Portlandis among three cities nationwide selected for the Activate Local Communities Across America Initiative.
The program is coordinated by Microsoft Research and The America21 Project. Other cities in the inititive are Chicago and Cambridge, Mass.
The initiative grew out of a challenge last summer from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. It was featured Jan. 31 during the White House Tech Inclusion Summit, focuses on making America’s cities vibrant, inclusive centers of urban innovation and entrepreneurship that can connect talent from science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) students in diverse communities to the economic opportunities of the 21st century.
“This is all about equity and education,” Portland Mayor Charlie Hales said. “Portland has become a software hub for the high-tech industry, and it’s only fitting that we incorporate that into our educational system. We’re thrilled to be acknowledged by the White House and by Microsoft in this way.”
The three pilot programs — selected for diversity of geography, population, and industry, as well as for having prior investments in forging public-private collaborations to encourage STEM and technology opportunities — will last for approximately six months, although their impact will be felt far longer. During the pilots, questions of infrastructure and effective public-private partnerships will be addressed, and by the time the pilots are complete, their combined experiences should provide a road map for any city in the country that wants to replicate the work.
America21 will work with the pilot cities to extend their programs, and will assist other cities interested in participating.
The program targets under-represented students in the science fields, said Rane Johnson-Stempson, director of Education and Scholarly Communication for Microsoft Research Connections.
“One of the biggest challenges in growing the pipeline of students in computing, especially women and under-represented minorities, is the lack of awareness of computing careers and the need for 1.4 million new technology jobs by 2018,” Johnson-Stempson said. “Parents don’t know, students don’t know, and community members in at-risk areas have no idea about the opportunities available to them.”
In part, the ALC initiative intends to provide direction to a stream of well-intentioned, STEM-focused organizations stepping on each other’s toes in their haste to make a difference.
“There are so many organizations, public and private, working hard to make an impact in STEM and computer science and for under-represented groups, that programs are being duplicated, and folks are going after the same funding and competing instead of collaborating,” Johnson-Stempson said.
Todd Park, U.S. chief technology officer and assistant to President Obama, said he is pleased to see the ALC project gain momentum.
“In order to maintain our position as the global leader in innovation, it is crucial that this nation’s tech industry reflect the full diversity ofAmericaitself,” Park said. “That’s been the goal of the ‘tech inclusion’ events that the White House has sponsored, and it is hugely gratifying to see projects like the ALC coming to fruition from that process.”