By Bria Suggs

In 2018, some of the most underrepresented demographics in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) industry were Hispanics, African-Americans and women in general.

At that time, in college-educated adults, Black people made up 7% of the STEM workforce, while Hispanics were 6%. Women were lumped into lower-paying STEM jobs, such as the healthcare industry, and were underrepresented in more lucrative industries, such as engineering.

Dell Technologies is attempting to pioneer the shift towards more inclusivity in the STEM industry. In 2019, they piloted a curriculum for college students in the Atlanta University Center (AUC). 

The goal of the program is to create a pipeline for minority students into the STEM industry.

The company has partnered with 11 universities, four of which are in Atlanta, to provide courses and workshops to students interested in STEM to prepare them for future careers. All of the universities are either Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) or Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs).

The focus areas for the program include data science, cyber security and sales engineering. When trying to determine what classes and workshops to offer, the company takes into consideration what STEM-related fields are either rapidly growing, or already have a plethora of already open positions.

Tawanna Atwater, who works for Dell Technologies in diversity and inclusion, has the main objective of finding ways to “attract, develop and maintain” new talent to the program.

To her, it was important to partner with schools that had large populations of minority students to try to close what she calls the talent gap. The courses offered at the 11 schools by Dell are like regular classes, with an additional intention to immerse students into that potential field.

“We work with the professors as well with the [department] chairs and we create an actual syllabus, and [the class] gets placed in the catalog so that students can register for it,” Atwater said. “It’s available like any other class.”

While there is a professor in each class to handle attendance, grading and other duties, the courses are mainly led by current Dell employees who volunteer to act as an adjunct professor and potential mentors. 

The classes count towards students’ degrees as electives. 

Over the last two years, over 500 students have participated in Dell Technologies’ educational curriculum. The diversity and inclusion team for the company plan to continue scaling the program, with intentions, to help more diverse students.

“We also realized that we need to be cautious as we scale so that we do not impact the quality of what we are delivering,” Atwater said. “What we found, especially as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and having to switch to virtual [learning], we actually found that’s a really great way to scale this program and have it be available to more students.”

Brittanie Rice was a part of the pilot and took a sales engineering course at Spelman College in 2019. The 16-week long class allowed Rice to intern for Dell Technologies, and that later turned into a full-time position.

Rice credits her experience taking classes offered by Dell Technologies for allowing her and other students the opportunity to prepare for their careers, whether they end up working for Dell or another company.

“For me, personally, I felt very comfortable when starting at Dell, both with my internship and full-time because I knew I had already made connections across the company,” Rice said. “So I didn’t have that feeling of walking into something new for the very first time and feeling uncomfortable with that. I definitely felt like I had people to reach out to mentors that I still regularly talk to.”