Scholars Create Program Aimed at Black Males
July 31, 2012
Hidden Genius Project Provides Tech Mentorship for Young Black Men
By: Sam Laird, Mashable Business, July 27, 2012 (this article was originally published by Mashable.com)
Outfitted smartly in a dress shirt and necktie, 17-year-old Tyson Walton stood up from a chair on a recent afternoon at the downtown San Francisco headquarters of Tagged and pitched an app idea to the co-founders of American’s most engaging social network.
The app, called Crave No More, will suggest nearby food options based off users inputting dining dislikes. But it’s not just a copycat of Yelp or Foodspotting.“What we’re focusing on and what makes ours so much better is that we give you that food suggestion,” Walton said. “We’re taking all the work out of having to decide where to go, then once you get there, what you want to eat.”
Crave No More is more than just an idea though. The app will be “fully deployable” and in the iOS App Store by the end of this summer, after eight weeks of hard work by Walton and four other high school students. They’re part of the Hidden Genius Project, a program based in Oakland, Calif., that aims to get more young black males involved in tech startup entrepreneurship, design and engineering.
“With our youth in particular, there aren’t a whole lot of role models you can point to,” says Tracy Moore, one of the Hidden Genius Project’s nine founding volunteer mentors. “If you look at most media, the only people you really see are sports stars and entertainers so that’s where a lot of their efforts are really focused.”
Walton and his cohort make up the program’s pilot class. While they’ll leave the program with a salable app, all five students entered with no programming knowledge. Yet they do all the coding themselves, without a single line written by the project’s directors.
The reasons for black males’ tiny representation in the tech community are varied, but much of it is cyclical. As Moore said, a lack of role models and examples to emulate in the field is one problem. Many students don’t come from families with parents who work in technology, or from schools with strong STEM curricula.
But strong peer connections and mentorship opportunities are paramount for all aspiring entrepreneurs, not just those from underrepresented groups. As part of their visit to Tagged, the students learned that company co-founders Greg Tseng and Johann Schleier-Smith have worked together since middle school and count LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman as their chief mentor.
“It’s just great that there’s this ever-evolving ecosystem, where each generation gives back and helps the next generation in Silicon Valley,” Tseng told the students.
The Hidden Genius Project’s mentors say demand has far exceeded the amount of space they’re able to provide at this point for students after the program first became a kernel of an idea just three months ago. But, they say, businesses and non-profits are eager to contribute money and resources to help the project grow.
How exactly it grows remains to be determined, but the mentors know they want to expand to a year-round setup, increase to up to 20 students and possibly add chapters in other cities. One more big piece will be keeping Tyson Walton and his pilot class included so that future enrollees have mentorship opportunities and build an ecosystem of their own.
“The goal is, after we’ve worked with them for an entire year, to the have them stay involved at a different level,” says Hidden Genius Project volunteer Kilimanjaro Robbs. “Maybe they become mentors to the younger students while they’re still working on something at a higher level. But at the end of the day, the end goal is to make them all employable. That’s the bottom line.”
What other programs are helping provide more opportunities in technology for underrepresented minorities? Let us know in the comments. http://mashable.com/2012/07/27/hidden-genius-project/
The Hidden Genius Project was co-founded by Ron Brown Scholars Jason Young (2000), Tracy Moore (2002), Jeffrey Nelson (2006), Errol Saunders (2002), and Michael McDaniels (2004). http://www.hiddengeniusproject.org