In August, mentorship-based organization Mission Transformation hosted a free five-day coding boot camp powered by Microsoft to help increase interest in STEM-related careers for young Black male students. The coding camp, titled “Black Boy Joy,” took place virtually and was prompted by new data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that found only 14% of employees in the high-tech sector are Black, and only 5% of those employees are in executive positions.
The high-tech sector now impacts a growing number of facets of daily life and careers in STEM have become a major source of economic growth to recharge the U.S. economy. As the number of STEM jobs continues to increase, there are still racial disparities across positions and a lack of Black men working in STEM.
According to U.S News and World Report, roadblocks that prevent young Black men from pursuing careers in STEM include a lack of readily-available resources and few role models and mentors in the field. These are exacerbated by hiring discrimination, stereotyping and systemic racism within the industry.
Increasing Black Representation in STEM
Robert F. Smith is passionate about education and racial justice and has dedicated many of his philanthropic efforts towards empowering Black students’ educational opportunities — especially in STEM.
As a graduate of Cornell University, Smith has donated to help Black Cornell students carve out successful careers in STEM. In 2016, he contributed $20 million to his alma mater’s College of Engineering, and another $10 million to fund a tech fellowship program called Robert Frederick Smith Tech Scholars Program that supports Black and female students, both underrepresented in the field, who are pursuing engineering degrees at the school.
Smith is a native Coloradan, and In Denver, Smith, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, supported Vista’s contributions towards the opening of Montbello SMARTLab, a STEM lab sponsored in partnership with Denver Public Schools. In 2021, the Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy was named after Smith, and enrolled its first class to help students of color excel in school by creating a learning environment inspired by Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Denver Public Schools is working to help ensure that educational opportunities for underserved students are prioritized.
In 2020, Smith helped launch Student Freedom Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to helping students achieve personal and professional growth without worrying about student loan debt. Student Freedom Initiative’s loan alternative program is open to rising junior and seniors majoring in STEM at nine participating HBCUs, and offers internship opportunities, tutoring, mentoring, and other student support resources to participating schools.
Learn more about Smith’s plans to increase Black interest in STEM with Student Freedom Initiative.