The technology industry is booming. More than ever, entrepreneurs, engineers and everyone in between are creating new solutions, landing high-paying jobs and creating long-lasting career paths for themselves. But despite all of this success, black and Latinx tech employees are still vastly underrepresented. And to change that is going to take implementing programs and initiatives that have deep impact, such as Kapor Center’s signature education program, SMASH.
SMASH was one of the earliest STEM education programs in the U.S. and has continued to serve students since its inception in 2004 on the University of California’s Berkeley campus.The comprehensive program continues to grow and make a difference in the lives of participants by providing them with a comprehensive STEM curriculum.
“A lot of our students are coming from communities that are facing a plethora of challenges — food insecurity, violence, poverty, lack of role models…” said Anne Sawiris, Site Director at SMASH UC Berkeley in the video above.
For five weeks, high-school-aged students stay on a college campus (the program is on seven campuses as of 2018) for three summers in a row. At the request of students, SMASH now offers year-round support in addition to the summer residential program through SMASH Virtual, which allows thousands more students to have access to the program, and SMASH CS, which is available to non-SMASH students in the Bay Area in order for them to expand their computer science education.
“In regular school it’s just textbook, look at it, test at the end of the week and then start all over,” says Amir Stills, who is a part of the SMASH Berkeley Class of 2019, “But in SMASH it’s not like that. It’s intriguing discussion that leaves you thinking, like, ‘wow, I really want to talk about this.’”
The flagship SMASH Academy program helps participants feel comfortable in that university environment and combats some of the potential issues that can arise if a student doesn’t feel like they belong on campus. While there, they are guided by professors who look like them, giving them an opportunity to find potential mentors and role models who can inspire them as they plan out their own futures. And because the lessons are interdisciplinary, the students aren’t just learning math or chemistry, they’re learning about the application of those skills and how they interact in the real world.
The leaders at SMASH guide their classes through a social-justice lens, a choice that teaches students to hone their civic responsibility and global citizenship. At Berkeley, there’s a food justice course that offers students an opportunity to fill a void in their communities, even if they aren’t used to having local farms or seeing gardens. They are introduced to how these changes can impact the communities they live in.
Students have the opportunity to network, attend different speaker series and participate in immersive experiences that help them to gain skills in socializing professionally with others in the STEM field. And beyond the professional networking students actively do, they’re able to meet other fellow students who look like and are interested in similar fields to them. These relationships become lifetime friendships and connections as the next generation builds the future of tech. SMASH alumni programming (SMASH Rising) keeps students engaged and gives them the opportunity to gain real-world experience at leading companies.
When it comes to tech, there’s a serious lack of resources where they’re needed. Many people of color lack access to STEM education, which creates a pipeline issue, which is hard to recover from. That’s why although we comprise 30 percent of the population, just 11 percent of science and engineering jobs and 9 percent of technical computing roles are held by black and Latinx employees. Throwing money to surface level metrics like serving a large number of people is a band-aid on a deeper problem, but real solutions lie in providing opportunity and resources to underserved communities early on like SMASH has done since 2004.
“What it would mean for me, an African-American male, to be striving,” says Stills, “…. not even for myself, but for young African-American males all across the country. I’m just setting a path for another person to come up.”
As these students become positively impacted through opportunities that open up because of SMASH, they in turn impact their families, their communities and the next generation of leaders.
Want to learn more about the impact SMASH has had over the years in the lives of students? Hoping to get involved in the life-changing, industry-shifting program? Click here and enter your information in order to see how you can get involved.
Brought to you by The Kapor Center / SMASH.