By Vic Sutton
Among the organizations working to ensure better access for minority students to science, technology and math studies across the United States is the association Latinos in Science and Technology (LISTA).
LISTA’s latest initiative was a day-long meeting, an “Emerging Tech Leadership Summit,” held in North Bergen, New Jersey, on 22 July. It brought together Latinos and Latinas engaged in technology and business leaders from around the New York tri-state area and their associates.
Professor Jorge Schement, from New Jersey-based Rutgers University, set the scene.
He pointed out that the U.S. population is diversifying rapidly. Of the Latinos in the country, 66% have their origins in Mexico.
Latinos and East Asians are the only groups that are growing in numbers.
But there is still a digital divide: Latino and African-American families tend to lack Internet access.
And of those Latino families who do have Wi-Fi access, 36% lose their service at some point every month, mostly because of economic stress.
Half of Latino students, Professor Schement recalled, drop out of high school.
Social and family issues can also limit the academic achievements of Latino/a students. As Celeste Carrasco – Director of Federal Public Affairs for AT&T – commented, “We tend not to stray far from home.” So Latino students may end up at the local community college instead of heading off to Ivy League universities.
She added, “Our view of diversity is about social justice.”
Attorney Francisco Montero, LISTA Chairman, confirmed that view. “There’s a cultural bias that needs to be broken,” he commented. “You just didn’t leave the neighbourhhood.”
The meeting included a session on “Latinas in Tech.” And there were certainly some powerful role models there, including:
- Beatriz Rodriguez, Director Diversity and Inclusion, Home Depot
- Yolanda Arriola, CEO, Southwest University at El Paso
- Jackie Puente, Executive Director External Affairs, Comcast Corp.
- Rosa Alonso, CEO/Creator, Rosa Alonso Digital
Why do Latina students not pursue careers in science and technology? Celeste Carrasco suggested, “A lot of what I hear is a lack of confidence. We need to mentor other women not to be afraid.”
Jose Marquez, founder and current President of LISTA, commented, “According to the most recent data, Hispanics account for 38 percent of the population and 3% in Silicon Valley and Fortune 500. LISTA has been showcasing and developing the next generation of tech talent for over 17 years. It is time for a change, and we must make the change happen.”
“We have amazingly talented techs in the Latino community who are pushing innovation to new heights every day,” said Francisco Montero. “The possibilities are endless when we come together, and our message is clear: innovate, create and continue to drive opportunity.”
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LISTA was so different from the many conferences that I generally attend. It was of people who had accomplished in technology sharing with their community. There was nothing for sale but ideas, contacts, best practices, people telling their story of success. This was exciting.
Telemundo shared an upcoming program that showed how 3D printing is going to be a part of a program in an inventive way.
A project from El Paso, Texas, gave students the use of IPads. These were not regular students but students who had gotten into trouble. Technology was the way to their success. We were not just talking about coding.
Latina women were feted for their project work and given awards. This, to me, was unusual because often the tech world ignores the work of women.
Yolanda Arriola was honored. She is the CEO and president of Southwest University at El Paso, which she founded in 2000. Southwest helps individuals advance their education with bachelors degrees in business and health administration; associates in medical, automotive, and diesel; business degrees and technical careers. She started her initial work trying to help students who had gotten into trouble by giving them technology as a key to success.
Conference promoters shared that Mrs. Arriola has a passion for community service and believes in its importance for many reasons. Her purpose is to change El Paso one student at a time.
Many of the participants were of Cuban heritage. There was an interest in learning how to work in Cuba. We were aware of the Google attempt to do business there that failed.
One of the participants shared initiatives, contacts, and the current protocol for how to work in Cuba. It was so exciting for the participants to be given a passport to successful work in Cuba. He created a detailed PowerPoint with steps to a successful conclusion of a project.
There was a beautiful venue and time to network.
I can’t remember all of the stories, but they were all empowering.