Computer Science, Design Thinking, diversity, Education, Engineering, Innovation, STEM

4 Tenets for Diverse PreK-12 Innovation

Today, in Columbus, Ohio, I gave an American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) distinguished lecture on the topic of igniting and sustaining creativity and innovation for diverse PreK – 12, or pre-kindergarten to grade 12, education. As the incoming Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the School of Engineering at the University of Kansas, it was an excellent time for me to summarize four tenets that I developed after reflecting on my years in academia conducting research and outreach in engineering and computer science. Here are my four tenets for diverse PreK-12 innovation:

  1. Everyone has infinite value and potential to learn.
  2. Everyone has innate problem-solving and creative design ability and potential.
  3. Children want to innovate and create solutions for people and things they care about.
  4. Educators must guide and instill this lifelong learning potential in children.

Although these tenets were written for PreK – grade 12 students, I believe they apply to college-age students and beyond as well. These tenets describe the MINDSET that has guided my interaction with students, particularly those underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. I’ll elaborate on each one.

Infinite Value and Learning Potential

Tenet #1: Every child has infinite value and potential to learn. I cannot place a dollar value on a human being. Any amount of money would not be insufficient. When I worked at Apple, a student asked Steve Jobs what he would make if he had all the money in the world. At that time, Apple had several billions of dollars in cash. Essentially Apple had enough money to hire anyone in the world. The limiting factor to a company’s success comes down to the people hired and working on the problem. If you have all the money in the world but don’t have the right talent for the job, then your capital endeavor will be useless. Steve Jobs was concerned with hiring the right people, including black engineers (see my TEDx talk Belonging in Technology: What I learned from Steve Jobs.)

Often people, including teachers and professors, make the mistake of judging a person’s learning potential based on their outward appearance. Sometimes we pre-judge a person’s learning potential based on their household income or the neighborhood they live in. If those pre-judgements were true, I would have never risen to the ranks of a distinguished chair, endowed professor, or associate dean at a major research university. Being from a low-income household was an asset, not a deficit since it allowed me the opportunity to create my own toys, imagine moonshots, build make-believe robots, and go to the public library to read up on the latest science. My Dad and Mom’s bank account was small, but the amount of love and sacrifice they gave me was worth more than having billions. In fact, their love and sacrifice turned into have all six of children earning college degrees including three Ph.D.’s and three Master’s degrees.

Innate Creativity and Problem-Solving Ability

Tenet #2: Every child has innate problem-solving and creative design ability and potential. As a faculty member at Spelman College, I made sure that the students that joined our robotics club, the SpelBots, were reminded that they already had design skills, creativity, and problem-solving skills. If they wanted to apply those abilities and skills to robotics or computer science, they just needed to learn the language, whether it was math or C++. This language would allow them to express abstract thoughts and build concrete artifacts. For example, they could apply their love of dance and music by programming robots to dance (see Jazmine’s humanoid robot dance.)

This tenet was instilled in my SpelBots so that they believed they could solve any problem if they learned the language and investigated any accompanying knowledge they would need. It enabled them to become the first all-female, African American team to compete in RoboCup Osaka 2005 and to tie in a championship match at the RoboCup Japan Open 2009. RoboCup is the university-level “World Cup” of robotics and artificial intelligence held on a different continent each year.

Innovate for Communities

Tenet #3: Children want to innovate and create solutions for people and things they care about. Recently my research team developed a culturally responsive humanoid robotics program and curriculum for underrepresented middle school girls as part of the National Science Foundation’s National Robotics Initiative. Essentially, we allow middle school girls to discover topics of interest that are relevant to themselves and their communities and show them how technology, including robots that can talk and listen to humans, might be used to address those problems. In one of our Co-Robots, or collaborative robots, workshops, a team of middle school Latina girls decided to address the shortage of women working in the STEM fields. They researched sources to prepare a presentation and also programmed a prototype solution. Their solution to this problem involved them creating humanoid robot avatars to act on behalf of the interviewer and the interviewee. They wanted to remove gender bias in a STEM job interview by having the participants answer questions based solely on their knowledge and abilities, not their outward appearance. This is also an example of Tenet #2 at work (i.e. innate creativity and problem-solving ability). Because these students cared about this issue, they were motivated to solve a problem by learning new technology, humanoid robotics programming.

