If you care about STEM issues in the African American and HBCU communities (the two groups don’t always overlap), then pay attention to what comes out of two major events taking place in Washington, DC this month.
This week (16-20 September) was the annual CBC Week, or more formally, the annual Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Conference. It bills itself as “the premier gathering of African Americans, cultivating engaging policy discussions on issues that impact black communities.” Among those issues is the disproportionately high number of Blacks dropping out of STEM majors. During CBC Week, a panel moderated by David Johns, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans was convened to discuss challenges and solutions and to recommend appropriate policies and initiatives. Earlier this year, the CBC launched an initiative to bring lawmakers together to brainstorm solutions for diversifying the workforce, connecting Black entrepreneurs and students to employers, and increasing STEM programs in schools.
Following on the heels of CBC Week—perhaps deliberately so–is HBCU Week, aka the National HBCU Week Conference (see promotional video below). This is the third annual HBCU Week, which is organized by the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Last year’s conference looked at HBCUs as “Innovators for Future Success” while the inaugural meeting focused on “A New Paradigm for Educating the 21st Century Student.”
This year’s conference, taking place from 20-22 September, will focus on “STEM, Entrepreneurship and Partnership.” Several HBCU presidents, federal-agency managers, and selected “all-star HBCU students” are expected to participate. The conference will also feature such speakers as US Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Hollywood actor and Howard University alum Lazaro Alonzo, and inventor of the Super Soaker Lonnie Johnson.
So what’s to know about STEM, Entrepreneurship and Partnership in the context of HBCUs? A look at the program agenda provides some clues. For example, two separate panels will focus, respectively, on increasing HBCU participation in federally funded R&D efforts and on supporting careers in medicine and science. Another panel will “shine a light” on HBCU entrepreneurial success stories. And yet another panel will discuss ongoing strategies for strengthening the collaboration between community colleges and HBCUs.
With HBCU Week, it appears that the White House and the corporate world recognizes the value of HBCUs and their key role in addressing the national underrepresentation of African Americans in the innovation sector (for example, Silicon Valley) and in the STEM research community.