Verizon STEM program aims to change the headlines around minority boys

By: Donna Epps
Verizon STEM program aims to change the headlines around minority boys

As the grandmother of a darling baby boy, I often think about what his future will be like. The headlines involving young minority males are always top of mind. Why don’t we see more minorities in roles of innovators and makers? As I’ve written before, it is vitally important to give our kids the opportunity to be a part of the skilled, home-grown workforce necessary to tackle the big technology ideas of the future.

Starting today and throughout this summer, more than 1,000 minority middle school boys will be traveling to one of a dozen local colleges to take part in the Verizon Innovative Learning program for minority males: a first-of-its-kind, two-year program that exposes young African American and Latino male students to high-level technology skills. Housed on the campuses of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and expanding to a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) this summer, the goal is to provide students with an opportunity to realize their potential and show them a path towards a brighter future. The program includes summer technology workshops, four to five days per week for approximately four weeks, taught by university partners. The program also pairs students with mentors from participating universities for hands-on instruction and continued learning and support throughout the school year.

This year, the program is expanding from four to 12 colleges, and the excitement is palpable: The Washington Post covered the Minority Male Makers program expansion to the University of the District of Columbia in April.

There is no greater need right now than to provide opportunities to encourage participation of minority boys and girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. Minority males, more than any population, are severely underrepresented in STEM fields, especially when compared to their Caucasian counterparts. According to a recent study, Hispanics born in the United States make up 17.4 percent of the population, but only 2.1 percent of innovators. Even worse, African Americans make up 13.2 percent of the population, but only 0.4 percent are U.S. born innovators. Access to high-level technology and proper instruction are central to developing the entrepreneurship skills necessary to igniting passion and understanding for not only enjoying but creating new technologies. Drawing from diverse perspectives and potential will ensure that the U.S. can best leverage all of its resources as we shape the innovation landscape.

Verizon’s Innovative Learning program for minority males is starting to alleviate that problem by getting middle school minority boys involved and interested: In the first year of the program, we engaged 473 middle school boys who collectively developed 582 products including apps and 3D designs. An evaluation of the program revealed the following key findings:

  • 100 percent of students increased mobile technology proficiency
  • 75 percent increased interest in STEM subjects
  • 69 percent increased interest in STEM careers

The Verizon Innovative Learning program for minority males is one of Verizon’s marquee education programs. Verizon Innovative Learning puts technology and training in the hands of students today, to inspire them to be the creators of tomorrow. While today’s post is all about the boys, we also sponsor Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code, to make sure we also show young girls the possibilities of a rewarding STEM career.

Donna Epps directs Verizon’s domestic public policy team, as well as relationships with our external partners. Prior to her current position, Ms. Epps worked in Verizon’s Federal Regulatory Affairs group where she developed and advocated Verizon’s federal regulatory policy positions on key issues facing the communications industry, with an emphasis on issues related to competition, economic regulation, and consumer protection.