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Calling Upon HBCUs to Grow Their Own IT Professionals

Calling Upon HBCUs to Grow Their Own IT Professionals

The morning that I saw my 3-year-old grandson, Darrion, walk sleepily down the steps, pull the stool from under the kitchen work desk, climb up and try to open the laptop computer sitting on the desk, I realized (as I ran to catch the falling laptop) that my thinking about computing issues was going to have to change, and fast! 
Darrion helped me to understand that getting the computer up and running was as natural to him as opening the refrigerator door. More importantly, I realized that my job as an academic affairs and information technology (IT) professional was changing, at gigabyte speed. Rather than focusing primarily on computer access issues, I now needed to focus on developing strategies so that people like my grandson would not only be consumers of knowledge but also managers of knowledge.
The recent infrastructure study of historically Black colleges and universities reported by the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO) indicates that many of our institutions are providing or at least are in the final stages of providing connectivity for their students, faculty and staff.
Further, there are preliminary indications that computer use by African Americans is increasing. Yet, the data reflecting the numbers of African Americans entering technology fields continue to be low.
Although the issue of access is quickly fading into the background, the number of trained and educated African American IT professionals seems to be growing at a snail’s pace, if at all. These realities are even more alarming when one realizes the magnitude at which information is being generated in the world. These realities are even more alarming when one realizes the extent to which the demand for Black IT professionals is growing, especially at HBCUs.
University and college campuses are hailed for creating, disseminating, evaluating and transforming information into knowledge. However, given the growth of the Internet and the focus on e-business and e-learning, institutions of higher education are now working to store, retrieve and present knowledge in innovative ways. One example of these new knowledge-management structures is integrated Web sites, which organize information into interactive and integrated information service and learning centers for faculty, staff, students and even those outside the university via the Internet, intranets and extranets.
Supporting and building these intelligent
e-service and e-learning portals requires advanced networks and information technology professionals with varied skills. Historically Black colleges and universities often have difficulty finding and keeping people with these new and diverse skills. Coupled with an inability to pay market salaries, HBCUs sometimes end up hiring technology workers whose skills levels are not on par with their needs.
One strategy for increasing the IT employee pool is to grow our own by ensuring that students and IT staff at HBCUs become knowledge consumers and knowledge managers.  Academic affairs and IT professionals can and should provide students, faculty and staff with the necessary access and tools needed to learn and make decisions. In addition, support is needed to encourage faculty and administrators to develop instructional applications that require students and staff to develop knowledge-management skills. In other words, activities in the classroom, in business settings and in work-study, may be designed to help students and IT staff develop these skills.
By growing our own IT professionals, we not only facilitate the retention of our intellectual capital, but also the future technological progress of HBCUs. 

— Dr. Joyce Williams-Green is associate vice chancellor of academic affairs/chief
information officer at Winston-Salem State
University, Winston-Salem, N.C.

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