In the summer of 2017 Howard University and Google launched a partnership, dubbed Howard West, to identify, attract, support and immerse African American coders in Silicon Valley. Due to the success of last year’s three-month pilot, the partners have decided to expand the program.
Starting in the fall of 2018, Howard and Google will broaden Howard West to cover a full academic year. The partners have also announced that the program will soon be expanded to additional historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Those universities are set to be announced in the summer.
“With the expansion, Howard West will increase the students, communities, and institutions that experience the effect of the shared insights and applied instruction,” said Alycia Onowho, Howard West Program Manager at Howard University. “We expect the program to continue expanding in these areas over time and the model to be introduced to additional departments and disciplines.”
Howard West has already benefited both the tech industry and students and faculty at the university.
“The program has greatly enhanced the learning process for our students and faculty while producing technology professionals equipped with first-hand knowledge and practical applications from the industry,” Howard University President Wayne A. I. Frederick said in a statement.
The Howard West Program
On March 23, 2017, Howard University announced an opportunity for select university students to attend a three-month, summer residency program at Google.
Originally, only rising juniors and seniors at Howard were given the opportunity to learn from Google engineers and Howard University professors. Now approximately 100 rising juniors from multiple HBCUs will be selected to engage in the immersive, one-year program.
The selected students will study at Google’s Mountain View workspace, and will be given a generous stipend for housing and additional expenses. As an additional perk, the students will have full access to Google resources, such as gyms, micro-kitchens, Gbikes and more.
“Howard West is President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick’s vision of giving Howard students the opportunity to be engaged in technical projects in an applied way while simultaneously transforming computer science (CS) education at Howard and across the black community,” said Onowho.
Twenty-six students were selected for the pilot program. They participated in courses taught by both Howard faculty and Google Engineers. The class subject included Software Engineering, Fundamentals of Algorithms, Machine Learning, Intro to Mobile Applications, and Technical Interview Prep.
When the students completed the program, 14 rising juniors applied for internships with Google, and four were granted offers.
The Implications of Howard West
Howard West is modeled to give students “the opportunity to be engaged in projects that are framed in ‘real world’ application and develop skills that enable them to be ‘work ready’ upon graduation,” said Onowho.
The program has the potential to produce hundreds of black computer scientists, coders, and leaders in the field of global technology.
“Howard West has benefited students by expanding the way they think about coding, address technical problems, and connect with other technologists,” said Onowho. “Additionally, students benefit from job interview preparation, innovative application of didactic coursework, mentoring, and development of entrepreneurial skills via the project-based approach.”
“The technical interviewing skills students gain through Howard West provide students with the tools needed to obtain work at Silicon Valley technical giants and beyond,” she continued.
Lauren Clayton, a junior computer science student at Howard, gained a lot of knowledge through her participation in the inaugural program.
“I was really excited to spend my summer at Google because I knew that it would help me academically and professionally,” she said in a statement. “Now, my approach to school is different. I know that it is important to keep reading and doing outside research. It was a great experience.”
Onowho said the program has benefited Howard through cross-campus engagement. It gives students, faculty and staff a connective thread to discuss and collaborate on.
“Through Howard West, the Tech industry is increasing students’ exposure to Silicon Valley and subsequently, their interest in choosing to select technical careers after graduation,” said Onowho.
State of diversity in tech industry
Lack of diversity in the tech industry is a pressing issue, and programs like Howard West are designed to amend that.
Similar to many other tech giants, Google’s workforce in 2015 was 59 percent white, 3 percent Hispanic, and only 2 percent black. This is concerningly low when compared to total population. A 2015 U.S. census shows that blacks constituted 13.3 percent and Hispanics 17.6 percent of the population.
Since 2015, many companies, organizations, and politicians have recognized the lack of women and minorities in the tech industry and have become determined to make a change.
In 2016, the Obama administration obtained a pledge from 30 companies to make their technology employees “fully representative of the American people, as soon as possible.” Major companies on the list include Airbnb, GoDaddy, Intel, Lyft, Pinterest and Spotify.
In August of 2015 Obama challenged Amazon, Microsoft, Xerox, and other companies to “consider at least one diverse candidate for every senior executive position.”
Many people already working in the tech industry appear to be unaware of the lack of diversity.
To reveal the staggering difference between perception and reality, Atlassian, an Australian software company with an office in San Francisco and around the world, surveyed over 1,400 tech industry workers throughout the U.S. to find out what they thought about diversity in their industry.
The study’s results revealed an overwhelming lack of awareness regarding diversity in the workplace.
Eighty-three percent of respondents believe their company is already diverse. Seventy-nine percent of respondents believe that the average team at their company has a diverse set of team members, and 94 percent of respondents gave the tech industry, their companies and their teams a passing grade for diversity.
Google in Residence at Howard University
This is not the first time Howard and Google have collaborated. More than four years ago, the two institutions developed the Google in Residence (GIR) program, which instated Google engineers as faculty members of HBCUs.
Google engineers spend four to five months teaching introductory computer science classes at Howard University and nine other HBCUs.
Under this program, Google employees developed a greater understanding of the difficulties facing young black people aspiring to join the tech industry.
It also served as a starting point to catapult into the Howard West program to amend the lack of diversity in the tech industry.
There is still much work to be done before minorities are fully integrated into the tech industry, but the Howard West program serves as a promising starting point.
“Howard West will produce hundreds of industry-ready black computer science graduates, future leaders with the power to transform the global technology space into a stronger, more accurate reflection of the world around us,” Frederick said in a statement.
“We envisioned this program with bold outcomes in mind – to advance a strategy that leverages Howard’s high quality faculty and Google’s expertise, while also rallying the tech industry and other thought leaders around the importance of diversity in business and the communities they serve,” he continued.
News & Content Manager
Jackson Schroeder is a graduate of Ohio University with a B.A. in Journalism from the E.W. Scripps School. He is originally from Savannah, Georgia. Jackson has covered a wide range of topics, including sustainability, technology, sports, culture, travel, and music. He plays bass and guitar, and enjoys playing and listening to live music in his free time.