S. E. Williams
Last week, Mapping Black California—a collaborative effort between global mapping innovators Esri and Black Voice News—hosted “A Conversation with Dr. Dawn Wright and Whitney Kotlewski,” an event for young African-American women interested in science and technology.
Shirley Coates of the Society of Extraordinary Women, Ignite Leadership Academy (STEM Academy Collaborative at UC Riverside) and Dina Walker, the Founder of the BLU Educational Foundation and President of the Rialto USD Board of Trustees selected the students. Former Assemblymember Cheryl Brown and Leslie Fountain, Director of Marketing at First 5 San Bernardino, also participated in the day’s activities.
Wright, Esri’s Chief Scientist, led the day’s session. She is a geographer, oceanographer, and leading authority in the application of GIS technology to ocean and coastal science. She helped create the first GIS data model for oceans.
Wright toured the students through Esri’s Building Q and the Software Development Center. Other parts of the students’ experience included an overview of the Esri Library conducted by Corporate Librarians, Colleen Conner and Patty Turner. In addition, Senior User Experience Architect, Whitney Kotlweski and Senior Graphics Designer, Candice Lawson guided the young women through the Marketing and Creative Labs, with the support of Social Media Architect, Ted Burns.
During the event, the young women had the opportunity to observe the tech company from the inside out, see how products were developed, witness interactions among team players and watched in real-time as users around the world applied Esri technology to real-world issues.
This event also provided participants a chance to interact with successful women in technology, role models, who look like them.
The Esri campus is tucked neatly among trees at the end of New York Street in Redlands. It is home to one of the most highly respected and widely utilized tech companies of our time.
Founded in 1969 by Jack Dangermond and his wife, Laura, the company started as a land-use consulting firm that helped land planners and land resource managers make well-informed environmental decisions by “organizing and analyzing geographic information.”
Beginning in 1982, Esri automated its mapping and analysis processes to “perform analysis for an increasing number of projects more effectively.” The solutions the company sought gave birth to ARC/INFO, an information system for geospatial query and analysis—the first commercial GIS. The development of ARC/INFO, helped foster an ever-expanding community of international users that today consists of governments at all levels, businesses, nonprofits, and researchers.
In May, a small group of determined stakeholders gathered at the Redlands campus at the invitation of Dangermond and Black Voice News publisher, Dr. Paulette Brown-Hinds. Together, the group launched a collaborative and dynamic mapping project that will serve as a catalyst to build a career pipeline and expose the broader African-American community to the power of geospatial technology.
Esri's values are rooted in “purpose and service and a mission to inspire positive change,” a goal that harmonizes perfectly with the history of Black Voice News. In addition, Esri coined The Science of Where, defined as “the science of digital transformation, exploration, navigation, commerce, ecology, insight, and innovation.” An understanding of this science and its potential can open minds and unlock creativity for African- American youth.
Coordinated by Dr. Brown-Hinds, the stakeholders involved in the Mapping Black California initiative include inland area representatives from education, community-based organizations, faith leaders, and others from both public and private sectors. Since its kick-off session in May, the initiative has been shared with a number of individuals who have expressed an interest in being involved as the project develops.
The idea was seeded when Black Voice News participated in a Coastal Commission project and mapped historical beaches frequented by African Americans along the California Coast. The feature, titled Segregation by the Sea, used Esri technology to pinpoint the geographic locations of these historic sites: http://www. blackvoicenews.com/2017/02/25/segregation-by-the-sea/.
The positive feedback from Dangermond led Dr. Brown-Hinds to explore the potential for Esri technology to engage members of the African-American community to not only track history, but also imagine the future by using the technology to identify and solve contemporary problems that impact African-American lives every day, and, throughout the process, engage African-American students in the technology. This, in turn, will help lay a foundation for educational and career interest and opportunities. The effort is more than altruistic—most agree it is warranted, timely, and essential.
A 2016 report by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University showed that although more African-Americans than ever are earning college degrees, they are over-represented in majors that lead to low-paying jobs. When the report was published, the Center’s director and co-author, Anthony Carnevale, summed it up: “Basically, African- Americans have been going to the right church but sitting in the wrong pew.”
The report, African-Americans: College Majors and Earnings, stressed that although college majors are certainly a matter of personal choice, a large percent of African-American students are concentrated in open-access (community colleges) and four-year institutions that often offer a more limited menu of major choices.” He further noted, “The low-paying majors that African- Americans are concentrated in are of high social value but low economic value.”
Just as jobs of high social value are critical to the moral fabric of society, so are opportunities to design and utilize the technological tools that shape the future of society. Carnevale’s report highlighted how meaningful career planning before college can provide transparency about major choice—this is where the Mapping Black California initiative is aimed.
Several studies in recent years have highlighted the underrepresentation of African-Americans in STEM education. Diverse Education wrote about the importance of early, consistent exposure to STEM and underscored the need for more exposure for students at the K-12 level. The report further asserted such exposure would help make the requisite math courses for STEM careers more relevant to students. “Critical math courses are often criticized by students as being too abstract and not relevant to the real world.”
Dr. Marcus Bright, Political Commentator and Executive Director of Education for a Better America, who penned the Diverse Education analysis, noted another key component of the Mapping Black California initiative: a career pipeline. “A broader early exposure to STEM careers would also aid in the creation of a tiered job entry system,” he noted. “Not all jobs in the STEM sector require advanced degrees or even bachelor’s degrees.” An increased awareness of specialty fields that touch this expanding technology will, as he stated, “create entry points for a broader population of people into the STEM world.”
Critical questions for the African-American community remain: How do we identify these entry points? How do we educate African- American students about them? How do we prepare African-American students to compete for admission at these entry points? And, how do we unlock their creativity, nurture their confidence, and inspire them to stake a claim in this growing and changing field?
Another component of success highlighted by Dr. Bright, and targeted by the Mapping Black California initiative, is a need for apprenticeship programs. “These kinds of programs are critical to providing exposure and opportunities to those who may not have a natural connection into these companies,” he explained.
The challenges faced by the African-American community in relation to STEM are penetrating and historic. And yet, a potential solution may be just a fingertip away; understanding the power of geo-spatial technology and how to apply it to formulate creative solutions could unlock interest and untapped potential in African-American students.
Mapping Black California is the timely solution which seeks to close the gap in California between the information rich and the information poor by creating a better road map for African-American students to follow to the careers of tomorrow.
In January, the Bureau of Labor Statistics noted in its report, STEM Occupations: Past, Present, And Future, that employment in STEM occupations grew by 10.5 percent between May 2009 and May 2015, compared with 5.2 percent net growth in non-STEM occupations. The report also noted that ninety-three out of 100 STEM occupations had wages above the national average.
Dr. Bright offered a profound message in his report that represents the highest goal of the Mapping Black California initiative: “The status quo of an extreme underrepresentation of minorities in STEM fields and occupations must be resisted against with a concentrated effort for greater inclusion.” He concluded, “We must come out of our traditional silos to create more access to the jobs of the future by bolstering intentional connections between employers, school districts and higher education institutions.” This is the goal of Mapping Black California.
The reports referenced in this article are available on line. African Americans: College Majors and Earnings may be found at https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/african-american-majors/; Diverse Education analysis is available at http://diverseeducation.com/article/96063/; and STEM Occupations: Past, Present, And Future is available at https://www.bls.gov/ spotlight/2017/science-technology-engineering-and-mathematics-stem-occupations-past-present-and-future.