Job Fair Pulls Virginia HBCU Students Into The Technology Mix

Job Fair Pulls Virginia HBCU Students Into The Technology Mix

RICHMOND, VA — During her years at Virginia State University, Jaunese Harris took note of efforts by the information systems department to improve the resources and course offerings in her major. The school hired new faculty for the department, introduced new courses each year and purchased top-notch equipment.
What Harris did not see was northern Virginia-and Maryland-based information technology businesses coming to the Petersburg campus to recruit fellow information science students for IT jobs.
“I knew there was a lot of opportunity in northern Virginia, but the companies weren’t coming around,” Harris says.
That lack of access changed during the spring semester of Harris’ junior year. She attended a job fair here sponsored by the Virginia High Tech Partnership. The fair put Harris in touch with representatives from a host of companies, including Electronic Data Systems, which hired her as a summer intern. Following her graduation from Virginia State in 1999, the company hired Harris as a permanent employee.
Harris credits the partnership for helping make the northern Virginia IT job market more accessible to students attending Virginia’s historically Black Colleges and universities. Over the past three academic years, the partnership has sponsored a job fair that has provided internships for dozens of students in the IT field.
National observers say part of the struggle for Black schools is establishing credible relationships with major IT companies. While there is a shortage of IT workers, Black schools are nontheless having to promote their students and their institutions to make themselves known.
“These students weren’t getting the consideration they deserved,” says Mark Warner, a prominent Virginia businessman and founder of the high-tech initiative.
Last month, more than 200 students who met with and handed out resumes to representatives from 32 companies also attending the event last month. Students — along with their school administrators — came from Hampton University, Saint Paul’s College, Virginia State University, Norfolk State University and Virginia Union University.
Representatives from the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy also attended the event.
“This is the greatest [economic] opportunity of any of our lives. We’ve got to bring everyone along,” Warner told the gathering of well-dressed students and professionals during the fair.
Warner, who is on the board of Virginia Union University, says it became all too obvious to him a few years ago that northern Virginia technology companies were not aware of Virginia’s five Black universities and colleges. As managing director of Columbia Capital, an Alexandria, Va.-based venture capital fund, he encouraged CEOs he knew to join the partnership.
“Many of these CEOs had never been on the campus of a historically Black school,” he says.
“I think it’s significant that we’re growing. [The companies] could have come only the first year because I asked them to. But the CEOs have seen fit to send their people a second and third time,” Warner adds, noting that 70 companies are involved in the partnership.
Of the nearly 19,000 students attending the five campuses in the Virginia High-Tech Partnership, 2,000 are majoring in technology, mathematics and science degree programs, according to partnership officials. They say the partnership placed 24 students into internships in 1998 and 50 students in 1999.
“I was very impressed with the young people I met,” says Jim Hartsook, an Atlanta-based executive at  PriceWaterhouseCoopers.
Hartsook maintains that his company has long recruited at historically Black schools but it only manages to visit a limited number of institutions. The value of the partnership is that it attracts students from campuses where the company is unable to do site visits, he says.
Hartsook adds that there is considerable demand to get IT and accounting majors into jobs at the company’s northern Virginia offices.
“Our information technology consulting practice is growing fast and we need people in those locations,” he says.    

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