This story was written by Anthony Graves, CU Denver’s Managing Director of Partnerships and Innovation.
As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, I have been thinking about my responsibility as the Managing Director of Partnerships and Innovation to uphold the values of CU Denver as an institution that aims to be an equity-serving university. What does it mean to be an “ally” through the lens of partnerships?
For me, the answer is clear, we should develop values-aligned and equity-centered partnerships with organizations that are committed to increasing opportunities for students who come from historically marginalized communities. As an institution working to make education work for all, we have a responsibility to cultivate relationships with companies that acknowledge a history of racial injustice and are investing resources to create a brighter more equitable future for Hispanic, Black, Native American, and Asian American students—while fostering a society that creates a sense of belonging for ALL communities and lived-experiences.
As a leader at CU Denver, I take this challenge seriously and feel that my personal values align with our university’s commitment to equity. I spent my formative years growing up in poor and working-class neighborhoods in Denver composed of hard-working immigrant families who spoke Spanish as their primary language; and in integrated neighborhoods where many “Black and Hispanic” families aspired to have their children be the first to go to college. Some of the kids I grew up with attended CU Denver or sister institutions on the Auraria campus, but many felt they couldn’t afford college or did not have a frame of reference for the value of higher education. As a result, many pursued careers in the military, learned a trade; or alternatively succumbed to a lack of opportunity or violence, finding their way into the criminal justice system.
I keep these experiences top-of-mind while pursuing partnerships. I think critically about the types of agreements that can expand enrollment pathways and create long-term economic opportunities for diverse communities sparking generational change. Over the last year, I have had the pleasure of learning from and cultivating a relationship with a new partner with a global footprint, an innovative culture and a commitment to equity, Apple.
Apple shares our values to make education work for all and is committed to partnering with CU Denver to diversify the tech talent pipeline. “The Why” for our partnership is to advance tech education and access for aspiring teachers and underrepresented students in STEAM disciplines, with an eye towards the nation’s rapidly growing Hispanic population—a vast reservoir of untapped tech and creative talent.
Our partnership will advance digital literacy for teachers and cultivate a diverse tech talent pipeline across the Denver metro area. Under the leadership of CU Denver’s School of Education and Human Development (thank you Barbara Seidel and Margarita Bianco) we selected a class of inaugural schools to participate in three K-12 districts committed to innovation, equity, and educational access: St. Vrain Valley, Aurora Public and Jefferson County Schools (we also aspire to grow into other schools and districts over time). Through its Community Education Initiative (CEI)—and in support of its Racial Equity and Justice Initiative (REJI)—Apple is providing hardware and financial support for student scholarships, curriculum development and teacher training.
We announced our partnership during the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) in Washington, D.C. on September 12 to 15. CHCI is the leadership development and scholarship foundation arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that has sponsored thousands of Hispanic youths to realize their full potential and solve challenges facing their community. The theme of the conference was, “Rooted in Strength, Achieving Our Dreams.”
I was invited to participate in one of the panel discussions with national thought leaders from K-12 education and the private sector about innovation in education and supporting teachers through public-private partnerships. More than 2,000 people, including Senators, Representatives, and the President and Vice President of the United States attended the event.
One of the defining narratives for the CHCI conference was the power of the Hispanic labor force to grow the American economy and the need to fill the high-growth career pipeline for STEAM powered industries in jobs like coding, the cloud, digital entertainment, and clean tech.
Our timely announcement exemplifies the kind of innovative approach needed to solve this grand challenge—bringing together public and private entities to make a difference. No doubt that’s why the partnership was met with great enthusiasm from the crowd, and I was humbled to be able to speak to so many leaders, including several members of Congress, who were excited and inspired by our work.
After my panel, I spent my remaining time at the conference listening intently to leaders from across the country who shared their outlook on key challenges and opportunities facing the Hispanic community. Time and again, there were critical questions raised about the role that higher ed would play in the education and professional development of the Hispanic community to address the tech talent gap in America. One of the fastest-growing populations in the United States, the Hispanic community constitutes 19% of the nation’s workforce, but only 8% of workers in STEM professions. It is also noteworthy that some analysts project an 8.5-million-person shortfall in tech talent for the U.S. that equates to an estimated loss of $1.2 billion to the American economy.
This is where CU Denver’s story comes in. As an institution that aims to be an equity-serving university with 50% of our students identifying as a person of color or as first generation, we can, and will make a difference.
CU Denver, Colorado’s only public urban university, understands that the confluence of the growth of the “new majority” of diverse populations and the seismic shortfall of tech talent is a call to action. Our university will play an important role in channeling Hispanic talent into the workplace. Innovative partnerships like the one with Apple will help us get there. We will prepare ALL of our students to meet the needs of employers who are starving for tech talent.
Together with our values aligned and through equity-centered partnerships, we will foster opportunities for our students and strengthen the American economy to create a brighter future for all.