According to the federal government, members of racial and ethnic minority groups project to become the majority of America’s population in the next 30 years. Today, however, they account for just 28 percent of America’s STEM workers. Still, despite underrepresentation, Black innovators have made countless discoveries that have defined current STEM fields.
So much so that online magazine ID Tech highlighted some African Americans, past and present, who they said should routinely garner recognition for their achievements.
Those highlighted included astronaut and doctor Mae Jemison, surgical technician Vivien Thomas and search engine inventor Alan Emtage.
But young African Americans are also taking advantage of the STEM field where lucrative careers await.
In Maryland, De’Rell Bonner, an IBM onsite liaison for the P-TECH program at Carver Vocational-Technical High School, has worked furiously since last fall to help bridge the gap between classroom and career.
Bonner provides students with mentors, arranging paid internships, scheduling workplace visits, facilitating practical training on topics like personal finance, and counseling students on career goals.
“This summer we have 11 students who are interning at IBM in a wide range of roles across several business units and learning everything from artificial intelligence to our global business sales,” Bonner said in an earlier interview. “There are options available to these students, but for all of the students, this is their first professional internship in the tech industry.”
The six-week summer program is an example of what IBM and P-TECH schools like Carver are all about.
Short for Pathways in Technology Early College High School, the P-TECH program offers a free associate degree in cybersecurity and assurance or computer information systems through a partnership with Baltimore City Community College, along with a high school diploma.
Ultimately the skills taught are designed to be aligned with jobs, so involvement from companies like IBM who help guide what skills can be taught and offer employment to students who complete the program are also crucial to the model.
Students work with leading professionals, are paired with an industry mentor, participate in paid summer internships, acquire industry certifications, and earn tuition-free associate degrees in STEM fields.
“There are really five key skills that we’re working with the students over the course of the summer to really build and cultivate their competencies,” Bonner said.
“We recognize that for many of our students, this is their first professional experience and through partnering with the school, through being able to play a significant role at the school level, then thinking of their workplace learning opportunities, we can really ensure that these young people are developing technical competencies,” he said.
“Technology is changing every day. So, what’s important is that we allow the students to really see — based on what they know, or the descriptions that they read — where their interests are,” Bonner said.
“We anticipate that technology changes and that their interests will also change,” he said.
With technology-related employment in the state growing — by more than 3,700 new jobs last year alone — the IBM internships at P-TECH Carver counts as crucial to the future of many.
“These young people have to seize the moment — and they are doing exactly that through these internships,” Bonner said.
“I start by teaching them about what’s at stake and encouraging them to leverage this opportunity to change the scope of their life,” he said.
“Opportunities like these internships don’t come often … these young people could conceivably graduate with not only their high school diploma, but a free associate degree, and they will have the decision to go to a four-year university, or they can apply for career opportunities,” Bonner said.
With hard work, he said it all pays off.
“I think it’s really important to help these students make their own future. IBM is committed to ensuring them that we will provide them with the opportunity,” Bonner said.