Young Blerds Celebrated at White House Science Fair as President Obama Dedicates $240M to Diversifying STEM

President Barack Obama has repeatedly voiced his interest in helping diversify careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and the 2015 White House Science Fair marked the president’s latest effort to follow through on his word. 

This year marked the fifth installment of the White House Science Fair, but the gathering had a particular focus — diversity.

An incredibly diverse group of students were gathered together at the White House to present their own incredible achievements in STEM.

Students from across the nation, and even as far as the U.S. Virgin Islands, demonstrated their amazing potential to be tomorrow’s leaders in Silicon Valley.

With STEM careers being in high demand and officials fearing a possible deficit of people to fill these jobs in a few years, it’s important to get more youths into such fields.

What’s more important, however, is to make sure that marginalized communities are not continuing to be overlooked as the nation prepares to welcome the new wave of engineers, programmers, developers and more.

Silicon Valley has been heavily criticized for its stunning lack of diversity and it’s a trend that has been true throughout all areas of STEM.

The president is hoping to help change that by committing $240 million in private-sector commitments to help diversity STEM fields.

“We don’t want to just increase the number of American students in STEM,” the president said at the White House Science Fair. “We want to make sure everybody is involved. We want to increase the diversity of STEM programs as well. That means reaching out to boys and girls, men and women, of all races and all backgrounds. Science is for all of us. And we want our classrooms and labs and workplaces and media to reflect that.”

Progress is still being made in hopes to make that vision a reality, but at least that vision was realized at the science fair.

The diverse teams helped obliterate all misconceptions that Black people aren’t in STEM fields because they aren’t talented or interested enough.

“Everybody needs an opportunity to go into STEM and learn and expose themselves to such an amazing field,” Stephanie Bullock, the 16-year-old captain of the five-person crew from the U.S Virgin Islands, told The Root.

Bullock and her teammates design rockets for the Team America Rocketry Challenge.

Another group of Black youth were a part of the Village, a division of the Atlanta Children’s Foundation.

The group of young Blerds designed and built a robot that has the ability to lift and carry items on its own.

Their prowess in the STEM field will now give them the opportunity to possibly dominate the GeorgiaFIRST Robotics Peachtree Regional.

It’s an opportunity they have been preparing for with the help of Lonnie Johnson, the inventor of the Super Soaker.

Each of the young men on the team have spent more than two years in foster care but never let their circumstances dictate their own potential.

Many of the young men and women at the science fair carried similar messages.

Another young lady opened up about how her own teachers doubted her when she enrolled in an advanced class.

Tiye Garrett-Mills, 17, admitted that it was a hurtful experience but told The Root that she never let that experience alter her aspirations.

“The thing is, it hurts, but…you have to let that fuel you, you can’t let that stop you, because you can achieve amazing things,” she told The Root. “Two years ago I would not have thought this was possible. But I just shook hands with the president today. I just explained my science-fair project to Barack Obama, and that’s because I didn’t let people stop me.”

It’s a message she hopes all young Black men and women in STEM will listen to.

SXSW Interactive Reminds Young Blerds of the Racial Disparities Facing Black People in Tech

Tech lovers, designers, creatives and many more convened in Austin, Texas, to join the South by Southwest interactive experience.

These innovators were prepared to find investors, share their unique ideas with business veterans or just mingle with other entrepreneurial hopefuls who were ready to become a part of the ever-expanding technology industry.

Unfortunately, Black and Latino members of this crowd were met with disappointment.

While the crowd of attendees has been more diverse than it has ever been, according to multiple reports, the diversity of investors and venture capitalists in the space is still just as whitewashed as ever.

Joshua Mitchell was one of the Black innovators whose trip to SXSW was also a bleak reminder that constant conversations about diversity in STEM are no promise that change has actually taken place.

Mitchell was hoping to link with a Black venture capitalist firm that would be interested in funding his start-up jeniusLogic, a company that focuses on building mobile apps for people in the music and entertainment space.

With so many aspiring musicians and entertainers paving their own paths to Hollywood, it’s an app idea that could certainly prove to be a major success.

That potential still wasn’t enough to overcome the racial barriers for Black people like Mitchell who are interested in the tech space.

“There’s a big disconnect between people of color’s culture and the technology industry,” he told USA Today. “Right now, it’s a little difficult to navigate.”

The lack of diversity in tech would never be considered breaking news at this point.

Consumers caused quite the uproar when tech giants released diversity reports back in 2014 that revealed that less than 5 percent of their employees were people of color.

Many of the companies had workforces that were less than 2 percent Black.

When it came to management positions, the numbers were even more troubling. Black leaders in the tech space were nearly non-existent.

It has caused tech leaders, major companies and national programs to shift gears to focus more on boosting diversity, but the team behind SXSW never had to bother with a major shift — they had always focused on discussing diversity in STEM.

This year, SXSW hosted more than 100 sessions that focused on diversity in tech and that number was only a slight increase from their usual numbers, proving that they have always found diversity in STEM to be an important topic.

SXSW is also one of the few major events that is being more direct with its approach to diversity.

Despite million-dollar plans and national initiatives being announced to boost diversity in tech, there are many cases where the details are murky and unreliable.

SXSW, on the other hand, is making a particular effort to not only discuss the issues but to discuss plausible solutions.

“We want to have a lineup that reflects what we think should be a more diverse tech ecosystem,” explained Hugh Forrest, the head of SXSW’s Interactive section, to USA Today. “We still have a long, long way to go.”

That’s the unfortunate part of many of these conversations. The realization that throwing money at the problem is not enough and that the path to diversity in Silicon Valley and beyond is still a long and winding one.

One key element to embarking on a successful journey, however, is realizing that tech success is not all about skill.

“The Silicon Valley perspective is that everyone’s here because they deserve to be here and they’ve worked hard and that’s really bull,” Hank Williams, the founder and chief executive of told USA Today. “The reality is everyone who is successful had someone who helped them get there.”

When so few Black people are in leadership positions, it becomes increasingly unlikely that Black people can enter an industry that is reliant on someone giving a young talent a chance that could catapult them to success.

Studies show that leaders and hiring managers are attracted to what’s familiar, and when white males are dominating the tech industry, there is no mystery as to what it is exactly that seems comfortable and familiar to today’s biggest tech executives.