Arizona State University Partners with Cisco to Empower Minority Youth


Bret Hovell

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the educational attainment gaps between minority and white students persist despite improvements made over the last few decades. Another statistic from the U.S. Small Business Administration, minority business owners accounted for less than 15 percent of all business owners across the United States in 2013. Arizona State University and Cisco are forming a partnership to correct these imbalances by providing a comprehensive learning experience to help minority youth gain entrepreneurial skills.  

ASU Poder (Spanish for “to be able to” and “power”) is the central component of the partnership, supported by grant funding from the Cisco corporate advised fund at Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF). It is an initiative designed specifically for minority youths, and will allow underserved community college students to create solutions to pressing societal problems using digitization skills acquired through Cisco curriculum while receiving career and college preparation training to succeed educationally.

“Information and technology literacy, along with creative and critical thinking, are some of the key 21st century skills students should possess to thrive in the information age,” said Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, chief research and innovation officer and executive vice president at ASU. “The ASU Poder initiative, with support from Silicon Valley Community Foundation and in collaboration with Cisco, helps us foster entrepreneurial learners who will identify solutions, attract investment, create jobs, and address societal challenges in Arizona and beyond.”

“In the age of digitization, information can help predict an asthma attack and a building can detect and contain a gas leak. Even more astonishing opportunities emerge when people connect,” said Tae Yoo, senior vice president at Cisco Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). “Imagine a connected ecosystem that allows for people from all backgrounds to build the skills needed to drive the digitization process, to find jobs, and to bring creative ideas to market, including the added advantage of solving some of our most complex social challenges. We believe we can harness the power of technology to launch a generation of global problem solvers who innovate like technologists, think like entrepreneurs, and act as social change agents. There has never been a better time to be a global problem solver.”

The Poder training will be piloted at South Mountain Community College in south Phoenix. It will include a culturally responsive version of ASU Startup School to support students designing projects around their ideas to solve community problems. The program is intended to grow to other community colleges in the Phoenix-metro area to train nearly 300 students in three years.

The second component of the partnership will train high school teachers in 20 high schools to embed principles of engineering, human-centered design service learning, and social entrepreneurship within their curriculum to empower the next generation of high school students as social entrepreneurs. Teachers will also receive training on multicultural competencies, student success strategies, and digitization skills so that they can be most impactful in the classroom. Over the period of three years, the partnership will support and expand upon existing local efforts such as:

•    SEED SPOT NEXT, an entrepreneurship training program for high school students run by the Phoenix social entrepreneurship non-profit SEED SPOT; and
•    Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) High, a national award winning program at ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering that engages high school student teams to design, build, and deploy innovative engineering solutions for charities, schools and other non-profits.

These learning experiences are supported by grant funding from the Cisco corporate advised fund at SVCF. They will culminate in the Cisco Digitization Social Innovation challenge – the third and final component – awarding nearly $100,000 over a period of three years to help participating students jumpstart their entrepreneurial ventures. Both high school and community college students will have a chance to compete in multiple pitch events every year where they can win up to $5,000 in seed funds to launch their ventures and careers.