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September 16th 2013

Re-CODING THE DREAM: Creating Access to Advance Learning for Minority Youth and Girls

Silicon Valley is the field of high tech dreams, where any hard working entrepreneur has a shot at the startup jackpot. While the opportunity abounds in science and technology careers, especially in the hot startup market in the Bay Area, many recent debates, studies and opinions emphasize that these career opportunities are much less available to people of color and women. This month, Party Corps interviewed an outstanding grassroots organization working to support these two demographics in gaining more access to the science and technology sectors.

The Level Playing Field Institute (LPFI) is an Oakland-based nonprofit organization with a powerful mission: to eliminate the barriers faced by underrepresented people of color in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and fostering their untapped talent for the advancement of our nation.  With programs like Summer Math and Science Academy (SMASH),  a five week program of intense learning that takes place on some of California's most prestigious college campuses,  LPFI is providing advanced educational opportunities to kids and youth that may have likely otherwise gone without.  Many of their participants are high performing in the STEM areas, but have limited or no access to opportunities that can further develop their skills and inspire them to pursue an education and career in those fields.

LPFI is the benefitting partner for our September 20th Music for Good party, which will be held on the campus of PayPal in San Jose and will be presented to members of their monthly lecture series, TechXploration. This month’s Music for Good event will explore how music, and hip hop specifically, is helping to inspire a love of science and technology in young people in classrooms and on college campuses across the country. Sumaiya Talukdar, LPFI's Director of Strategic Partnerships and Community Engagement, provided some insight into the goals of their organization and they ways in which people can help advance their cause.

Party Corps: Tell us about the need your organization is addressing and why you think it's important.

Sumaiya Talukdar: Our work is important because there is a well-documented STEM workforce crisis in the United States paired with the reality that the US will be majority-minority by the year 2040. We are preparing underrepresented students of color - a growing population- for the jobs of tomorrow.

PC:  Science, programming and technology have all become cool and mainstream. How, if at all, has this positive association affected or encouraged the kids in your program?

ST: Our organization welcomes STEM being considered cool and mainstream although we would argue that most students of color do not feel that STEM opportunities are open to them - the perception is that the STEM fields are open, suitable and welcoming only to white males. It is our hope that through exposure, rigorous education and mentorship from STEM professionals of color, our scholars can feel that they are welcome and valuable contributors to the STEM fields.

PC:  There have been a lot of articles about the need for Silicon Valley and the tech industry in general to become more female friendly. Do you think that is true, and, if so, in what ways or areas do you think they need to get better?

ST: We would like to see Silicon Valley become more inclusive of both females and people of color. There is vast under-representation for both - in California, Latinos and African Americans make up around 50% of the state’s population yet only approximately only 6% of tech employees in Silicon Valley. Similarly, approximately only 3% of tech firms were founded by women. To get better, first of all, Silicon Valley could start admitting it has a problem - what gets measured gets done. Top Silicon Valley tech companies should start posting their diversity statistics on their website, something that they have not done despite knowledge of this omission.

Second, Silicon Valley needs to seriously invest in education, mentorship and exposure opportunities. It needs to signal that it is willing to work hard to get these populations to the table and that they would be a welcome contribution.

PC: How is LPFI measuring success?

ST: Here are some quick facts from our flagship Summer Math and Science Honors Academy (SMASH) alumni from 2007-2012:

  • Graduate from HS with Diploma: 100%
  • STEM Major 67% **By comparison, only 23% of all U.S. college freshmen declare STEM majors (including high-income, non-first generation college students) 
  • 77% indicated that SMASH increased math skills and knowledge
  • 80% indicated that SMASH increased science skills and knowledge
  • 98% enrolled in college (88% full-time & 10% part-time)

PC: Tell me about some of LPFI's recent accomplishments and new goals for the organization.

ST: Some of our organization’s recent accomplishments include presenting our research at a number of prestigious settings including at the White House Tech Inclusion Summit and the American Educational Research Association conference, executing our SMASH Academy at USC, UCLA, Stanford and Berkeley, conducting a successful launch of our SMASH Prep program and piloting our Computer Science initiative, Camp Code, in partnership with the YMCA.

The new goals of the organization are to reach the 80% of the students we have to turn away for our programs through new computer science initiatives programming.

PC:  How can an average person support LPFI's mission?

ST: The two most impactful ways are through donating or volunteering

Join us on Friday, September 20th on the campus of PayPal is San Jose, for our Music for Good party produced in collaboration with TechXploration and featuring former Fulbright scholar and Stanford alum, Tom McFadden. All proceeds will go directly to LPFI. For detailed information about this event please visit here.

Posted by Olivia Swilley


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