The Institute of Diversity Sciences (IDS) recently concluded the third year of the Leadership Academy, a professional development program aimed at students from groups that are historically marginalized in technology and engineering. This program, which was free of cost for students, ran for six weeks, from July 11 to Aug. 19. The students are now beginning a follow-up nine-month mentorship program led by technology and engineering professionals.
“What makes the Leadership Academy special is that we create an active community of students from across the nation who may feel alone in computer science and engineering majors because they are one of few students from their own identity group in their program,” says Nilanjana Dasgupta, director of the IDS and professor of psychology at UMass Amherst. “We bring them together into a space where they are surrounded by a critical mass of peers who share their experiences. We empower them to form relationships with each other and with mentors and speakers who inspire, advise and open doors to early career opportunities. And we guide them to develop problem-solving skills, communication skills and a professional identity to navigate tech and engineering workplaces.”
This year, 55 students came from 37 colleges and universities across the nation. The 2022 cohort comprised 78% women; 44% Black/African American and Black multiracial; 25% Asian American and Asian multiracial; 22% Hispanic and Latinx multiracial; 9% White; 62% first-generation college students; 25% LGBTQ students and 5% students with disabilities[DM1] . The students received stipends thanks to donations from Reboot Representation, Red Hat, MathWorks, Dell Technologies, Energetiq Technology and Cornell University. The Leadership Academy itself is funded by a grant from Reboot Representation as part of their campaign to double the number of Black, Latina and Native American women earning computing degrees by 2025.
“The scholarship meant that I didn’t have to work this summer,” says Felix Daily, a student at UMass Boston who attended this year’s Leadership Academy. “It meant that I got to participate because I didn’t have to work. Getting to have the summer to just devote myself to academics was a huge boon. It was also encouraging to see that there are other folks like me, and to be in a space with those kinds of people who are invested in self-improvement and learning—that was lovely.”
During the Leadership Academy, students learned skills for thriving in college which they can also apply to launch their early careers. These include problem-solving skills such as negotiation training, communication strategies, professional identity development and tactical knowledge about the norms and expectations of tech and engineering workplaces.
“Students see how a growth mindset applied to personal change removes obstacles during their college years and prepares them for success in internships and early career,” says Rati Thanawala, who co-led the teaching curriculum and is the Hannah Riley Bowles Chair of the Management, Leadership and Sciences area at the Harvard Kennedy School. “All this leads to more self-confidence at the start of their new journeys towards becoming people of influence in tech.”
A dose of inspiration came from visiting speakers from diverse industries and diverse identities. Students will develop deep mentoring relationships with industry mentors by participating in small mentorship pods throughout the academic year. Mentors will use their work and life experience to guide mentees in applying their coursework to personal challenges, and help with goal setting, professional identity development and resilience. These relationships allow students to grow their own professional networks and successfully access internships, apprenticeships and other real world work experiences.
Part of the curriculum was developed with funding from Pivotal Ventures, a Melinda Gates Company.