Oracle’s expanded HBCU partnership is an incubator for diverse tech talent

February 22, 2022 | 8 minute read
Alex Chan
Writer, Brand and Content Marketing
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Nahom Teshome hoped that when he started at Jackson State University (JSU), his education would lead him to his dream job in data analytics.

Teshome, who has a degree in computer science and is currently a graduate student in the same subject, came to JSU with this profession in mind. But he needed a mentor who could expose him to new areas of study—and calm his nerves as he pursued an internship opportunity that would further his career goals.

“I remember thinking I wasn’t fit enough yet,” says Teshome of interviewing for the role. “But to have someone from inside the industry tell me I was good enough really helped my confidence.”

Teshome first connected with his mentor through a program created by Oracle to support JSU, one of more than one hundred historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) that produced approximately 25% of African American graduates with STEM degrees in 2021. The program’s goal: to create a pipeline that can bring more Black talent and perspectives to the technology industry.

This initiative is just one example of the efforts Oracle has made partnering with seven HBCUs: North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Howard University, Jackson State University, Morgan State University, Tennessee State University, Southern University and Agricultural & Mechanical College and Meharry Medical College. The program provides mentorship, skills and professional development, class curriculum, and networking opportunities to HBCU students and graduates. According to Brittiney Jones, Oracle’s diversity and inclusion consultant who has managed the relationships with many of the schools, Oracle’s efforts are designed to lead a student, such as Teshome, to a dream job but also potentially much more.

“Oracle doesn’t just prepare students to have a seat at the table,” says Jones. “It helps them bring a unique voice to the table, one that’s listened to, respected, and deemed valuable.”

HBCU Hackathon

Oracle supports Hackathon at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University where 150 students attended to create their own web or mobile applications to solve a case study.

Charting the coursework

Oracle and its HBCU partners are working together to identify students’ most pressing career needs—and how to address them.

Oracle’s senior director of database product management Kay Malcolm recalls the first meeting she had with Dr. Harry Keeling, a computer science professor at Howard University. She remembers Keeling sharing the need to get his students exposed to modern cloud technology and prepare them to compete in today’s job market. To improve the database curriculum for students, Keeling and Malcolm worked together to curate content for the syllabus.

The result: An applied database systems course at Howard that addresses topics in data management under the instruction of Malcolm and Senior Principal Data Management Product Manager Eugenio Galiano, plus an army of Oracle product managers serving as weekly guest speakers. Together, Malcolm shares that these Oracle employees bring a collective total of more than 400 years of experience to the course, which launched in January 2022 and is fully enrolled.

On the first day of class, a poll was given to the students asking what their comfort level was with data management systems. Fifty-one percent of the class said they had not used any databases at all. By the end of the first day, the students had all provisioned an autonomous database in the cloud for the first time.

And these skill development efforts extend beyond Howard. Oracle supported a hackathon at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in the fall of 2021, where 150 students broke into teams to create an innovative web or mobile app to address issues of public health. At Morgan State University, Oracle professionals led courses introducing students to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure and how to build modern and secure applications on the cloud. The relationship between Oracle and Morgan lead to five full-time hires and eight intern hires from the university last summer.

Plans for future engagements throughout the seven-plus campuses all have one common purpose: to build meaningful professional relationships that will ensure a place for Black talent in the technology industry.

Leading by example

Under this partnership between Oracle and HBCUs, both the skills and professional development of students are being prioritized through close mentorship.

For example, beyond learning about topics in data management, students at Howard are also encouraged to build their professional relationships by connecting on LinkedIn with Oracle employees they’re meeting through the course, an opportunity that Malcolm says can benefit students who may not feel represented in the tech industry.

“I’ve done some speaking at schools about things like imposter syndrome, that feeling that you don’t belong or you can’t see yourself in a role,” says Malcolm. “But if you’re spending time with these experts every week, you start building relationships and a level of comfort.”

Malcolm adds that another part of creating that sense of belonging is making sure that everyone sees themselves reflected in the industry. After the first day of the course at Howard, she recalls receiving several connections and emails from women who said they had never met another woman in technology.

“I am a woman and a person of color in a leadership position at Oracle,” says Malcolm. “It’s important that there is diversity in leadership, not just because it brings new ideas and fosters innovation. But also because new talent want to get a sense that they belong in all levels here at Oracle, that there is a path for them to advance in their careers.”

