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HBCU Conference Speakers Encourage Focus on Entrepreneurism, Technology, Innovation

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Author: Timothy C. Ervin and Tina Joly

Release Date: Mar 06, 2012

Entrepreneurism, technology and innovation were the focus of the second day of ASU’s National Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Conference on Tuesday, March 6.


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Two dynamic speakers addressed attendees about the importance of stimulating the entrepreneurial spirit among young people during the second day of the National HBCU Entrepreneurship Conference held in the auditorium of ASU’s Ralph D. Abernathy Building.

The conference, which is designed to help build economic partnerships between HBCUs and their communities, is themed “Entrepreneurship: Transforming Education, Government and Industry.”

Regiuel Days and Joseph Weaver Jr. delivered a joint keynote address during the Elijah McCoy Entrepreneurship General Session of the conference.

Days, a principal technology strategist in Microsoft’s U.S. Public Sector Organization, said the African-American population is under represented in the technology field, despite the many opportunities available.

“This whole conference is about finding ways to leverage all those connection points so that we create opportunities and pathways for our students and find ways to build capacity within our community … we are not participating at the levels that we should be,” Days said.

Weaver is the founder of Global Design Interactive (GDI), a minority-owned marketing and communications firm based in Maryland.

Weaver left a lucrative position to start his own business. He said although he didn’t receive a lot of support when he made the decision to become an entrepreneur, his company is now successful. He hopes to encourage others to step out on their own.

“I attended an HBCU, and I think that it’s important that we give back and look for ways to stimulate other people.  If I can give back my time and share my knowledge … even if it only sparks one person, then I think it’s been worthwhile,” Weaver said.

Days added that HBCUs must attract more African-American students to the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs so that they can compete on a global scale.

Dr. Alfred S. Smith, ASU’s interim provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, said ASU’s faculty is instilling the entreprenerurial spirit into their students.

“The faculty and academic staff at ASU is striving to transform tomorrow by transforming our students into business leaders and entrepreneurs of the future,” Smith said.

Technology and Innovation Sessions

After the opening session, attendees were able to choose from several breakout sessions focusing on technology and innovation.

Marcus Shute, vice president of research and sponsored programs at Clark Atlanta University, spoke to conference participants about entrepreneurial opportunities available for faculty and students.

“There are many good reasons why academia should partner with industry. We have to educate our faculty and staff about the technological opportunities that exist,” Shute said.

Kenneth Tolson, vice president and chief technology officer at Data Solutions and Technology Incorporated, also is a member President Obama’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. He said the entrepreneurial fever must be re-ignitied among African-Americans.

“Our communities were filled with black-owned businesses before the civil rights movement; but that ended once integration started,” Tolson said. “We now have a president who is supporting tech transfers and STEM pipelines.  This is the time for HBCUs to get together and be a part of this revolution.The science and technology industries can create hundreds of thousands of jobs for the future… that’s why STEM is so important right now.”

Willa Beatrice Brown Aviation Luncheon

“It’s a wonderful time to be alive, working and studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” said Woodrow Whitlow, Jr., associate administrator for Mission Support Directorate, NASA. 

Whitlow served as the keynote speaker for the conference’s Willa Beatrice Brown Aviation Luncheon.

“This conference theme that we have of Entrepreneurship: Transforming Education, Government and Industry certainly allows us to address some of the issues that are critical to our success as a nation, and as we continue to adapt to a changing economy that becomes more competitive each second that ticks off the clock,” Whitlow said.

Speaking to an audience mixed with high school and college students, professors and business representatives, Whitlow reminded them that there are still new worlds to discover and explore.  Whitlow said everyone in the nation needs to be on the cutting edge of development and innovation.

“We know that the faculty and staff of our HBCU’s turn our girls into women, our boys into men, and all of them into leaders in their chosen disciplines and more importantly as members of society,” Whitlow said.  “And today is a wonderful and exciting future that they face.  It’s a future that will be defined by revolutionary technology that will impact every facet of our lives.”

The conference luncheon was named in honor of Willa B. Brown, the first African-American woman to earn a commercial pilot’s license.  In 1937, she received a master’s degree from Northwestern University and earned her pilot’s license that same year. She was a founding member of the National Airmen Association of America, the sole purpose of which was to lobby Congress for the racial integration of the U.S. Army Air Corps.

In 1941, the U.S. government named Brown as the federal coordinator of the Chicago unit of the Civil Air Patrol civilian pilot training program. She was ranked an officer in this first integrated unit. Her efforts were directly responsible for the creation of the renowned Tuskegee Airmen. Her training of more than 200 students led many to become Tuskegee’s WWII pilots.

Igniting the Spirit of Giving

Two presentations were made during day two of the conference. 

Lockheed Martin Corporation presented ASU with a check for $6,200. This is the second year that the company has made a financial donation during the HBCU Conference.

The HBCU Conference also has sparked a renewed interest in giving for some alumni.

Brenda Brown Hunter, an ASU alumna (1983), presented a check to ASU for $2,000 and issued a challenge to all ASU alumni.

“My mother went to Alabama State Teachers College and five of my siblings also have gone to ASU,” Hunter said.  “So my brother and I decided to donate $2,000 to ASU.  And I would like to challenge all alumni to do the same. It doesn’t matter if its $2, $200, or $20. Every little bit that you give to this fine University will help someone gain the education they need. You can help them get there.”

Hunter is the science advisor for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

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