Innovate Raleigh has always had one defining mission: Make the Triangle one of the top five centers for innovation and entrepreneurship in the country.
That mission faces few challenges greater than the low level of STEM programming being integrated into K-12 curricula and a lack of diversity in the tech community, says executive director Jenny Hwa.
Though reversing the latter has become a focus locally, nationally and globally, improvement has been slow. Underrepresented minorities only account for 10% of the workforce in engineering and science disciplines while making up nearly a quarter of the population of 21 and older, according to data from Change the Equation.
Meanwhile, a study at Georgetown University predicts that by 2018, North Carolina companies will require over 200,000 STEM jobs, up 17% from 2008. Innovate Raleigh thinks it has a possible solution for both problems—a new initiative geared toward minority and female high school and community college students, especially those who haven’t had exposure to science, technology, engineering or math.
It’s called InnovateEDU and it kicks off with a summit for 9th and 10th grade students this Wednesday, April 13 at the North Carolina Museum of History, followed, later in the day by a college version at Shaw University.
The idea for InnovateEDU came last summer as the Innovate Raleigh team planned its annual summit and recognized the regional challenges related to inclusion and training students for STEM careers. Leaders found it alarming how little collaboration was happening between local businesses and educators to solve these problems.
With the STEM workforce so tightly wound to our region’s growth, InnovateEDU was developed to serve as an inspiration to underrepresented students to explore and embrace the innovation economy. The morning summit, split into three sessions, will go from 9:30am to 12:30pm and cover a wide range of topics including personal success stories and how to “present your best self.”
Tramell Ray Isaac, art director at game studio Boss Key Productions, Kayla Villwock, from talent acquisition division at SAS and Rob Allen, global recruiting manager at Red Hat are just a few of the speakers presenting at the summit. And closing out the event is keynote speaker Aminatou Sow (pictured above), who will share her experiences as a cofounder of Tech LadyMafia, podcaster, former social impact marketer at Google & Forbes Tech 30 under 30 recipient. The college edition, which is open to the public, will begin at 4pm and will also have Sow as the keynote speaker. Tickets for that event, open to a crowd of 300, can be purchased here.
Helping to coordinate the event are a trio of leaders in education: Wake County Public Schools career coordinator Joy Frankoff and director of curriculum enhancement Paul Domenico along with Teresa Pierre, who serves as program director at Wake Education Partnership. Innovate Raleigh also has partners like Raleigh Digital Connectors, Student U and Wake Tech Community College in the effort.
In conjunction with the summit, InnovateEDU is creating a resource book for students that highlight resources like scholarship opportunities, coding schools, mentorship, as well as internships. It will go live on the Innovate Raleigh website for free after the summit for those who were not able to attend.
Hwa’s hope is that by engaging the community to address the diversity challenge at InnovateEDU and through the materials, businesses, startups and others will step up to help provide solutions to guide more students toward STEM education and eventually, careers.
“If we as community begin to address these challenges and make progress, the business and entrepreneurial start-up sectors will of course benefit,” she says. “We know it’s a long journey ahead and attempting to solve these various issues with an ‘overnight’ solution is not our approach.”