Cincinnati Students Talk Tech Evolution and Diversity with Mentors at ITSMF Third Quarter Symposium

Diversity and inclusion are not unfamiliar topics to Per Scholas and our partner ITSMF (Information Technology Senior Management Forum) who hosted their 3rd Quarter Symposium in Cincinnati, OH and invited 20 Per Scholas students along with ITSMF senior level executives to a diversity conversation on July 28th and 29th. Per Scholas’ Senior Vice President of Core Mission Support, Kenneth Walker, expanded on the impactful conversation that offered an opportunity for vetran mentors of the IT sectors to share their learnings and experiences with students preparing to launch their technology careers. 

The weekend symposium followed the theme of “Cultivating Leaders for an Evolving Digital World”. The media evolution that  currently exists does not just affect the technology industry. Mr. Walker shared that one of the panel discussions elaborated on how the music industry has changed with machines that do the work of human vocal chords, music streaming services, and video uploading capabilities. Like all change, technology evolution has caused the music industry to rethink its money making techniques.

Another panel discussion topic was virtual and augmented reality. Although these new tools have a “wow” factor, they can be costly and widen the digital divide. Mr. Walker shared that it made him think about how Per Scholas continues to make technology obtainable for everyone. Cybersecurity, another one of the topics discussed at the symposium, has become a training course at Per Scholas because of the growing threats we face in the technology evolution. The 20 Per Scholas students at the symposium were treated to thoughtful conversation and consideration about how they can learn to protect the United State by educating everyday citizens about cybersecurity.

Just as, if not more, important than learning in the classroom are the learning experiences offered outside of the classroom. Per Scholas Cincinnati students who attended the symposium were matched with a senior level executive as a mentor. Per Scholas students were able to learn about professionalism and network simply by sharing the professional experience alongside a mentor throughout the day. The mentoring session also gave students the opportunity to ask all the questions they had about the workforce. Ken Walker describes ITSMF to have a “hugging culture” that is very relaxed. This made the executives more approachable and relatable to our students.

As Mr. Walker explains it, mentoring is a give and a take. While the mentees were learning from the mentors, the mentors were also learning from the personal stories of the mentees. One Cincinnati student in particular was invited on stage to share with the audience of 100+ people his journey that led him to Per Scholas. “He was truly an inspiration to his classmates,” Mr Walker said.

Over two days, the men and women at the ITSMF third quarter symposium delved into many crucial topics affecting the tech sector today. There cannot be a conversation about the tech sector without the mention of diversity. Why is diversity so important? Ken Walker has said, “Monolithic work environments don’t bring enough creativity or different perspectives.” Students, who later become employees, seeing people of color and women in positions of great influence helps make their dreams more tangible and allows them to be more transparent about their ideas and beliefs at a table of executives.

With this in mind, Per Scholas and ITSMF continue to strive for more diversity, not only in the tech sector, but every workplace. Not only do we “talk the talk”, but we “walk the walk” with Diverse by Design and other initiatives. When it comes to diversity, Ken Walker urges everyone to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable”. Open spaces such as the third quarter symposium held in Cincinnati are great opportunities for students just getting into tech and executives who have been in tech for decades to come together and think about how a real change in diversity will be made.

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