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Partnerships with HBCUs growing, but industry says more can be done

Excerpted from the June 2021 issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. UIDP members can view the entire issue here.

Every week lately it seems there are new announcements of industry partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities. And judging from panelists’ comments during a session at UIDPVirtual 2021, industry interest in HBCU collaborations is only growing. However, the panelists added, there’s plenty more that can be done on both sides to further enhance this growth.

And representing some of the largest and most active companies involved in partnerships with HBCUs, they know of what they speak. For example, Valinda Kennedy, HBCU Strategist for IBM, noted that some of their programs, like a PhD fellowship, have been in place since 1951, but the effort to reach out to HBCUs is ever evolving. “Last year we tried a complementary program with a focus on undergraduates, and a masters fellowship program,” she said, also mentioning the IBM Academic Initiative and its Skills Academy, which involves training, curriculum, integrated use cases, hands-on labs, and credentials. “Our goal is to expand and add even more programs,” said Kennedy, herself an HBCU alum.

At Dell Technologies, said Deborah Stokes, leader of external research in the Office of the CTO, these partnerships are “part of the Dell DNA — part of the culture code. We have a number of partnerships with HBCUs and MSIs [Minority Serving Institutions].” The company, she explained, helps craft curricula for students aimed at building their skillsets and helping them recognize Dell as a potential employer. “HBCUs are a talent resourcing pool,” said Stokes. “We plan on building external resources projects in those schools to find hidden gems.”

Dow Chemical’s involvement also goes back several decades, said Nikhil Fernandes, research scientist for university research collaborations, who is responsible for the company’s research program in North America. “We’ve gone beyond direct recruitment to partnering on K-12, [sponsored] research, and so on,” he reported. He also noted that in 2020 the Dow Acts commitment of more than $5 million was launched for HBCUs in partnering and enhancing the talent pipeline. “It will continue to expand,” he predicted, noting the funds will be used to build STEM curricula and “inspire and attract students.”

Excerpted from the June 2021 issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. UIDP members can access the complete article and the entire issue here. Other practitioners may subscribe to receive the UIEA newsletter at