Only 1 percent of black public-school graduates in Philadelphia earn four-year degrees in STEM-related fields, even though they make up 50 percent of the youth population, said Donna Frisby-Greenwood, president of the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia.
That was one of the stats that drove the conversation at Comcast’s first-ever diversity and inclusion summit last week.
“It is up to us that we nurture their curiosity and make sure they have the STEM education they need, no matter their zip code or income level,” Greenwood said on a panel about developing a STEM pipeline.
The event aimed to share workforce development and diverse hiring strategies among the local business community, both tech-related and otherwise. Panels included “Meet Your Local Chambers and Councils,” where reps from the various affinity chambers presented, and a session on how companies owned by people of color are working with those which are not. Audience members included Nolan Atkinson, the city’s newly-appointed Chief Diversity Officer, as well as representatives from Aramark, City Year Philadelphia and Independence Blue Cross, a spokeswoman said.
“Comcast NBC Universal has a longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion,” Comcast Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion Maria G. Arias wrote in an email about the event. “We were proud to bring together some of Philadelphia’s top business leaders to discuss pressing diversity and inclusion topics. … We look forward to continuing the dialogue and best practice sharing in order to take action and make a meaningful difference.”
The event landed just as the city and Comcast were wrapping up their months-long negotiation process for Comcast’s 15-year contract with the city, which interestingly probed Comcast’s role as a corporate citizen. This event feels like a prime example of the kind of service Comcast can provide to the city: using its role as a local giant to bring together business leaders to discuss an issue that affects the whole city. (To take it one step further, could Comcast become a leader in this kind of advocacy work and organize the business community around broader diversity efforts?)
During the day’s STEM pipeline panel, five speakers talked about their own initiatives to train students for tech jobs:
- Greenwood, formerly the Knight Foundation’s Philadelphia program director, talked about a new platform the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia is establishing called the “Support our Schools Equity Map.” The online tool aims to allow potential donors to connect and partner with public schools that are in lack of STEM resources.
- A new School District initiative is also in the works that will train teachers, place literacy coaches in every school and create libraries in every K-3 classroom.
- Comcast regional VP of community investment Bob Smith spoke about the company’s low-cost internet program, Internet Essentials. (Under the city’s new franchise agreement with Comcast, all low-income Philadelphians will be eligible for Internet Essentials, instead of only those with children in schools eligible for free or reduced lunch.) According to Smith, the Internet Essentials program has connected about 70,000 Philadelphia residents to the internet and its Digital Literacy Program has trained around 5,000 adults in basic internet skills over the past four years. The program also trains high school students, preparing them with digital literacy skills before college through a yearlong course called Digital Connectors.
- Commander Daniel Bessman of Naval Supply Systems Command spoke about the EAGLE program (Educating Acquisition Global Logistics and Engineering), a four-year program, currently in its second year. The program partners with the Independence Seaport Museum. Students admitted to the program have hands-on training projects that combine intensive mathematical applications and logistics-based curriculum. The students can then compete in the Office of Naval Research’s SeaPerch competition.
- Temple’s Dr. Michele Masucci talked about Temple’s Apps and Maps Studio, a university-wide program that provides hands-on learning in basic digital design and business skills for high school students.
- Dr. Kevin Johnson, CEO of Philadelphia’s Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC), is developing a new 12-week coding bootcamp that will begin as part of the program in January 2016. The bootcamp will initially work with 30 local high school students and young adults. It reminds us of Sylvester Mobley’s Coded By Kids training program.
With additional reporting by Juliana Reyes.