Building Bridges into the Innovation Economy

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Building Bridges into the Innovation Economy

By Ken McNeely, President, AT&T California and Arturo S. Rodriguez, President, United Farm Workers

The AdelanTECH Leadership Program begins with its first class of Fellows July 18, 2015 in Salinas, California.

AdelanTECH Fellows meet with AT&T California President Ken McNeely (left) and United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez (right) in October, 2015.

AdelanTECH Fellows are welcomed to the State Capitol by Assemblymember Luis Alejo and are introduced in the California Assembly on March 28, 2016.

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When it comes to the innovation economy, access and opportunity are not always equal. Across the nation, rural students often fall behind their urban peers in developing the skills they need to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The opportunity-gap is even wider for rural students of color and English-learners seeking to break into a tech career. 

In California, one need only look to the farming community of Salinas to see that bridges are needed to connect emerging rural leaders with opportunities in the innovation economy. Located just 75 miles south of Palo Alto, Salinas feels worlds away from Silicon Valley. While 86%[i] of students in the Palo Alto United School District are graduating with the required courses for the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) systems, only 31%[ii] of students in the Salinas Union High District are graduating with the same courses.

Last year, AT&T and United Farm Workers (UFW) joined together with CORO Northern California and Udacity to create a program to help emerging rural leaders move forward into technology - the AdelanTECH Leadership Program. The 12-month program combines soft skill and leadership development from CORO with technology training and a Nanodegree credential from Udacity. Throughout the program, Fellows are also provided with opportunities to develop their skills in the real world –interviewing business and civic leaders, developing web-based portfolio projects and even making business recommendations to AT&T.

California Assemblymember Luis Alejo recently recognized the accomplishments of the inaugural class of AdelanTECH Fellows – inviting them to the Capitol, presenting them with Certificates of Recognition and introducing them during an Assembly Session. AT&T also hosted the Fellows in its offices to celebrate their progress through the program. For many Fellows, it was their first visit to the state Capitol. For others, it was their first experience delivering a presentation to a corporate audience. For all, is was a powerful demonstration of the individual and collective growth of this remarkable group of young leaders.

Our shared values and desire to address the opportunity gap brought AT&T and UFW together to create the AdelanTECH Leadership Program. Our continued collaboration will help give more young men and women in rural communities the skills and opportunities to pursue their interests and full potential.

As the first AdelanTECH Leadership Program comes to a close, we applaud all our graduating Fellows on their development and success. We thank our collaborators –CORO Northern California and Udacity – for joining us in the program helping to build bridges for rural leaders into STEM and boost diversity in tech. Now, we prepare to welcome a new class of Fellows to move forward - adelante - into the innovation economy.

[i] California Department of Education

CATEGORY: Education