By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent
On Tuesday [Aug. 25], the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) opened the application process for the Apple HBCU Scholars program to help the most valuable company in the world identify the next generation of high-performing leaders of color in technology.
The program, which targets students attending historically, Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), includes a scholarship for up to $25,000 during the recipient’s senior year, a summer internship at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., career-development opportunities, and the chance to serve as a TMCF Diversity Initiative/Apple brand ambassador.
Students will also earn the opportunity to participate in the Apple HBCU immersion experience in Cupertino, Calif., during the spring of 2016 and access to an Apple employee for a unique mentoring experience.
In the press release about the launch of the program, Denise Young Smith, the vice president of Worldwide Human Resources at Apple Inc., and a graduate of Grambling State University in Louisiana, said that the program is about exposing gifted students from HBCUs to careers in technology.
The tech industry has recently come under increased scrutiny for its lack of diversity by civil rights leader Jesse Jackson and others after companies like Google, Apple and HP published data on the ethnic and gender diversity of their workforces.
“We’re big believers that innovation will be strongest when talented people from diverse backgrounds are part of the creative process,” said Smith. “That’s why we’re so proud to be partnering with TMCF to help us find the next generation of innovators.”
The Apple Scholars program is just one element of the $40 million partnership between TMCF and Apple announced earlier this year that will include the development of a talent database for hiring managers, research grants for faculty members and investments in entrepreneurship programs.
“The call out to our community is that when an organization as big and as well-known as Apple says, ‘I’m going to invest in you,’ they have actually lobbed the ball into our court and, if we miss it, we’re going to be hard-pressed to argue that HBCUs are relevant and worthy of future investments,” said Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., the president and CEO of TMCF.
Taylor added that the partnership will also involve serious discussions about how to make HBCUs sustainable in the future.
“[Apple] is absolutely convinced that if they want to solve their diversity challenge, they have to expand the schools that are producing the pipeline,” said Taylor. “Majority schools are not enough because everyone’s fighting for that same small pot of Black students.”
Taylor said that the stakes are high for HBCUs and Apple to prove targeted investments like this can reap long-term rewards for industries pushing to diversify their ranks. Taylor added that it may be the last chance for Black colleges to make the case that they are not just historically relevant, but that they’re also currently relevant, as well.
“This is Apple, one of the sexiest, most ubiquitous companies on the globe, so all eyes are watching and it’s just not limited to the technology space,” said Taylor. “I have meetings now with other companies in other sectors that say, ‘I am dying to hear how the Apple [investment] works out.”
The application process opened on August 25, 2015 and closes September 18, 2015. Parents, students and faculty can learn more about the Apple HBCU Scholars Program at http://tmcf.org/our-scholarships.