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Creating ‘intentional pipeline’: Raytheon supporting STEM program for students of color to help diversify workforce

  • April 13, 2021

Two organizations have joined forces with one shared goal in mind: building an “intentional pipeline” to get more students of color into tech. 

For the next five years, Raytheon Technologies, which specializes in aerospace and defense, will contribute nearly $8 million to support scholarships, internships and mentoring for high school students of color participating in the Kapor Center’s SMASH (Summer Math and Science Honor Academy) program. Raytheon will also provide 10 SMASH students with $40,000 engineering and computer science scholarships for college.

The partnership is a part of Raytheon’s 10-year, $500 million Connect Up initiative with eight organizations including SMASH, an intense three-year college-prep program where students study STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses and spend their summers at one of 10 college campuses across the country. 

Last year, Raytheon also created a fund to match employee donations to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Urban League and the Equal Justice Initiative. Additionally, Raytheon partners with the Executive Leadership Council to give scholarships to Black college students majoring in STEM and business management. 

SMASH’s partnership with Raytheon intends to go beyond just lip service and a big check, SMASH President Danielle Rose told USA TODAY. 

embarrassingly dismal diversity in its workforce. For example, Black professionals make up only 5% of the tech workforce, 3% of tech executives and 1% of tech founders, according to a new Kapor Center report. The report also said between 2014-2020, “there has been only a 1 percentage point increase in Black representation among the top tech companies, and individually, there has been very slow progress.”George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis last summer, and protests worldwide,  tech companies vowed to support Black and underrepresented communities and diversify their workforce.

Apple created a mentorship program, Launch@Apple, for first-generation college students studying accounting and economics. There’s Google’s free computer science education program for mostly Black and Latino high schoolers, Code Next. And Microsoft has a scholarship program for high school senior women and nonbinary students pursuing STEMdegrees in college.

Despite some progress, SMASH and Raytheon,whose corporate leadership is composed primarily of white men, agree more needs to be done. 

“This urgency has been in the making for quite some time; just look at the impact and influence tech is having in society and how we navigate life on a daily basis,” Rose said. “We’re not looking to solve the problems by ourselves or that of one corporation. It’s going to take many corporations; it’s going to take a lot of investment for us to able to right-size and really create some balance.”

A group of students tried to solve an equation on a laptop during the SMASH (Summer Math and Science Honors)  program at Morehouse College in Atlanta in 2017.

SMASH students will have “a host of opportunities,” said Pam Erickson, Raytheon’s chief communications officer and head of corporate philanthropy.

“We’re definitely creating an intentional pipeline,” Erickson said. “Our hope, our goal will be is that we guide students from high school through the college experience with resources that help them envision the future.”

Eli Kennedy, SMASH’s CEO, said the program has a 100% graduation rate, with more than 800 SMASH students having attended top-50 colleges. About 80% of SMASH students major in STEM courses in college, and 85% graduate within five years, Kennedy added. More than half of SMASH’s students work full-time in STEM fields since the program was created nearly 20 years ago. 

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Kennedy said it’s also about changing the culture of tech companies “and pushing them to think differently about: How do they recruit? How do they monitor and create an environment where all people of color can thrive?”

For its part, Raytheon said in a statement that it is “absolutely committed” to hiring SMASH graduates.

“That’s one of the key tenets of the program,” the company said. “SMASH program graduates will be given priority placement for our internship programs, with the intention of eventually placing them into full-time positions.”

Kennedy’s remarks echo what Bhaskar Chakravorti, dean of global business at The Fletcher School at Tufts University, wrote in the Harvard Business Review in December, noting that the tech industry desperately needs a new approach to finding and retaining talent. 

“We suggest it starts with meeting high-quality recruits where they are without being constrained by geography and identifying regions that also have suitable conditions to retain such talent,” said Chakravorti, who cites Atlanta as an emerging tech hub.With a majority Black population, the city features top engineering schools Georgia Tech, Emory University and Morehouse College, a historically Black men’s liberal arts school that has a SMASH location on its campus.

Randy Bumps, Raytheon’s head of corporate social responsibility, shares a similar sentiment. The company said it is still pulling together its diversity workforce numbers since its merger with United Technologies a year ago and is committed to significantly increase its number of employees of color in the U.S. by 2030.Current diversity data for the newly formed company are to be filed with the EEOC in July.

Last year, Raytheon was ranked 108th by Forbes on its list of 500 companies that were considered among the best employers for diversity.

“Like many technology companies, we do know that we’re not hiring enough people from underrepresented groups and we need to do more to fix the leaky pipeline between early childhood education and full-time engineering careers,” Bumps said. “This partnership (with SMASH), alongside other efforts like increased recruiting from HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), are key steps toward fixing that pipeline.”

In addition to Morehouse, other SMASH locations include:

  • Northeastern University in Boston
  • Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Michigan
  • Wayne State University in Detroit
  • Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago
  • Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois
  • University of California campuses in Berkeley, Davis and Los Angeles
  • Stanford University in Palo Alto, California

Raytheon identifies with SMASH’s mission, especially with helping students who are likely “the first” in the family to achieve certain milestones, Erickson said. 

“So they are the first to go to college, and then maybe the first to go into a STEM career,” said Erickson, who was a first-generation college graduate. “And when you’re the first, it’s harder.” 

Erickson said Raytheon is committed to helping SMASH’s attempt to level the playing field: “We’re here to make that happen.”

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