees as of 2018 (the most recent year available), historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) face the challenge of creating more opportunities in the tech workforce for underrepresented students.

“I think there’s obviously a recognition that the tech industry is not as diverse as it needs to be at all levels, whether you’re talking about developers, cybersecurity professionals or privacy professionals,” says April Dawson, associate dean of technology and innovation and a professor of law at North Carol​ina Central University School of Law. “The lack of diversity is due to a lack of access to opportunities, education and training.”

She cites the death of George Floyd in 2020 as bringing about an awakening in many industries, including technology.

“It starts with that recognition, and then figuring out how to address the issue,” Dawson says.

To build more diverse tech leaders for the future, Intel has invested in HBCUs including Florida Agricultural and Mechanical UniversityMorgan State UniversityHoward UniversityPrairie View A&M UniversityNorth Carolina A&T University and Tuskegee University.

Despite being “historically Black,” HBCUs are open to everyone and offer training along with enriching diverse experiences.

“That diversity of thought brings a much more complete design versus those that are not,” says Oscar Barton Jr., dean of the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. School of Engineering at Morgan State University. “I think companies have always valued the idea of diversity, equity and inclusion, but operationalizing it has been slow in coming. And I think it’s been accelerated through recent events in this country that say, ‘Look, let’s get this done.’”

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Morgan State Builds a Diverse Computer Engineering Workforce

Baltimore’s Morgan State, a large producer of engineering talent in Maryland, is working with vendors such as Intel to prepare students for careers in computer and electrical engineering. Chip manufacturing is a focus for the faculty in the electrical and computer engineering department.

Tech companies help train students in very large-scale integration (VLSI) technology, and Morgan State is also working with Keysight Technologies to gain improvements in lab equipment for electrical engineering.

Morgan State received $750,000 over three years out of the $4.5 million set aside for HBCUs by Intel, according to Barton. He says the university has used the funding to improve its research labs, as well as to grow conferences and add internships.

“Partnerships with those like Intel have helped us to spur new program and degree offerings, those that are more multidisciplinary across departments,” Barton says.

Intel is helping Morgan State boost student and faculty research in artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics, according to Barton. Many of the students graduating from the school’s electrical and computer engineering program are pursuing careers that use AI and ML, as well as augmented and virtual reality, Barton notes.

The school’s engineering program is also training students in digital twin technology, which allows physical systems to be modeled in a virtual world.

Morgan State aims to get students acquainted with engineering early in college so they can gain a full understanding of the business of engineering.

April Dawson headshot
We have a pipeline of students who are interested in tech and law. You can’t have a discussion about technology without having legal experts at the table.”

April Dawson Associate Dean of Technology and Innovation and Professor of Law, North Carol​ina Central University School of Law

NCCU Bridges Tech and Law in a Diverse Workforce

At North Carolina Central University (NCCU), Intel pledged $5 million between 2021 and 2026 to create a tech law and policy center. Intel executives have joined the center’s board to help form its certificate program.

“This is a center that is designed to expose our students to all of the varied jobs within the legal tech space, to help them understand how to leverage technology so that they can do their jobs as lawyers even better, and to also expose them to emerging jobs and areas within legal tech,” Dawson says.

With its investment, Intel has pledged to help create more diversity in tech and law.

“Our investment in NCCU is only the beginning, and we will continue our efforts to provide more equitable access to tech, legal and policy careers,” Steven R. Rodgers, Intel’s general counsel, said in a statement.

Tech companies are reaching out to law schools to help build up the tech legal workforce, according to Dawson. Intel is providing legal expertise and faculty training as well as summer internships at the company. The chipmaker is looking to help build the next generation of corporate attorneys by offering lectures and mentorship, per the statement.

“We have a pipeline of students who are interested in tech and law,” Dawson says. “You can’t have a discussion about technology without having legal experts at the table,” she says.

She also notes that African Americans lack adequate representation in the legal field, especially in the legal tech space.

“There’s a need for lawyers who have an understanding of these legal tech areas and issues, because those roles are increasing,” Dawson says. “There are not enough tech-savvy lawyers who can fill those roles, and there’s an incredibly robust talent pool within the Black community.”

READ MORE: Emerging technologies help HBCUs retain students.

The tech industry also needs lawyers with experience in dealing with the disparities that AI causes, according to Dawson.

“For example, algorithms and AI models are often used in the criminal legal system. When judges use algorithms to make decisions about parole or release, and when law enforcement uses AI models to decide where to police, the result is often the further aggravation of disparities, because the models are flawed,” Dawson says.

In addition, she says, the data that AI models use could be skewed.

“Lawyers are needed to ensure that technology is used for the right purposes and not used is a way that harms already marginalized communities,” Dawson says. That’s why Dawson teaches an AI and law class at NCCU.

The tech industry also needs lawyers that can help interpret privacy laws, such as the General Data Protection Regulation or the “patchwork” of guidance in the United States, Dawson said.

Just as Intel is supporting both HBCU undergraduate institutions and NCCU’s School of Law, NCCU also plans to work together with STEM programs at HBCUs to help prepare students for tech opportunities in the legal space.

“Intel’s gift has allowed us to do a lot very quickly, in terms of building our curriculum and getting this law and technology certificate program together,” Dawson says. “Facilitating the growth of STEM students will provide a greater pipeline into the legal tech space, which will help buttress our technology leaders.”

To learn more about Intel’s partnership with the CDW Legacy Excellence program, click here.

UP NEXT: Muhsinah Morris is leading Morehouse College into the metaverse.

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