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How Tech Companies and School Districts Are Partnering to Build Inclusive STEM Pathways

By: Jared Karol

Speaking on a panel at San Francisco’s Tech Inclusion Conference in October 2016, Landon Dickey, Special Assistant for African American Achievement & Leadership at San Francisco Unified School District, had this to say about building STEM Pathways from schools into tech companies: “Our beliefs start to solidify early on in terms of what we’re capable of, and where we belong. We have to start addressing and breaking down those mindsets as early as we can.”

He’s absolutely right. And the good news is that more and more partnerships between school districts and tech companies are starting to take shape. Landon believes there is a true effort to meet in the middle. Jim Ryan, STEM Executive Director at SFUSD, sees this collaboration and cooperation as a win-win: “Tech companies are trying to identify the talent; [school districts] are trying to build the talent. The ask is: come on in and help us build it. There are opportunities for us to work together and build the talent that you can hire.”

And working together they are. Nikki Lasley, Associate Director of Education Initiatives for Salesforce.org, talks about the creation of Salesforce Summer, a six week summer intensive for high school students to get soft skills training and real-world project exposure: “These opportunities led to a lot of experiences that have opened up a lot of doors for students who wouldn’t otherwise have thought about a career in tech or saw themselves at a company like Salesforce.”

DeAndre Carr, a senior at Mission High School in San Francisco, agrees that this exposure is absolutely necessary if STEM and tech companies are going to be more diverse and inclusive. He says tech companies need to be more spread out in different areas and communities of the city, and that people of color need to be featured in commercials. “We have to feel like we’re embraced and welcomed. We’re not just there to get a paycheck. We need to be highlighted in the media as doing stuff for the tech companies.”

Quincy Dominguez, also a senior at Mission High School, has participated in Salesforce Summer the last two summers, and the exposure she got to tech programs has been invaluable. She took a coding class in school, and then applied those skills working on a website at Salesforce. She also got to create badges and a newsletter banner that Salesforce is still using. She likes coding, but also the artsy side of things. Her internship, “helped me see that there’s not all just coding in tech programs. It widened my horizons and now that’s something I’m thinking about doing when I get older.”

Jim Ryan asks a question that captures the challenge school districts and tech companies are facing: “How do we prepare students so that they can live and thrive in the same city that they grew up in? What we’re trying to do around computer science is create more access and equity. If we’re going to address the STEM gap, the ability for all of our students to access these fields, we have to start very young.”

With computer science instruction being introduced as early as pre-K, initiatives such as STEM Talent Pathways (a program sponsored by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce Unite SF), and sincere interest from collaborative partners such as Salesforce, we’re on the right path to creating a more diverse and inclusive tech workforce.

Watch the full panel discussion here or below.

See more videos from Change Catalyst and Tech Inclusion here.

About Change Catalyst:

Change Catalyst empowers diverse, inclusive and sustainable tech innovation — through events, consulting, research and training.

Our Tech Inclusion programs explore and develop innovative solutions to tech diversity and inclusion.

Our Startup Ecosystem programs help underrepresented entrepreneurs and investors to start, scale and fund world changing businesses.

Change Catalyst is a Certified B Corp, winning the “Best for the World”​ award for community impact in 2014 and “Best in the World”​ overall in 2015.

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The Change Catalyst Team
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