Welcome to your computer science class—at Google

Minority, low-income students to get a foot in the door at tech industry giant

The HBCU Howard University is opening a satellite campus in a location most computer science majors could only dream of: Google's headquarters.

The new satellite campus, called Howard West, will open right in the middle of the tech giant's Mountain View, California headquarters. It will offer 25-30 Howard students the opportunity to take 12 weeks of classes taught by a combination of Howard faculty and senior Google engineers.

To qualify for Howard West, the students must be rising junior or senior computer science majors. But the students won't need to pay more to move themselves out to Mountain View and pay the exorbitant Silicon Valley housing prices—a Howard stipend will subsidize additional costs and base tuition will stay the same.

Aside from the costs associated with the physical space for Howard West and the employees who will be teaching the courses, Google itself will not be investing any additional money in the program. Neither party (Howard or Google) will be paying any money to the other.  

Howard West's establishment comes as data paints a picture of a more-or-less homogenous tech industry.

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In 2016, only 2% of Google's employees were black—a figure that decreased to 1% when narrowed to Google's technical staff. And unfortunately, the culture has hardly improving—in 2014, a study found that the overall STEM workforce had not increased its diversity in 14 years.

The partnership with Howard—which is planned to extend to other HBCUs by summer 2018—is meant to help Google address its diversity issue and to give minority STEM students access to the high-profile roles they have historically been blocked from.

Why is the industry so homogenous?

Many companies in Silicon Valley have long made hiring decisions based on candidates' extracurricular activities, such as time-consuming events like hackathons, rather than their schooling alone.

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Unfortunately for many lower-income minority students, these types of activities have traditionally been out of reach, since these students must work part- or full-time jobs outside of school. The barrier has prevented talented minority candidates from landing tech jobs, and since the industry is highly rooted in a "who-you-know" network, the situation has caused a vicious cycle. Because they are already underrepresented in the tech industry, analysts say black or Latino aspiring engineers are less likely to know someone in the industry.

Bonita Stewart, VP of global partnerships at Google, points out the win-win promise of the Howard West satellite campus: "We believe that if we have access to the students and the students have access to us, then it's going to be mutually beneficial... we will get greater creativity and inclusion," Stewart says (Donachie, Education Dive, 3/24; Lee, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/23).

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