By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
More than 100 students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across Alabama gathered at Innovation Depot in downtown Birmingham for the 6th annual Code the Classic Tech Career Expo.
The event, hosted by the Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA) in partnership with TechBirmingham, connects employers with computer science and other STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) majors and was held in conjunction with the Magic City Classic football game played between Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical and Alabama State universities.
“This is our sixth year doing a career-focused event to help connect students from Alabama State and Alabama A&M universities to job opportunities in Birmingham,” said Waymond Jackson, Senior Vice President of Public Policy, BBA. “We’ve grown it to include other schools and universities across the state and we try to target HBCUs.”
The day kicked off with a career tech expo featuring companies such as Altec, Alabama Power, Command Alkon, Daxko, Fleetio, McLeod Software, Protective Life, Rx Benefits, Booksource, Shipt and Steris IMS.
There was also a live innovation pitch competition between AAMU and ASU students followed by a leadership roundtable with business and government leaders led by U.S. Senator Doug Jones and Vulcan Materials Co. CEO Thomas Hill.
A portion of the day’s program was facilitated by The YARD, a new platform that empowers HBCUs by funding students’ ideas and collaboration with industry leaders and communities. The YARD launched at the U.S. Conference of Mayors with a $1 million commitment from founding partner Vulcan Materials Co. to fund scholarships, internships and grants to HBCUs.
“The Magic City Classic is the epicenter for tech, talent and culture in the Southeast and provides us with the perfect opportunity to connect our HBCU talent with prospective employers,” said Erskine Chuck Faush, CEO and cofounder of The YARD. “We have industry leaders from today’s top companies joining us . . . because they believe in the value of diversity and inclusion and see opportunities for investment to build more sustainable career pipelines and drive positive economic impact.”
The YARD’s THINK BIG NOW event during Code the Classic brought together students from both schools for a live innovation pitch competition where students competed for scholarships and internships. Students were awarded based on ideas about ways to improve their HBCU campus and community.
The winners from Alabama A&M were Olasubami Olawepo, Dermyrius Lewis and Chris Tony, and Christian Henderson; the winners from Alabama State were Amir Madison and Zekari Gordon.
Madison, a junior marketing and business administration major, said his pitch focused on financial literacy for students.
“I introduced a financial literacy program that I think all students should be involved in and I plan to show students how to save, invest and how to manage their money better and wiser,” he said. “It felt good to be a winner of the pitch competition and I can’t wait to show students my program to help them manage their money better because a lot of times once they graduate, they don’t think about the funds they took out for school.”
Madison said it was important to attend Friday’s event “to get my idea heard and for other students to work on the small things together as a group because we all are attending HBCUs and its better for our ideas to be out there so people know what we’re thinking.”
Jackson said the event provides exposure for not just the students but for companies as well.
We’re intentional about hosting this event at Innovation Depot and we’ve got 110 startups here that are trying to grow their business so it’s great for talent to see that’s available in Birmingham,” said Jackson. “It’s also great for them to come in and we’ve got 20 to 25 companies who are producing revenue and have hundreds or thousands of employees… the earlier you can get that exposure, and see what it is that you may want to do once you graduate college is very helpful.”