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HBCU’s Technology Frontier

POSTED: June 24, 2011, 12:00 am

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While answering the telephone calls of donors during the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) telethon in the early 1980’s, Justine Brown thought she could do more to support historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU). Using her marketing expertise, she thought an opportunity existed to showcase HBCU’s and market the institutions to prospective students. Her interest evolved into the Black College Bus Tours in 1984, a “road trip” of sorts to bring young people to Black colleges along the eastern seaboard. In 2000, the bus tour was named after Charlie Parrish, a retired Coca Cola executive who was committed to HBCU’s, and several years later the venture was co-branded the Parrish-Brown Black College Bus Tour, adding the name of its founder, Ms. Brown.

The Black College bus tour legacy is now continued by Ms. Brown’s son, Alvin Hartley, who is seeking innovative ways to market HBCU’s beyond transporting prospective students to the campuses of these institutions. The bus tours are now part of a larger initiative – HBCU Linkup – that uses social media to connect prospective students, parents and teachers to Black colleges. Sensing that “eventually all HBCU campuses have to be wired,” Hartley parlayed his interest in technology into a chance conversation with Don Knezek, the executive director of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). After becoming aware of the organization and a placing cold call to Knezek’s office, the connection was made. From there, a relationship began to flourish and Hartley extended Knezek an invitation to a reception during a conference of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. From there, the two men began to explore avenues for collaboration as there was mutual agreement between them that HBCU’s must elevate their technology profiles.

The outcome is a special panel discussion on the technology needs of HBCU’s at ISTE’s annual conference in Philadelphia. The theme of the conference is "Unlocking Potential," an appropriate focus for many of the nation's historically Black colleges. The event slated for next week will bring together some 18,000 education professionals and technology vendors to discuss several issues: school improvement, technology infrastructure, professional learning, digital age teaching and learning, and virtual schooling/e-learning. The conference, true to its focus, will use a variety of technology platforms to deliver information during the four days of the event, scheduled June 26 to June 29 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in the “City of Brotherly Love. “

Hartley’s aim is to get the leadership of HBCU’s to focus on their technology needs, and to begin the process of building relationships with tech firms. The HBCU Linkup workshop, titled “Using Social Networking for College Prep,” is scheduled for June 28 at 3:45 p.m. The session will assist high school educators better understand HBCU’s and suggest tools for educators to connect their students with Black colleges. Later that evening a special, invitation-only, reception will be held. Hartley’s objective is to create relationships to begin increasing the technology capacity of HBCU’s. Following the conference, he intends to continue working to level the technology playing field for Black colleges and strengthen ties between campuses and the technology sector.

Meanwhile the buses will continue to roll on the HBCU bus tours, with a turnkey program targeting trips from ten different cities. One new initiative on the planning board is a tour specifically for educators, teachers, administrators and Board of Education officials, to visit the college campuses. Since its founding, the tours have visited one-third of the nation’s Black colleges from New York to Florida and Alabama.

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