Triad foundation advocates for more diversity in STEM education

In Black and White

(WGHP) — A lot of kids have drones.

“They may play with it and then stick it in the closet. But what they don’t know is there’s lots of careers out there for licensed drone pilots,” Ciandress Jackson said.

You only have to be 16. And there’s money to be made.

“So you can make $200-400 an hour if you know how to fly a drone just as a business opportunity,” she said.

Our crew dropped in to a drone workshop her nonprofit, the Be Great Foundation, organized for young future tech workers. The sight of Black and brown kids learning about ways to monetize tech is what Jackson envisioned when she started the foundation.

“I noticed that lots of times I would go in the room definitely the only person of color, a lot of times the only female as well. So I just wanted to provide more opportunities, see more diversity in the rooms,” Jackson said.

Tech wasn’t on her radar when she studied at the University of Virginia.

“I wanted to be in nonprofit initially. But in ’08 a lot of the nonprofit jobs dried up and technology is the future. So I got a master’s in information systems management, went back to work in technology,” she said.

Be Great advocates for diversity in STEM and exposes people from marginalized communities to the jobs and businesses available. According to their website, only two to three percent of workers in the top tech firms are Black or Latinx.

“The ripple effect of that is when people of color don’t see people who look like them in these jobs, they don’t think it’s for them,” she said. “Then when people of other ethnic or race groups don’t see people of color in those positions they think they don’t belong there as well.”

She’s talked about it with the newest board member, Judy Rebb, over coffee and kava.

“And we talk about those things in a way where people don’t leave with hurt feelings but we can actually have those free and open conversations, which is good,” Jackson said.

“It’s a forum that allows for open discussions and conversations about current topics and areas that need some attention,” Rebb said.

Rebb jokes that tech is not her thing.

“I’m about as tech savvy as a 60-year-old can be,” she said.

Her background is pharmaceutical and consumer goods sales.

Jackson says every board member, Rebb included, is on board because of the disparities.

“They see it and they are committed to doing something about it,” she said.

“I know we say if I can just help one person, but Ciandress and the other board members, the foundation’s goals are strong. And if we fulfill those goals over the next 10 years we will attempt to affect 100 lives. But we’ve got to start with just one,” Rebb said.

FOX8 asked if there’s a way to address those disparities without having those conversations.

“Absolutely not,” Jackson said. “The conversations need to be had because the first thing is acknowledgment. If you have a problem, the first thing you have to do is acknowledge the problem to be able to alleviate it. So those conversations are definitely step one.”

“The answer is… people look out your windows,” Rebb said. “This world is, the United States, all different backgrounds, all levels of income, all colors, all religions. We can’t just be pigeonholed in careers, development, and growth based on a person’s race, creed, or color. We’ve got to be able to open up several areas for all people to be able to access that if they so desire.”

The Be Great Foundation also does an app development workshop. And they offer scholarships for 18- to 25-year-olds who may not be on the college path, but who are interested in getting a technology certification. For more information, you can check out their website.

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