Instill Lifelong Learning

Tenet #4: Educators must guide and instill this lifelong learning potential in children. At the second global grand challenges for engineering summit held in Beijing, China, Dr. Richard Miller, Olin College outlined what he saw as the future of education. The Knowledge Economy was based on what we know and involved the teacher as the “Sage on the Stage”. However, Google helped supplant that model because knowledge content was no longer limited to what we could easily retrieve from our minds. Google made it easy to easily retrieve unlimited knowledge using their search engine.

The Maker Economy moved from what we know to what we could imitate and perfect and having the teacher as the “Guide on the Side”. It’s not just “what you know” but “what you can do”. According to Miller, instead of rows of seats and a blackboard, the learning space is made up of small groups with maker projects.

The Innovation Economy is based on the ideas that students can generate. It’s not just “what you can do” but “what you can conceive. This approach is based on intrinsic motivation and design thinking.

The 2nd Global Grand Challenge Summit highlighted the complex, global multidisciplinary problems our students are facing. These problems require global systems thinking to make sure solutions do not bring about unintended consequences. Students will need to understand diverse cultures along with the coupling of intertwined social, scientific, economic, religious, and political issues. In this context, it is not enough for an engineer to have narrow technical training. An engineer equipped to work in the innovation economy with holistic design thinking skills is needed. These are the types of creative and innovative students we must begin preparing through our PreK – 12 education and beyond.

© 2017 Andrew B. Williams, Ph.D.

Computer Science, STEM, swift

Learning to Code in Swift is Almost Like Building with Lego Blocks

Coding in Swift, or any programming language, is like playing with Legos.  You examine what each brick can do, how it can connect with other bricks, and then proceed to assemble them in legal combinations to build the toy rocket ship or mansion of your choice. In Swift, you have different objects that you can connect to build your user interface, along with other functional building blocks of code, or objects, that can be used to make an app.  Swift is Apple’s relatively new programming language used to make iOS, tvOS, watchOS, and macOS apps. (Is carOS on the horizon?).  For more Swift knowledge, check out and

Now for the “geeky” part of this learning exercise: If you want to use a Split View with a table view list when your iPhone 7 Plus or iPad is rotated to the left, you could be in for some coding problems.  The rest of this lesson assumes you know some swift and want to put together the “architecture” for a more complex app.  Note: the original “geeky” title of this blog post was:  Using a Swift 3.0 Split View Controller and Table View List within a Tab Bar Controller in Landscape mode ( iOS 10.2 and Xcode 8.2).

Xcode allows you to visually connect some of these user interface building “blocks” together.  Your Facebook iOS app or your Apple Mail app has tab bars at the bottom or lists of messages that you can select and read.  These are controlled by Tab Bar Controllers, Split View Controllers, and Table (, or List) View Controllers.

If you want to use a Split View with a table view list when your iPhone 7 Plus or iPad is rotated to the left, you could be in for some coding problems.

Recently I taught students how to use a Split View Controller that contained a Table View list within a Tab Bar Navigation Controller so that it works even when the iPhone is rotated.  Sound complicated?  Xcode 8.2 using Swift 3.0 makes it “easy” using Interface Builder and Storyboards.  I’ll assume you have been learning how to code in Swift and how to create UIViews with common user interface elements.  Hopefully, prior to this exercise, you have learned how to use Tab Bars and Navigation controllers before reading through this exercise.   If you have not, you should still be able to get the basics working using these instructions.


First, I wanted the student to see how to use the Split View Controller using the Master-Detail template in Xcode.  So to begin with, create a new Xcode project using the Master-Detail template:

To get a better understanding of how to the code works, I had the students go to the DetailViewController.swift file and change the NSDate variable to String.  See what happens when you try to compile the code.  The code should break.  Try to see what kind of objects are being created and what happens when those objects are being changed to String from NSDate.  Use a temporary variable to make the NSDate into a string.  For example,

myDate = String(describing: NSDate()

objects.insert(myDate, at: 0)

Make all the necessary changes, compiling and testing the code as you go along, to get the app to run successfully in the Simulator.  Make sure you use the Simulator Hardware menu to rotate you Simulated iPhone or iPad to the right or left.  You should see the Split View in action.  Note: You don’t have to make these changes in order for your split view controller and tab bar to work.


