The Underrepresented Students in Tech group has grown quickly since its establishment in Fall 2020.
JeVante Qaiyim has spent his college career not only pursuing a bachelor’s degree in computer science at the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering but also seeking out experiences.
He has served as an emergency medical technician. He has completed internships with multiple companies. He spent time as a residential assistant in the IU dorms. During the summer of 2019, he was a research scholar as part of the National Science Foundation’s Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation program. He also has been a research assistant at the Luddy School.
Qaiyim has learned a lot inside and outside of the classroom during his IU days.
In the fall of 2020, Qaiyim decided he wanted to create a support system for minority students at the Luddy School, a place where underrepresented students could improve their technical interview skills, establish a career plan, or just feel comfortable having their questions answered. Considering the experience he earned over the years, he believed he was as good a person as any to fill that void.
The result has been Underrepresented Students in Tech, an effort to provide the unique support needed for minority students.
“I reached out to (Director of Student Engagement and Success) Tiana Iruoje and (Associate Director of the Luddy Living Learning Center) Tréon McClendon about establishing a student initiative to provide support,” Qaiyim said. “I noticed a lot of minority students needed help just building a support group and providing opportunities. There are a lot of minority initiatives at companies, but just having the resources to prepare students for those opportunities is critical. We needed to develop plans for technical interview prep, and we’ve been able to build relationships to help students.”
Qaiyim first met with Iruoje about his idea to talk to students in the Luddy LLC about his plan, and she encouraged him to reach out to all minority students in Luddy. McClendon, meanwhile, had spoken to some first-year minority students who were looking for resources that could help them become more comfortable. Iruoje and McClendon combined their thoughts and put together a list of resources that were needed to best support minority students.
“The missing piece was a sense of community and the ability to really fully express themselves around individuals who would essentially understand,” McClendon said. “It’s amazing to see students take this type of initiative. The students have come up with the idea of pinpointing roles so everyone knows what they need to do for the group, and we’re thriving. It’s also teaching students to advocate for their own educational opportunities and rights.”
One of the challenges some minority students face is simply being confident enough to ask questions. Many students are the first in their families to go to college, so they may be a bit shy to ask basic questions about resources or not even imagine they exist. Students can be embarrassed to ask questions believing everyone around them already knows all the answers. Just overcoming that concern has been a huge benefit of the group.
“I’ve had students reach out to me and say they’ve just heard this group exists and want to get involved,” Iruoje said. “They want to be able to talk to other people who have been in their situation and might know the answers to the questions they have, and they don’t have to be uncomfortable talking about it. It also has been great because we receive information from companies about minority programs, but that information doesn’t always reach the right people. With this group, we’ll be able to funnel these resources to let them know opportunities are available.”
“I was a first-generation college student,” McClendon says. “I didn’t have anyone who could tell me how to fill out a financial aid application. I had to figure out all the kinks or opportunities that come with dropping a class. Sometimes being in a minority population, you don’t always connect with faculty and staff and feel like you can ask these kinds of questions, so you might not bother to try. This group will help answer some of those questions and build a bridge to keep people involved.”
The group has met via Zoom since its establishment, but there already is a growing culture of celebration. Students have talked about internships they have landed, and that news has encouraged other students to continue pursuing opportunities. One woman in the group was concerned that computer science might not be a good fit for her, and after talking to other members who had experienced the same concerns, she switched her major to informatics. Instead of dropping out of the tech arena, she found a place that better fit her skills.
“I’m really happy about how the group is growing,” Qaiyim said. “We have people who are going to be able to build their leadership skills as a part of Underrepresented in Tech. The group will help motivate minority students to develop their craft and grow their technology skills.”
By design, Iruoje and McClendon are allowing students to guide the group. The duo will answer questions and provide support, but the students are driving most decisions.
“In higher education, we hear that students are told what to do vs. students being asked what they want to do,” McClendon says. “We’re allowing students who pay for their own education to own their opportunities. It’s about developing soft skills and building confidence. There is one student who didn’t say two words when we started and struggled with imposter syndrome. Now, he’s worried about making sure he talks enough. Seeing those types of things make us sit back and realize that a difference is being made.”
Qaiyim will be graduating soon, and he will be taking on another internship at Twitter. He hopes getting his foot in the door at the large firm will help him hold the door open for others to follow him as Underrepresented in Tech grows.
“I’m really proud of what we’ve done with the group, and I hope my story will inspire others,” Qaiyim says. “I feel like I’m laying the foundation for minority students to build relationships and realize that what they want to do is possible.”