Encouraging diversity in tech by supporting today’s untapped talent

Encouraging diversity in tech by supporting today’s untapped talent

Tech innovation is flourishing in America. Yet for all of the innovation and growth this tech boom has brought, women and minorities are too often on the outside looking in. This needs to change.

According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, 1.4 million computer science job openings are expected to be offered by 2018. However, just three percent of these jobs will be filled by women. Despite these statistics, diverse talent is out there, but we need to identify how to tap into it more effectively. What is too often missing are the tools and exposure necessary to develop and transform passion into workforce skills.

Now more than ever, students need to be presented with opportunities to help them reach their full potential and find careers that will challenge them, expand their minds, and propel them and our country forward. Education today provides a variety of different learning environments. Reaching young people on smartphones and apps and through interactive tools and video games can spark their passion for learning and open doors for the high-skill, high-paying jobs of the future. Educators and innovators need to harness these new tools to reach a generation of students that grew up with Wi-Fi and selfies, as opposed to modem dial-ups and polaroids.
Recognizing this untapped potential, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), together with the Hispanic Heritage Foundation (HHF), developed The Leaders on the Fast Track (LOFT) Video Game Innovation Fellowship. Now in its third year, the fellowship challenges young people to not only build video games – which is challenging enough in its own right – but also to develop these resources to address social issues. Through the fellowship, students learn coding, software development, cybersecurity and other 21st century skills that are in high demand in today’s workforce. As we have seen, students and young professionals across the country are bucking more traditional career paths to instead create apps, games or even companies!

This year’s fellowship concludes this month when twenty fellows will present their ideas to White House and Congressional officials and national community leaders – an invaluable experience that builds confidence and self-esteem. Last year, Esteben Zaldivar showcased an interactive virtual world at the White House that teaches young students the importance of conserving the environment, which he described as a “uniquely motivating experience.” He now works as a Level Designer at Portalarium, a video game developer based in Austin, Texas.

Marc Robert Wong, another 2014 Fellow, used his fellowship to advance his company, TeenTechSF. With a mission to inspire and empower the next generation of tech innovators, TeenTechSF connects students from the San Francisco Bay Area with tech leaders from Apple to Zynga in regular workshops on web and game design, app development, 3D printing, and entrepreneurship.

Another 2014 Fellow, Nicholas Badila, sees video games and game design as a way to encourage minority youth to pursue STEM education. Badila has been featured at the White House Science Fair and TEDxYouth and recognized as a FIRST Robotics Deans List Finalist and is in the 2015 Get Schooled Times Square Yearbook.

Marilu Duque, a 2014 Fellow, created a game that teaches teenagers about living a healthy lifestyle. Her submission was inspired by her interest in computer programming and her own desire to live a healthier life. Recently, Duque received a Gates Millennium Scholarship and will attend New York University to study engineering.

As we have seen, university video game programs have been successful at getting more female students involved in STEM education and high-tech careers. We need to replicate this model more broadly. The Higher Education Video Game Alliance (HEVGA) – which creates a platform for higher education leaders to underscore and promote the cultural, scientific and economic importance of video game programs in colleges and universities – found that women make up more than 30 percent of students in undergraduate video game programs, compared to 17 percent in computer and information sciences.

A HEVGA survey of alumni of video game degree programs found that 93 percent have gainful employment one year after graduating. The survey also found that game design degrees prepare students for careers beyond the video game industry. Specifically, almost half of all graduates from these programs (44 percent) enjoy careers in industries such as education, software development, government and security and defense.

Unique opportunities like the LOFT Fellowship are the types of challenges that our young people deserve. Across government and the private sector, we must help identify the resources, tools and exposure that students need to succeed. Ultimately, opening doors to more students – regardless of race, gender or economic status – creates a more inclusive, open and strong economy.

Taylor is senior vice president for communications and industry affairs at the Entertainment Software Association.


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