Search your menu of iOS objects for the Tab Bar Controller.  Drag and drop the Tab Bar Controller into your project that contains the Master-Detail Template.  Then delete one of the Tab Bar Views (for example, Item 1) by clicking on the segue that connects it and then the Item 1 view itself.

Next, control-drag from the Tab Bar Controller to Split-View Controller in your main.storyboard.  When the select menu comes up, select “Relationship Segue – view controller”.  This allows the Tab Bar Controller to control your Split-View Controller.  Your storyboard should now look like the following (note: I changed one of the views to have a brown background color).

Adding a Tab Bar Controller with a Split View Controller containing a Table View Controller list that shows detail.


We discovered that our code only works when we take out some of the split view controller code in the AppDelegate.swift file.  So comment out the following in AppDelegate.swift. That is, after the “Override point for customization” comment, comment everything in that method except the “return true”.


Now the code runs in the Split View mode:

And the Tab Bar Item 1 also works:

Now you have the skeleton code for an app that uses a tab bar controller with one of the tabs utilizing a split view controlled table view list that works when your iPhone is in landscape mode. Viola!

About the Author:

Andrew B. Williams, Ph.D., is a humanoid robotics and artificial intelligence professor, STEAM and “Everyone Can Code” advocate, and the author of “Out of the Box: Building Robots, Transforming Lives.”  Dr. Williams is the incoming Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Spahr Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Kansas.

Computer Science, diversity, Education, Engineering, Innovation, STEM, Technology

Diversity is the Gateway to Innovation and not a Dirty Word

Andrew B. Williams, Ph.D. accepts new role as Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at KU School of Engineering

Andrew B. Williams, Ph.D. accepts new role as Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the KU School of Engineering

Steve Jobs, in a 1996 Wired magazine interview, said “Creativity is just connecting things. …A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem.”  He went on to say, “The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”  

According to Steve Jobs, the late co-founder of Apple, having diverse experiences and perspectives is the key to being able to connect seemingly disparate things and create innovative designs for products or services.  When he hired me as Apple’s first senior engineering diversity manager in 2008, he was letting others know that Apple’s innovation required as many diverse perspectives as possible, including those from diverse backgrounds such as minorities and women.

For some people, diversity is a dirty word.  They think that it means a tech company wants to lower their standards of excellence just to hire a woman or minority. But according to Steve, a tech industry filled with people who have primarily homogeneous experiences, do not have as much to draw from to create innovative solutions that meet customers’ needs.

This summer, I am embarking, Lord willing, on a new chapter in my journey to increase diversity in the tech field as well as in academia.  I recently accepted an offer to become the University of Kansas, School of Engineering’s first Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and the Charles E. and Mary Jane Spahr Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.  I am thrilled that I will be working to diversify the educational STEM pipeline with hidden gems of talent and ingenuity from all walks of life, including those coming from groups underrepresented in engineering and computer science.  Diversity in tech is not a dirty word, nor is it optional one.  Real innovation demands diversity.

About the Author:

Andrew B. Williams, Ph.D., is a humanoid robotics and artificial intelligence professor at Marquette University and the author of “Out of the Box: Building Robots, Transforming Lives.”  Dr. Williams plans to return to his alma mater, the University of Kansas, to begin a new chapter in his God-given journey to help young people reach their full potential in education and to help communities rebuild families, industry, and healthy lives.  

Computer Science, Education, Engineering, Robotics, STEM, Technology, Uncategorized

Everyone Can Learn to Code Well


Apple picture of WWDC 2016 Scholars 

This week I journeyed coast to coast from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco driven by the belief that everyone can learn to code well.

Culturally Responsive Humanoid Robotics for Girls

This week I presented our culturally responsive humanoid robotics research at the 5th Anniversary of the National Robotics Initiative for the Congressional Robotics Caucus.  Then I traveled to attend Apple’s World Wide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco.  PBS News Hour interviewed me (see 6:20 mark) on their Facebook Live stream to hear how we are using culturally responsive pedagogy to teach underrepresented girls collaborative humanoid robot (, or co-robot), programming.  This week we began a series of seven one-week workshops for Latina and African American middle school girls in Phoenix and Milwaukee to teach them how to program humanoid robots and to use this technology to address issues important to them in their communities.  I believe everyone can learn to code and design well.

