Google is opening “Howard West” on its campus in Mountain View, Calif., a Silicon Valley outpost for the historically black university where computer science majors can immerse themselves in coding instruction and tech culture, not to mention the inner workings of one of the planet’s most famous companies.
Between 25 and 30 juniors and seniors from Washington, D.C.-based Howard University will spend 12 weeks at Google this summer, receiving instruction from senior Google engineers and Howard faculty and getting course credit for their studies, the Internet giant announced Thursday.
The program is an outgrowth of Google’s effort to recruit more software engineers from historically black colleges and universities, one of the ways Google is addressing the severe shortage of African Americans on its payroll, particularly in technical roles, where they account for 1% of the workforce.
Eventually Google wants to expand the program to include other historically black colleges and universities, said Bonita Stewart, Google’s vice president of global partnerships, who has been working with Howard University President Dr. Wayne Frederick to develop the framework.
Stewart says when she joined Google a decade ago, there was little talk of diversity or making the tech industry more representative of the populations it serves. Today, this Howard graduate says Google is making a serious investment in building bridges.
“For us, it is an opportunity to ensure that we are building a pipeline and more importantly, stimulating the right partnerships to drive change,” Stewart told USA TODAY.
Google is targeting historically black colleges and universities because more than a third of African Americans receiving computer science degrees come from those schools yet they rarely find jobs in Silicon Valley tech companies.
“I would like to see more Howard students and ultimately historically black colleges and universities students and underrepresented minorities being hired in the tech industry and participating in more start-ups,” Frederick said. “Exposure to that environment early will pay dividends on the back end.”
The Howard West program is an extension of the Google in Residence program, which embeds Google engineers on the campuses of Howard University and other historically black colleges and universities to teach courses and get students up to speed on critical skills rarely taught in the classroom, such as how to ace a software engineering job interview.
Some of the students in the program secure summer internships at Google. Last year Google hosted 50 technical summer interns from seven historically black universities and colleges. This summer, 62 interns from 10 schools have accepted offers.
Those who have taken part in the Google in Residence program credit Google and other tech companies that have become active on their campuses in the last few years for helping them plot career paths that could one day lead them to Silicon Valley.
Alanna Walton, a 21-year-old computer science major finishing her junior year at Howard University, is headed to Google for the third straight summer, this time for an internship in the company’s Mountain View headquarters. After she graduates, Walton says she’s determined to work in the tech industry, most likely in front-end engineering or design.
The Google in Residence program boosted her confidence. And she says other Howard computer science students have been similarly inspired by Google staffers being on hand to assure them: “You are learning the right stuff and you’re on the right track.” Now fewer of her peers are switching out of computer science into other majors, she says.
“It makes them feel like they can do it and it helps people stay in computer science,” Walton said. “It makes them feel like: It’s not a far-fetched idea for me to be at Google.”
That’s one of the aims of the Google in Residence program and Howard West: To bulldoze systemic barriers that lead to low enrollment and retention in computer science and dissuade black students from pursuing a career in the tech industry, Stewart says.
During the time Google staffers have spent on the Howard campus, they’ve learned that many students get discouraged trying to find time to practice their coding skills while juggling a full course load and part-time jobs. The lack of mentors and role models from the tech industry is another big gap that the Google in Residence program and Howard West hope to fill, Stewart says.
There will also be a separate program for faculty. Through that program, professors from Howard and other historically black colleges and universities will spend six weeks at Google learning the most recent advances in technology.
As she prepares to pack her bags for her Google internship in California, Walton says she’s getting peppered with questions by excited Howard students headed to internships at Google for the first time.
“They are super excited and so happy and they are asking me so many questions like: What do I need to pack?” Walton says. “I advise them if they want to fit in they should pack a lot of T-shirts and flip flops.”