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Intel Pledges $750,000 to Help Grow Pool of Navajo Code Writers

August 14, 2015

Originally posted on USA Today

 

SAN FRANCISCO — Seventy years ago today, Japan surrendered to the Allies to conclude World War II. Although the war's end was the result of many factors, few are perhaps as unsung as the contributions of Native American Code Talkers, Navajos who used their unique language as an unbreakable code for military communication.

 

Timed to honor the day also that celebrates the achievements of those Code Talkers, Intel announced Friday a $250,000-a-year grant for three years to a trio of Arizona-based Navajo Nation high schools to help their graduates become code writers.

 

The initiative is part of a broader $300 million commitment by Intel toward making its 50,000-strong U.S. workforce — which like most tech companies is largely white and male — better represent national demographics.

 

"We know that if we're really going to fill in the (talent) pipeline, we need to aggressively address the gaps in that talent," says Barbara McAllister, deputy director of Intel's Diversity and Technology Initiative, adding that the funds are in support the recently announced Science Foundation Arizona's Code Talkers to Code Writers Initiative.

 

Intel currently employs 266 Native Americans, about 0.5% of employees. It also has 1,878 African-Americans (3.5%) and 4,454 Hispanics (8.3%). While for years tech companies were reluctant to share their employee demographics, that trend has been shifting in the face of pressure from both activists such as the Rev. Jess Jackson's Rainbow PUSH Coalition and media outlets such as USA TODAY.

 

Among the reasons often cited for the lack of diversity at technology firms are a lack of minority engineers graduating from top schools and, at a more fundamental level, a dearth of role models from the computer science world. Critics counter that companies such as Apple and Google should look beyond just top school such as MIT and Stanford for minority talent.

 

McAllister says that much of the $250,000 grant — which will go to Chinle, Monument Valley and a third high school to be named later — will be spent on providing teachers with training to teach students coding. In addition, Intel will provide on-site assistance and mentoring by some of its Native American staffers, a few of whom graduated from the high schools receiving the grant.

 

"It's critical to bring a science and coding curriculum to life, and off project-based learning as opposed to just rote learning," says McAllister.

 

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