New Testament Academy Middle School Girls Learn to Program Humanoid Robots

WWDC and Swift Playgrounds on the iPad

This morning I saw Tim Cook lead the Apple WWDC Keynote at the Bill Graham Civic Center.  There was plenty of new technology announced but hearing about Swift Playgrounds got me the most excited.  Last year, we heard how Apple was going to make Swift Open Source.  I thought that move would help to make programming iOS and other Apple platform applications (watchOS, tvOS, macOS) more accessible since it would not require an Apple computer to write Swift software and apps.  But today’s announcement that programming Swift on iPads will be allowed for K-12 student learning purposes was phenomenal.  The Swift Playground in Xcode allows interactive coding that instantaneously show the results of a student’s code.  The new Swift Playgrounds for the iPad make a less expensive alternative to a MacBook or iMac and many schools offer access to iPads, even on a one-to-one iPad to student ratio.  It is difficult to explain the richness of Swift Playgrounds until you have tried it.  I have taught programming for many years in several languages and by far Swift, along with the Playgrounds, is not only my favorite but possibly the most powerful and has the most potential of new programming languages.  With Swift Playgrounds for the iPad, Apple believes, and I believe as well, that anyone and everyone can learn to program well.


The Design of Ethical Social Robots in the HEIR Lab

Our HEIR Lab students at Marquette consists of students from the College of Engineering, the College of Arts and Sciences (Computer Science), and the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD)

The mission of the Humanoid Engineering and Intelligent Robotics (HEIR) Lab is to research and develop humanoid robots that socially interact with humans in an ethical manner. At Marquette, the HEIR Lab is working to develop socially intelligent humanoid health coaches, culturally responsive humanoid robotics curriculum and a social robot that helps kids learn STEM.  Thanks to support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), we have been able to make great strides on understanding and developing this new technology.  This summer, the HEIR Lab has been invited to present our research at the Congressional Robotics Caucus in Washington D.C. To celebrate the 5th anniversary of the U.S. National Robotics Initative.  We were chosen by NSF as an example project that is “accelerating the research and use of robots that work in close cooperation with humans”.

So why ethical robots and what does that mean?  We have all seen our share of sci-fi movies that portray humanoid robots as exceeding humans in their intelligence and subsequently develop a desire to take over the world.  “I, Robot”, “The Matrix”, and “The Terminator” sequels are examples of humanoid robot technology gone wild that force humans to struggle for their survival.  Recently, the White House announced the “Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence (AI)” series of workshops and an interagency working group to address these issues.  Our society, laws, and policies are not ready for autonomous drones, humanoids, and driverless cars.  What will be the impacts of these intelligent agents on the elderly, children, and the disenfranchised?  There will even be an impact on healthcare as AI is used to learn how to diagnose and treat patients.   The challenges and the risks need to be mitigated by making sure the rights and dignity of every global human citizen are considered, valued, and respected.  These are the things we are seeking to address in the HEIR Lab as we develop AI and robotics technology to improve people’s lives.

About the Author:

Andrew B. Williams, Ph.D., is Professor and the John P. Raynor, S.J., Distinguished Chair and founding Director of the Humanoid Engineering & Intelligent Robotics (HEIR) Lab at Marquette University.  He is currently the Principal Investigator on a NSF National Robotics Inititiative funded project and an NSF Innovation Corps for Learn
ing funded project.


Why I’m Still Wearing My Apple Watch One Year Later

I didn’t realize that it’s been a year since I had an Apple Watch until I saw a news headline about it.  Since I wrote more than one blog post a year ago about it, I thought I should do a quick follow-up on what I think about it after more than 365 days of having one.  I like it very much and use it practically every day.  Here’s why:

Excellent Daily Time and “More” Piece

I really enjoy being able to quickly look at my watch to not only see the time but also the current weather, the forecast, my physical activity levels and more just at a quick glance.  I can also keep track of my watches battey levels, although the battery normally easily makes it past a day.  I still regulary charge it at night.  On occassion, my wife will forget her watch and ask to wear mine.  When that happens, I recall how much I don’t like having to dig in my pocket to check the weather and other quick information that I usually just have to raise my wrist for.

