About 350 business and government leaders joined scholars and educators at Alabama State University in Montgomery this week to explore economic innovation and international business opportunities.
The conference, “Entrepreneurship: The Globalization of the New South,” succeeded in attracting disparate leaders to devise strategies for meeting common goals: encouraging economic development in local communities and moving HBCUs toward globalization through entrepreneurship and the STEM disciplines.
The participants who convened at ASU included academic officials and nonprofit executives addressing such eclectic topics from “how to” sessions on starting a business, obtaining grants and capital for novice entrepreneurs. Business executives chose to highlight best practices for financial management and building alliances.
College professors and administrators spent sessions specifically focused on advancing STEM education [science, technology, engineering, math] and academic courses on globalization.
ASU President William Harris said the event was envisioned as “the first of a series of conferences that are part of our strategy of becoming a global university that stresses international relations as well as innovation.” Other aspects of that strategy include upcoming exchange visits between ASU and Asian countries, including China, India and South Korea, involving both academic and corporate representatives from the area.
Dr. Leonard L. Haynes III, senior director for institutional services in the Office of Postsecondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education, said that as federal Title III recipients, HBCUs should meet the challenge “to be more global in expediting their mission and to encourage students to think more broadly.”
“HBCUs should look at the activities they support and make sure they include activities that relate to internationalizing the curriculum,” he said.
ASU Executive Vice President and CEO John Knight cited the symbolism of having the conference in Montgomery during the week of the 46th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when hundreds of peaceful demonstrators were beaten by state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in nearby Selma. Montgomery is better known as the city where Rosa Parks sparked a historic bus boycott that helped lead to desegregation.
“So many struggles have taken place here, so this is the rightful place for this conference, which is about bringing parity to HBCUs,” Knight said.
Knight is widely known as a plaintiff in the ground-breaking 20-year-old case Knight v. Alabama, which contended the state had a dual system of education that disadvantaged the African-American population. The suit resulted in additional funding for the state’s Black institutions.
Dr. Reagan Flowers, a keynote speaker and CEO of CSTEM Teacher & Student Support Services, Inc., explained how it is important to develop programs that connect K-12 with HBCUs, promote literacy, encourage students to major in STEM subjects and expose them to STEM careers.
The Houston executive led a conference session for high school students. “I spoke to them about taking high-level math and science courses, doing the hard work, getting internships and successfully completing STEM majors at postsecondary levels,” Flowers said. “Many of our students are not taking rigorous courses in high school, so they don’t have the background to complete those courses in college, and end up changing their major. That’s the gap we have now.”
Some ASU students participated in the “Student Innovation and Motion Competition,” which awards a $5,000 prize at the culmination of the conference. The conference ends today at 12 pm CST.