Over the weekend, Black Enterprise hosted the inaugural BE SMART HBCU Academy: Tech Prep presented by Toyota at Morehouse College in Atlanta. The two-day event, March 23-24, brought together 37 students from 12 HBCUs for activities and lectures from some of tech’s brightest minds. Black Enterprise’s tech editor, Sequoia Blodgett, hosted the event and kept the excitement for diversity in tech alive.
Earl “Butch” Graves, Jr., president and CEO of Black Enterprise, opened the reception by welcoming participants and giving an overview of the jam-packed agenda. Students and teachers were able to network and share their backgrounds, experiences, and expectations for the program.
On Saturday, students spent the full day listening to lectures from professionals in the tech field and doing on-the-spot workshops. Jerry A. Higgs Ph.D., Principal Member of the Technical Staff at AT&T, presented the students with a problem that they had to solve. Higgs gave them a few guidelines, hackathon style, and in groups of 5, they had to present their solution to the room. Many students “developed” apps, service providers, and other creative ways to create a profitable product solution.
“I feel being a Black woman in tech is an advantage and a disadvantage,” said Daja Scurlock, Junior at LeMoyne-Owen College, Math Major and Computer Science Minor. “As an advantage, they want you to fill that diversity portion of the company, but it’s also a disadvantage because they think I’m only there to appeal to that diversity; sometimes they don’t think I have anything to offer, but with my [math] background, and being more into programs like this, I have a lot to offer.”
Other speakers included Ajmal Jackson-Brown, co-founder and COO at Nuclo and Evin Floyd Robinson, founder of New York on Tech (who both explained the importance of hackathons and case studies). UrbnGeekz asked Floyd Robinson what’s the best advice he has to technologists breaking into the industry, “It’s important to learn what’s going to make you competitive now and what’s going to make you competitive in the future,” he said. “Be competitive and you’ll stay ahead of the pack.”
"Sometimes they don't think I have anything to offer, but with my [math] background, and being more into programs like this, I have a lot to offer."
Chris Gray, founder of Scholly, and Jaylen Bledsoe, a 19-year-old entrepreneur and founder of Bledsoe Enterprises, both delivered inspiring lectures on how they disrupted the tech industry by being “young, black, and driven.”
Between each speaker (and to boost a friendly competition), students had the chance to win a variety of prizes from Toyota including Beats by Dre headphones, a GoPro camera, a Nintendo Switch, and many other must-have tech gadgets.
The academy closed with Angelica Willis, Artificial Intelligence + HCI Researcher and NSF Graduate Fellow at Stanford University School of Engineering, who’s also a past member of the winning team for the Tech ConneXt hackathon from North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University. She encouraged the students to push through adversity in their chosen industries by “finessin’, hustlin’, and staying woke.”
Students left the academy feeling inspired, empowered, more knowledgeable of the industry, and ready to tackle the tech world!