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How Education Can Bring Diversity Into Tech

As a tech worker, Michael Stewart, who is now the President  of Calbright’s Academic Senate, was almost always the only Black man in the office. That wasn’t a coincidence, and it had an impact. 

“I can remember being ridiculed by my colleagues as they questioned my credentials and abilities,” he wrote. “There were several times I was overlooked when it came to promotion time. Of course, this made me angry, but it also made me want to strive to be better than the person next to me.”

By the time he came to teach at Calbright, he’d been working in the tech industry for over 35 years, and had developed a skill set and techniques to work in this lived reality.  

That was also the experience of Elizabeth Biddlecome, the Vice President of Calbright’s Academic Senate, who also has an extensive and highly successful career in tech.

“Despite the notion that community colleges are intended to promote equity in education for all, I witnessed and experienced a wide spectrum of harassment, hostility, and aggression directed towards minoritized students who were striving toward technical careers on countless occasions,” she wrote. “Both fellow students and educators contributed to the creation of a hostile environment that was not conducive to supporting these students’ efforts to learn and grow.”

Over time, she too developed a set of skills and techniques to help her, and her teammates, and students, overcome biased environments.

Now they are bringing those skills to Calbright, where they design courses and teach classes. They say it’s important to not just create a curriculum and environment that is welcoming to all kinds of students, but to offer the vital skills and techniques students need to prepare for working in fields that have historically struggled with diversity.

But more can be done. In a new publication of the Rostrum of the Academic Senate of the California Community College system, they jointly write that “the education to industry pipeline is broken,” and that colleges and faculty have a responsibility to change tech environments to make them more welcoming to a more diverse workforce. 

“We can coach (students) into believing that they can succeed and help them prepare to navigate the bias that they might face during the job search while implementing and enforcing a zero tolerance policy on academic harassment,” they write. It can be done if we know how and put in the effort. 

“We chose to write this paper because our experiences are a true reflection of what our students will experience in the professional world,” Stewart said about the article. “We felt this was an important matter that needed to be addressed, and we wanted to describe the ways that our own personal experiences align with the work we do to position students for success.”

Showcasing Calbright and Leading By Example

This article is also the first time Calbright faculty have published in an academic journal as Calbright faculty, a significant milestone. 

It also helps Calbright live up to its responsibility, given to it by the state legislature in Calbright’s founding legislation, to serve as the leading edge of the learning curve for best practices in online and career education that other schools in the California system can benefit from.

“We saw this as an opportunity to showcase the leading-edge work that we are doing at Calbright to create innovative opportunities that serve these student populations,” Biddlecome said. “We showed that Calbright leads by example by demonstrating ways that we implement ‘Critical Ingredients for Successful Vocational Education of Minoritized Students’ every day in our programs.”

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