Since the killing of George Floyd last summer, corporations have pledged millions of dollars to fight racial disparities.
Now the iPhone maker is rolling out its investments, and they could be a huge boon to historically Black colleges in North Carolina.
The money will go toward improving access to tech education, regardless of skin color or ZIP code, the company said Wednesday, a move that could create workplaces that better reflect the countryâ€™s diverse population.
The largest chunk of Appleâ€™s investment â€” $25 million â€” will go to kickstart the Propel Center, an educational institute that will offer specialized education, mentorship programs and career opportunities to historically Black schools and their students, including St. Augustineâ€™s University in Raleigh.
Black employees continue to make up just a small percentage of major tech companies, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times. At Facebook, only 3.8% of employees are Black. At Microsoft, the number is 4.5%.
Appleâ€™s workforce, in comparison, is 9% Black â€” but that number includes retail employees.
Lisa Jackson, Appleâ€™s vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives, said she hopes the investments spurred by last summerâ€™s protests will start a meaningful change in those statistics.
â€œIf the events of the past year have put an exclamation point on anything, itâ€™s that this work is unfinished and is urgent,â€� Jackson said in a telephone interview. â€œOur countryâ€™s future relies on every American having an equal shot at prosperity, success, and health.â€�
Creating career opportunities
While the Propel Centerâ€™s physical campus will be in Atlanta, it will have a strong virtual education component that can be shared across campuses.
The center, created by the organization Ed Farm, is focused on creating career opportunities for the students in fields like artificial intelligence, machine learning, agriculture technologies, app development and augmented reality.
Appleâ€™s engineers and leadership will work hand-in-hand with the center, along with other companies, to develop the programs, offer support and create internships.
â€œProfessors will get a chance to work with Apple … and folks who are in the field who can say, â€˜Hereâ€™s what you should be teaching students so theyâ€™re ready for augmented reality, machine learning or AI,â€� Jackson said, â€œor whether itâ€™s some other work we do around design, or music or Apple TV.
While St. Augustineâ€™s University will be part of the Propel Center, the company added the resource will be open to every Historically Black College and University. North Carolina has a dozen HBCUs and the most HBCU undergrads of any state in the U.S., according to UNCF.
â€œSo think about the students at St. Augustine who want to be able to understand one of those topics,â€� Jackson said.
They could attend virtual classrooms on the topic, get mentored and potentially have opportunities to apply for internships with Apple or other companies in the field.
â€œThatâ€™s what the Propel Center is envisioned to be,â€� Jackson said, adding â€œI hope we are meeting and interacting with our future colleagues.â€�
St. Augustineâ€™s Interim President Maria A. Lumpkin said she is excited to work with the Propel Center.
â€œAs a liberal arts institution, St. Augustineâ€™s University is intentional about preparing the budding scholar not simply to enter the marketplace, but to re-imagine a marketplace that is yet to be constructed,â€� Lumpkin said in a statement. â€œThis partnership encapsulates the cultivation of our (strategy) to continuously seek out ways to differentiate ourselves as part of our approach to building sustainability well beyond the next century.â€�
Appleâ€™s education investment
The Propel Center is just the latest education initiative Apple has announced with Black colleges.
In December, both of Raleighâ€™s historically Black colleges â€” Shaw University and St. Augustineâ€™s â€” joined Appleâ€™s Community Education Initiative, which supported the schools with equipment and coding education.
At the time, Lynette Wood, dean of Shawâ€™s school of business and professional studies, told The News & Observer that the introduction of more tech-focused courses could be transformational for many students, and could help the university feed a pipeline of students into the Triangleâ€™s burgeoning technology scene.
Many of these students might not have had any exposure to computer science in high school, she said.
â€œThis will be an opportunity to interest colleges students in careers with tech,â€� Wood said then. â€œYou might not come into college wanting to work in technology, but a course early in their careers in coding could change that.â€�
Along with the Propel Center, Apple is offering 100 new scholarships to students from underrepresented communities as well as grants for schools to support faculty and engineering programs.
Apple also said it would launch an Apple Developer Academy in Detroit, a city with a large Black population; invest $10 million with Harlem Capital, a venture capital firm that invests in diverse founders; and $25 million in Siebert Williams Shankâ€™s Clear Vision Impact Fund, which helps minority-owned small businesses access capital.
Investing in HBCUs
Apple is far from alone in investing in HBCUs in recent months.
In December, MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, gave tens of millions of dollars to Elizabeth City State University, North Carolina A&T State University and Winston-Salem State University.
Also in December, TikTok, the video sharing app, gave $1 million apiece to N.C. Central University and N.C. A&T to help people of color enter health-related or science professions. The donation was part of $10 million TikTok gave to 10 schools that serve underrepresented students, The News & Observer reported.
IBM says it will invest $100 million into partnerships with HBCUs, including North Carolina Central University and Fayetteville State University.
And in the fall, Triangle semiconductor maker Cree made a gift of $4 million to N.C. A&T, the largest historically Black university in the country as well as the top producer of Black engineering graduates.
This story was produced with financial support from a coalition of partners led by Innovate Raleigh as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The N&O maintains full editorial control of the work. Learn more; go to bit.ly/newsinnovate
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