Hoping to encourage minority youth to pursue careers in technology, this year's 17th annual Minority Student Day was held Friday, Feb.8 at the Microsoft campus in Redmond and was Webcast to eight different cities throughout the country from California to New York.
Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO, addressed the high school students and talked about Microsoft's future, their new products and the company's commitment to diversity. The theme this year's event was "The Wow Starts Now… The Future Starts with You!"
The goal of the event is to promote broader access to technology and encourage underrepresented minority youth to pursue careers in high technology by providing them with information, resources and career opportunities available to them.
During the day, over 130 students from the Puget Sound region explored the world of technology through hands-on workshops and technology labs, a Microsoft employee panel, a product fair where employees demonstrated a variety of Microsoft products, a tour, onsite games and projects where students and employees interact to gain different perspectives and the chance to interact and ask direct questions of Microsoft employees. Students also got a chance to see a demonstration on how Microsoft and Ford have partnered together for Sync, a voice-activated, in-car communications system that enables you to plug in your mobile phone and digital music player and operate it using voice commands.
After Ballmer's speech, local students had a chance to ask questions of the Microsoft CEO as well as the students from across various Microsoft campuses across the country via webcast. The first question was from Victoria Dixon at Carter High School in Dallas, Texas. Dixon asked Ballmer why Minority Student Day is important to him.
"I love the opportunity to have some interaction with people who are younger than at least my normal interaction level…I think it is also very important hopefully for some of the kids to attend to have a chance to get excited about stuff they haven't seen before, but it also sends a clear message to our employees," Ballmer said. "Part of our job is to reach out and try to continue and drive and stimulate interest in technology in the broadest part of the community possible."
Ballmer also talked about the things Microsoft is currently doing to encourage minorities and youth to pursue careers in technology and to take advantage of the vast opportunities in the field.
"We run high school internships and we'll have 50 local high school students this summer," Ballmer said. "We do stuff through the DigiGirlz program, which is a high-tech, hands-on camp for girls that's in its eighth year and we're doing college scholarships, particularity for women and minorities, to try to promote interest and literacy and involvement with computers."
The event was hosted by Blacks@ Microsoft (BAM) which was launched in 1990 and two years later established scholarships to help minority students pursue their goal of a career in technology.
"It's all about showing role models, examples and showing the possibilities to young kids," said Jose Pinero, director of diversity and multicultural marketing. "People define their opportunities based on what they know, if they're exposed to different things and people, they know they can aspire to be and do more," Pinero said.
Stephen Fields, an 18-year-old senior at Renton High School who has attended several Minority Student Days in the past, said he hopes to become an engineer and has learned a lot by participating in the yearly event.
"It's really a lot of fun," Fields said. "I love physics and chemistry so coming here and getting to talk to the employees, ask questions and work with other students on our projects like our Future Phone is a good experience."
In the U.S., there has been a decline in the number of students pursing careers in engineering and related computer science degrees, especially among minority populations. About seven out of 100 IT and engineering professionals are African American and the numbers are similar for Latinos.
"Our basic theory is everyone in the world should use our stuff and if we're going to achieve that goal, the people who work here, who represent and build products for our customers have to represent the whole world," Ballmer said. "So, we need a diverse point of view, of people in our own workforce, because at the end of the day there's close to 7 billion people on the planet and we want to have people who can represent all 7 billion working here, thinking about how to bring the benefits of technology to all kinds of people, rich, poor, American people, non-Americans, White people and non-White people, men and women," Ballmer added.