Siri on My Wrist is Great…when it works!

The other day, a friend asked me about my Apple Watch.  They wanted to get one but wanted to wait until version 2.  When I talked to them about how I liked being able to use Siri with it, they were amazed.  It surprized me to know that many people don’t realize that you can raise your wrist, talk into the Apple Watch, and it will translate your voice into text in order to perform the Siri command.  I can request Siri to make phone calls, create reminders, schedule meetings, and check on basketball scores.  I probably use it the most to send texts to my family using my voice when my hands are full by just saying “Tell Honey that I’m coming home soon”.  This works, 99% of the time.  It’s a little frustrating when I used to raise my wrist and Siri wouldn’t start up or wouldn’t be able to send my text.  I think someone must have been paying attention to my comments, because an Apple WatchOS update fixed the problem of trying to send a text but then having to physically press a button to send it. Now, you only have to press a button if you DON’T want to send it.  Bravo, Apple!

It Keeps on Tracking my Fitness…even when I don’t 

Well, my Apple Watch, and the little “trainer” inside of it, kept going back and forth on how high I should set my physical activity goals.  Sadly, to be honest, I haven’t been as attentive to it as I should be.  It still gives me reminders to stand up and records how many calories I’ve burned or steps I’ve walked.  When I do workout, I like being able to launch the workout app with my voice and keep more detailed account of my workout.  I guess I wish I had a personal trainer that came with the watch, but that’s out of Apple’s domain.

I’ve Worn This Watch Longer Than Any Other Wearable except…

Besides my Citizen Eco-Drive watch (that has never needed a watch battery since my wife gave it to me years ago), I’ve probably worn this watch longer than any other wearable.  Well, maybe my Timex Iron Man watch I wore just as long but I would usually switch out watches when I wanted a “dress” watch versus a “sports” watch.  But with my entry level Apple Watch, I usually just change bands if I want to look a little more professional but I equally wear it during “dress” situations and sports activities.  Keep in mind, I’ve owned the Pebble Watch, Nike Fuel Band, and even a Garmin golf watch.  But none of those wearables have kept me wearing them as long as I’ve worned my Apple Watch.

The “Killer Apps” that Do and Don’t Exist

When I’m traveling, the “killer app” for me is being able to have my airplane ticket on my wrist instead of having to carry around a paper ticket or even pull out my smartphone.  It’s always worked even though sometimes I find that I am challenged to turn my arm and wrist to fit under the scanner.  Since there really is no standard scanner for plane ticket bar codes.  Some are flat and I have to turn my wrist all the way down.  Some scanners are hanging and I have to figure out how far away I have to hold my Apple Watch away before it will successfully scan.  Along with the airplane ticket bar codes, the Apple Pay using my Apple Watch is another “killer app”.  And when a place, like Starbucks, doesn’t take Apple Pay, I can still use Apple Wallet to let them scan my Starbucks card.    I just discovered that I can put my Walgreen’s Balance Rewards card in my Apple Wallet and use it instead of having to punch in my telephone number before I make a purchase.  I guess it’s just a matter of time before I’ll be able to withdraw cash from an ATM with my watch too.  With that said, I usually don’t use many third party apps because they are too slow.  Hurray for Apple for making developers (like me) make all apps native apps, or apps that run on the Apple Watch itself and not subject to having to constantly transmit data between the phone and the watch.

Checking Texts and Mail in Meetings

Isn’t annoying when people check their phones for text and mail messsages during meetings?  For me, I can easily receive my messages during meetings and subtly respond to them.  

Apple Watch Bands are More Interchangeable than We Knew

Just last week, someone just pointed out that the Apple Watch Sport bands are interchangeable with the Apple Watch bands (the more expensive version).  I won’t get into that except to say I think there was some confusion about this.  Not a deal breaker but just good to know.

Apple Watch Meets Detective Tracy?

Well, the rumors are that the Apple Watch in the near future will be able to connect to cellular networks without having to have the iPhone near.  We have iPhone calls and FaceTime Audio on the Apple Watch.  So, if you every read the Dick Tracy comic strip, you know that the next step must be FaceTime Video on the Apple Watch.  Won’t that be grand?

