A new partnership between Student Freedom Initiative, Cisco and AVC Technologies aims to advance technology and digital capacity at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and support students working with Student Freedom Initiative. In May 2021, Cisco announced it would donate $150 million to help achieve the mission of Student Freedom Initiative. The self-sustaining non-profit program is the brainchild of Robert F. Smith to provide college students of color with career and education support and better loan financing options. AVC Technologies and Cisco are also pledging to provide ongoing tech support to these colleges.
Robert F. Smith, Chairman of the initiative, said about the partnership with Cisco and AVC: “We are thrilled to welcome Cisco and AVC Technologies as strategic partners for SFI in addressing the digital divide faced by our HBCUs.” Smith continued, “their expertise and generosity will ensure that HBCUs are secure and robust institutions that empower Black students. And Cisco’s added financial commitment to students, making them the first anchor corporate partner of SFI, will help liberate students from crushing debt and allow them to make their own life choices.”
The generous donation from Cisco will both fund Student Freedom Initiative’s fund for a student loan alternative, known as the “Student Freedom Agreement,” as well as technology and digital upgrades for HBCUs participating in the program. Maria Martinez, Cisco’s EVP & Chief Operating Officer, said: “this partnership is an investment in our future workforce, empowering AA/Black STEM students and equipping them with the financial and technology tools to be resilient and successful long term.”
The Importance of Increasing Diversity in STEM
The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics field (STEM) is not as diverse as it should be. Paid internship program, internXL, is working to change that. Administered through the Fund II Foundation, of which Robert F. Smith is founding director and President, internXL works to connect talented students of color in the STEM field to employers for paid internships and on-the-job training. Smith believes that opportunities like the ones internXL students receive can help create on-ramps to success and unlock students’ full potential.
Programs like internXL can also help diversify the field as a whole. According to a 2018 study by the Pew Research Center, Black and Hispanic workers continue to be underrepresented in the STEM workforce. Black people make up 11% of the U.S. workforce, but only represent 9% of STEM workers, and Hispanic people comprise 16% of the U.S. workforce, but only 7% of STEM workers. Programs like internXL, as well as investments like Cisco’s are helping build on-ramps to the STEM field for a more diverse set of workers.
A Call-to-Action for Corporate Investment
Smith remarked that Cisco’s investment was a clear call-to-action for other corporations to join the cause. One way to fight racial inequalities that exist in the United States, Smith believes, is for corporations to pledge to be a part of The 2% Solution. The 2% Solution asks corporations to invest just 2% of their annual profits to closing racial disparities and closing the wealth gap. The 2% number is not arbitrary, but is the amount the average American family gives of its income to charitable causes. This plan encourages corporations to be a part of the solution, and help improve our country, so that everyone can thrive.
Cisco’s and AVC Technologies recent announcement shows the impact that corporations can have in helping eliminate the wealth gap and racial disparities. Learn more about how The 2% Solution is driving change.