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Google and Howard University launch residency program for black engineers

Google and Howard University launch residency program for black engineers

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President Obama Delivers Commencement Address At Howard University
Photo by Alex Wong / Getty Images

Google has partnered with Howard University to launch a school branch right on the company’s campus, where undergraduate students will have a chance to learn from Google engineers in addition to the university’s own faculty.

The new campus, called Howard West, “is now the centerpiece of Google’s effort to recruit more black software engineers from historically black colleges and universities,” says Bonita Stewart, Google’s VP of global partnerships, who is herself a Howard graduate.

“Howard West will produce hundreds of industry-ready Black computer science graduates.”

Juniors and seniors in Howard’s computer science program will be able to study at Howard West for a three-month period; the university says they’ll be provided with “a generous stipend to cover housing and other expenses in Silicon Valley,” which will be paid for by Howard and private donors. Students will also earn school credit.

Engineers will have to apply and be accepted to the program. It’ll begin with somewhere between 25 to 30 students this summer, with the figure increasing in future semesters. Howard says that it expects 740 students to go through the program within the next five years.

The program will expand over time and eventually open enrollment to computer science students from other historically black colleges and universities.

“Howard West will produce hundreds of industry-ready Black computer science graduates, future leaders with the power to transform the global technology space into a stronger, more accurate reflection of the world around us,” Howard University president Wayne A.I. Frederick says in a statement.

Stewart says the goal for Google is to connect Howard students with mentors and to help remove systemic barriers that prevent black engineers from getting jobs in tech.

Google’s diversity figures are still terrible

This is a big issue right now for Google — not to mention the rest of Silicon Valley. Only 2 percent of Google’s employees are black, and black engineers represent only 1 percent of Google’s tech employees. That’s obviously far from properly representing the United States’ diversity, and Google has been clear about wanting to improve.

Google and other companies also put themselves at a disadvantage by having such a homogeneous workforce. Studies (and common sense) have shown that diverse groups have better decision-making abilities, and that can help companies like Google create better products and services and avoid terrible errors like this.

But there’s a wide variety of systemic issues that continue to hurt black engineers’ chances at a job. Google can address some of these on its own; and with partnerships like this one with Howard, it can help more aspiring engineers end up in the kind of positions they’ve been studying for.