2018 Congressional App Challenge Registers Record Number of Native American Participants, Builds Pathways to Tech Careers for Underrepresented Groups
WASHINGTON, DC – In 2018, the Congressional App Challenge inspired a record-number of Native American students with a participation rate three times higher than Silicon Valley. Intel and other major corporations recognize the need for diversity in technology fields; however, a white-paper published by the company in 2016 found that there is a significant lack of access to opportunities in STEM education for Native Americans. Through the Challenge, the House of Representatives and the Internet Education Foundation look to provide these opportunities and create the next generation of coders and engineers in technology.
In computer science and other related STEM fields, Native Americans are particularly underrepresented. According to diversity report data from 2017, American Indian and Alaska Natives comprise around 0.8 to 1% of the workforce at major Silicon Valley tech companies. In the engineering workforce as a whole, Native Americans make up 0.3%, and in 2016, Native Americans constituted 0.4% of graduates receiving a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field. These are numbers are primarily driven by socioeconomic conditions and a lack of educational opportunities in STEM for these communities.
As a result, educators must look to increase access to educational programs and resources for these under-resourced groups. A study from the University of New Mexico found that 48% of Native American students felt that “Native American communities lack educational and computer resources, which creates distinct obstacles for them that white and even other minority students do not encounter”. Most of these students lack access to rigorous STEM coursework at the high school level; in 2014, only 126 Native American students took the AP Computer Science exam out of a total of 39,278 examinees.
Through the Congressional App Challenge, the Internet Education Foundation aims to address this disparity in computer science education. With support from the US House of Representatives, the Congressional App Challenge provides students the opportunity to learn and showcase their coding skills, regardless of experience, socioeconomic, or ethnic background. In 2018, 3.3% of participants in the Challenge– compared to 1% of Silicon Valley tech employees– were of Native American descent, while 32 Representatives in the Native American Caucus held App Challenges in their district. In 2019, the Congressional App Challenge plans to continue expanding this diverse population of participants, creating pathways for students from underserved and underrepresented backgrounds to succeed in computer science and technology.
Participating members of the Congressional Native American Caucus leadership include:
Rep. Betty McCollum, Minnesota’s 4th District
Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, Arizona’s 3rd District
Rep. Ben Ray Luján, New Mexico’s 3rd District
Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., New Jersey’s 6th District
Rep. Don Young, Alaska at-large