Saving lives through IT

A sorrowful mother from Richmond, CA brought her only remaining son to Fremont, recalls Mike Cubbin, president of the Bay Area campuses of DeVry University. Her two older sons had been murdered, and she wanted her last son to avoid that fate.
“The kid was so shy that he slept in his car instead of the dorm some nights,” Cubbin told me during a visit to his campus near the Dumbarton bridge.
Despite poor learning skills initially, the young man eventually flourished with self-paced instructional technology and graduated as one of the top students in his class. “He was our graduation speaker,” said Cubbin.
For me, it was easy to grasp why Cubbin was so moved. As he gave me a tour around the campus, we passed a dozen students in the hallway. Half were young black males, studying advanced technical subjects.
Their faces helped me breathe life into the statistics in our ninth annual report Silicon Ceiling: Equal Opportunity and High Technology, one of the resources behind our Issues in Innnovation during Innovation & Equity: the 10th annual 50 Most Important African-Americans in Technology.
Contrary to what we’ve heard over the years, African-Americans take bachelors courses in mathematics and engineering at the same ratio as any other group.
Two sectors of our higher education archipelago are responding to that interest–historically black colleges and universities; and for-profit campuses. Our publicly-funded and private non-profit campuses have literally turned their backs on black students, particularly in the math and engineering fields, at the time they are awash in federal research spending.
Cubbin noted that over 90 percent of his graduates are hired by area companies, almost immediately after graduation. That’s one reason he has opened a new campus in Oakland, based in City Center in an accessible downtown location.
One of the objectives of Innovation & Equity is to launch a national initiative-Catapult- to raise the profile of the current information technology professionals among young people seeking careers. The opportunity to be engaged in the science agenda is widened by the massive new federal investment in education; however most of the money is going to institutions with no track record or ability to serve our young people.
Another one of the resource tools is the Black Students Internet Guide, which helps young people understand the career choices before them. A lack of training in culturally responsive counseling and instruction means most young black students are on their own, or reliant on the advice of their family members.
Our luncheon speaker, Monique Morris, vice president for research and advocacy of the NAACP, will highlight why information technology is so very important to black America as we chart a new agenda based on opportunities as opposed to oppression.
But nothing makes that point better than individual young people, who take even a small slice of hope and turn it into the whole pie.