La Familia technology week

IBM Research reaches out to the Hispanic community

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Hawthorne, NY, USA - 16 Oct 2002: According to a recent study, only 40 percent of Hispanics have access to computers and the Internet, as opposed to 61.6 percent of non-Hispanic whites. The report, commissioned by IBM and released by the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, calls this gap the Digital Divide.

One effort by IBM to close this gap is La Familia Technology Week -- a weeklong series of events around the country that will demonstrate how technology can provide numerous opportunities for Hispanics. This is the second consecutive year IBM has been the lead sponsor of the La Familia Technology Week campaign, which runs from October 6th through the 12th. It aims to increase technology education and computer literacy among Hispanic families.

An example of one of the activities took place on Tuesday, October 8th at IBM Research's Industry Solutions Lab in Hawthorne, NY. IBM invited a class of Hispanic students and their teacher from Sleepy Hollow High School to its lab. At the event, Research staff demonstrated a variety of technologies and showed the students how these technologies -- and how they themselves -- figure into the future of science and business.

The students also had a chance to meet with Hispanic executives to hear how they chose their careers in the information technology industry.

"They were very interested in technology and they had a lot of questions," said Tijuana Atkins Williams, program manager for diversity and employee relations, one of the IBMers who addressed the students from Sleepy Hollow High. "One student wanted to know the environmental impact of IBM's work."

"If I can get three or four kids to follow a few of these points and maybe even see me as a role model -- then this is a success," Paul Gomes

Among the technologies on display, the students had a chance to see some wearable computing devices, the office of the future and a vending machine that allows users to make purchases with their PDAs.

According to Tijuana, "They liked the translation technologies -- some of the students are in English as a Second Language programs. One of them said 'Hey, I can use this to study for my English exam!'"

At lunch the students from Sleepy Hollow High met with Paul Gomes, director of e-announce process solution, a native of Brazil who has made his career at IBM. Paul is one of five executive co-chairs of the program and, as such, has participated in a bevy of events including the tour of the ISL as well as parent/student events at Public School 72 in East Harlem, New York.

"I started my speech by going through some facts in the La Familia presentation, but when I had a look at my audience I changed gears," Paul said. "I thought these kids are probably thinking 'look at this executive -- he probably comes from a rich family or something.' So I told them about growing up in Brazil and coming to university in the United States and not knowing the language. I was going around the room and I think that really brought it home for them -- some of these kids are experiencing significant financial struggles."

Paul went on to tell the students about how he came to IBM and what it took for him to become a successful systems analyst, then a manager and finally a director. His speech focused on five main messages, which Paul called "simple, yet complicated."

  1. Stay in school -- the Hispanic drop out rate continues to grow. Only you can change that.
  2. Acquire a computer. Take advantage of schools and libraries. If you're saving for a new DVD or a car -- put the computer ahead of all those things.
  3. Go to college and get a degree whether you plan on making your career in I/T or not.
  4. Communicate with your parents about your activities at school. Get them involved. Even if they're not on the PTA -- take responsibility for keeping them up to date on your progress.
  5. Don't forget who you are -- the culture and background you came from will be with you no matter what. The difficulties in the past will help you in the future with your job, family and other aspects of your life.

"If I can get three or four kids to follow a few of these points and maybe even see me as a role model -- then this is a success," Paul said.

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