The power of mentorship

Another key effort in this area is the Oracle “Skill-Up”, Leadership Development Academy, a collaboration between Jones, Richard El Kadi, Oracle senior director of software development, Oracle campus diversity program manager Johana Duarte Castellanos, and professor Jacqueline Jackson at JSU. Jackson found that students at JSU wanted mentorship that could help them understand what roles in tech they’d want to pursue and how to navigate that space as a minority in corporate America.

To meet these needs in alignment with JSU’s values, the three-month Academy paired 14 students with a mentor who could guide them regarding topics, such as leadership, exposure, and identity in the workplace, professional and technical development, and navigating corporate America. The students met with mentors on a regular basis, attended virtual workshops, and joined office hours and coffee chats hosted by Oracle’s recruiting team.

“The academy really homes in on things like being able to have an executive presence and how to navigate from being an early career professional to mid-level,” says Jones. “We also had students who were interested in nontech roles, like sales, human resources, and finance. So it goes beyond computer science.”

In addition, students had exposure to internship and full-time roles at Oracle, plus a chance to work with the company’s recruitment team, attend interview workshops, and have their resumes reviewed.

Teshome was mentored by Subhash Gaur, Oracle senior director of software development, and was selected as an intern after participating in “Skill-Up.” Twice a month, Teshome would bring questions about data analytics, interview preparation, and career development to Gaur, who became a mentor to help students prepare for the transition from school to the workforce.

“I have been in tech for more than 20 years, but the first phase was challenging,” says Gaur. “In college, I thought ‘I have mastered this,’ but when I entered the workforce, I realized I knew nothing. It’s a constantly changing environment and we want these students to know they are not alone.”

Kirti Verma, Oracle software development director, recalls her student mentee being the only person in his family interested in computer science. During their sessions over the three-month program, Verma showed him how to utilize data visualization and analysis, a skill that soon served him in an internship where he brought more data knowledge than the full-time employees working with him.

“These students gained a lot of confidence during this time,” says Verma. “As mentors, we’re here to help get them focused, to become confident and, most important, to tell them to always be true to themselves as they take on challenges.”

Upon completion of the program late last year, two Oracle hires from the school have been made and plans to implement “Skill-Up” again at JSU in the fall are in progress, says Jones.

Support all the way from the top

The promise of a place for Black talent in tech is a commitment that involves all hands on deck at Oracle, including those at the executive level.

Wim Coekaerts, senior vice president of operating systems and virtualization engineering at Oracle, serves on the advisory board for Oracle’s partnership with Tennessee State University (TSU) in Nashville, a city where Oracle has already made plans to invest in a new campus and bring 8,500 new jobs. As an advisory board member for TSU, Coekaerts is tasked with providing the school feedback from industry professionals to give them a strong understanding of the current job market and what roles are becoming essential for the future.

Coekaerts notes that Oracle’s ability to work with local universities is a mutual benefit for both organizations, expanding the curriculum offered to students while building a pipeline for promising new talent to enter Oracle.

“Being on an advisory board is a two-way street,” says Coekaerts. “One part is hearing what the universities are working with and what their assets are. The other part is having the ability to know what the needs are and contribute to something that’s very important—education.”

The opportunity to contribute has led to the development of a guest lecture at TSU last fall that taught students advanced features of commonly used operating systems and the selection of scholarship recipients who are interested in pursuing careers in tech after TSU.

To ensure a diverse and inclusive workforce, Coekaerts says more can be done beyond putting up job postings that are open to all candidates. Developing fresh talent as well as the channel it must travel through to enter the candidate pool in the first place should be the priority, he believes.

“There’s a big need to help create that pipeline,” says Coekaerts. “If there is no effort to create that, then how can we improve diversity? By going to the source of where that gets created and getting people excited—that’s how we can make a difference.”

For Teshome, that pipeline was a very real thing, He says the support he got from JSU and Oracle made him a stronger candidate for his dream opportunity in data analytics.

“Oracle really invested in us through this program,” says Teshome. “I hope to see more representation from JSU in the industry because it helps to see yourself reflected and to know somebody like you got the job.”

Photography: Richard Miller

Alex Chan

Writer, Brand and Content Marketing

Alex Chan is a writer for Oracle. She was previously a reporter for The Orange County Register and subsidiaries of the Los Angeles Times.

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