By Lucas Johnson

NASHVILLE, TN (TSU News Service) -— Tennessee State University President Glenda Glover had a vision of bringing coding and creativity experiences to all the nation’s historically black colleges and universities and their communities. About two years ago, she, along with a team of community and administrative leaders, traveled to California to discuss the idea with Apple. The tech giant liked it.

“We shared our vision and our mission of empowering all the HBCUs with the digital literacy skills of coding,” says Dr. Glover. “We saw where the world was changing, which meant the workplace was changing, and a need for us to change the way we prepare HBCU students so they can be more competitive in the workforce.”

In July 2019, TSU launched the inaugural HBCU C2 Presidential Academy through its newly established Global SMART Technology Innovation Center. More than a dozen HBCUs were involved, and Apple provided equipment, professional development and training.

Apple CEO Tim Cook tweeted about the initiative: “Anything is possible when people come together with a shared vision. Thank you to @TSUedu for your leadership and enthusiasm in bringing coding to your community and HBCUs nationwide!”

That vision has continued to grow. Under TSU’s Global SMART Technology Innovation Center, there are now eight regional hubs, and community coding centers at 26 HBCUs. At least 20 HBCUs are on a waiting list.

“I can document that right now we have impacted 14,000-plus HBCU students and 5,000-plus community people (including faculty, staff, students and the community),” says Dr. Robbie Melton, associate vice president of TSU’s Center.

Dr. S. Keith Hargrove is dean of the College of Engineering at TSU and a coding trainer.

“We are well on our way to impacting and expanding our HBCU reach to more institutions and communities, to promote the value of coding and using creativity tools for software development,” says Hargrove. “And we can’t wait to see the amazing things they will do with these new skills.”  

Statistics show 67 percent of tech companies are made up of less than 5 percent of black employees. In Tennessee, information technology employment grew by nearly 3,800 net new jobs in 2019.

At TSU, the university is giving its alumni and others affected by the coronavirus pandemic an opportunity to retool. In a continued partnership with Apple, it’s helping those individuals learn how to code and design apps through an “Everyone Can Code and Create” course offered online.

Michael Davis, Jr., a science teacher with Metro Nashville Public Schools, says he and his wife took the course and it was very beneficial. In addition to improving his own skill set, Davis says he wants to pass what he learns on to his students.

“This is so beneficial for me as an educator because I can share this with my students,” says Davis. “It’s so important that they learn this.”

Melton says the pandemic has helped reveal the importance of having digital skills.

“The pandemic has helped us realize the world is now digital and connected,” says Melton. “In order to function, regardless of your career discipline, you have to have digital literacy and skills to be competitive.”

Last month, TSU announced its partnership with Propel Center, a new global campus headquartered in Atlanta that will support innovative learning and development for the 100-plus HBCUs.

Apple and Atlanta-based Southern Company are investing $25 million to build the Propel Center, which will be based at the Atlanta University Center, the nation’s largest consortium of HBCUs including Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Morehouse School of Medicine and Spelman College. Nearly 8,000 students are enrolled across the complex.

Students from participating schools will access Propel Center’s online digital learning platform from anywhere, and will also have access to the 50,000 square-foot center, equipped with state-of-the-art lecture halls, learning labs, and on-site living for a scholars-in-residence program.

To learn more about TSU’s HBCU C2 initiative, visit http://www.tnstate.edu/hbcuc2/.