About the Author:

Andrew B. Williams, Ph.D., likes Apple gear, blogs about innovation, technology, and social justice and designs iOS Swift apps.  In his real job, he works with students to create socially intelligent humanoid robots that help kids learn STEM and improve their health. 


What Would Dr. King Do (WWDKD) to Broaden Participation in Science, Engineering and Computing?

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In January 2008, as a Computer Science Professor at Spelman College and Founder of the HBCU ARTSI Alliance for broadening participation in computing,  I gave a keynote speech at the National Science Foundation (NSF) Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration.  Here is my speech with words to honor Dr. King and demonstrate what his teaching means for equity and diversity in technology today.  My speech could be updated to incorporate the Black Lives Matter movement and new technology but I believe the essence of these words ring true today.

If Martin Luther King Jr. was alive today, how would he evaluate where our nation’s African Americans are in their lives? Depending on who you talk to African Americans have made tremendous strides in the areas of education, government, and industry. However, at the same time we face challenges still in the areas of poverty, disease, incarceration, families, and education. The lynchings that occurred in the twentieth century and were chronicled in the recent Denzel Washington movie, the Great Debaters, occur less frequently and as one researcher has stated may occur still in prisons today where African Americans make up an disproportionate percentage of occupants. Because of Dr. King and others who fought for Civil Rights in America, we no longer have the Jim Crow south. Bus boycotts and restaurant sit-ins are no longer required to bring attention to social injustices. Marches on Washington D.C. are not required to bring about laws to insure the right to vote although some may dispute that in some states African Americans need more encouragement to exercise the basic right to vote. Thousands of African Americans lose their right to vote by becoming incarcerated in an “injustice” system that provides longer than needed prison sentences and a prison industry that fuels local economies and “feeds” on our men and women.

Many would point to new levels of wealth and professional status of African Americans and say that justice and fairness in economic settings have been achieved. However we see that African Americans although we make up 13% of the population only represent 7% in high tech jobs and positions. One would ask, why is that? As the Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, President of Spelman College, points out in her book,”Can We Talk About Race?: And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation” we are moving back to an era of segregated schools with minority schools being less equipped with technology and facilities than affluent, predominately white schools have. We see many historically black colleges lack the teaching and research facilities needed to prepare science students for the new high tech industries being created and to compete in a globally flat economic world.

In the past, if a group that was in power and privileged wanted to discriminate against someone they just had to look at the color of their skin, the ghetto they lived in, or their lack of education. In today’s society, discrimination can take the form of recognizing an “ethnic” name of a child, or looking at their lack of educational pedigree. The disparaties today in education and industry are created not by the old forms of discrimination but the new forms of bias based on a more sophisticated system of educational status, technical knowledge and pedigree. However, with the Civil Rights that Dr. King and others have fought for comes a new “Civil Responsibility”. No longer can we blame outright racism and we can barely point the finger at subtle racism and bias. Today, people can say, well you didn’t graduate from the “right college” or you don’t know and understand technology. We can not blame others if we lack that knowledge just was we can not blame others and violate the law and have to go to prison. And to a large degree we can not blame others if we do not receive a college degree or a graduate degree and lack the necessary qualifications, knowledge, and experience to obtain a high-paying job. Or we can not blame others if we do not take the initiative and don’t seek the know how to create technology, license it, and form a company.

We live in an age of insurmountable technical opportunities today. Even in low-income areas, families own enough computing power in an X-Box, Nintendo Wii, or Playstation that could have easily taken our astronauts to the moon while running multi-billion dollar companies in the 1960s when you look at the speed of the CPUs, the amount RAM, and hard disk storage space today’s gaming devices have compared to the vacuum tube mainframe computers available during the civil rights era. Even in low-income families who own a cell phone, the global communication capabilities that we have in the palm of our hand could have provided telecommunications that put efforts to communicate nationally and internationally in the early 1900’s to shame. The music and video devices a high school student has today represents technology that can contain libraries of educational material to fill up libraries of the past. Our ancestors fought even for the right to learn to read as slaves and former slaves yet our students of today would rather fill their minds with sometimes derogatory music (not my Spelman students) using an iPod rather than using it to fill their minds with the thousand of educational podCasts or downloadable books that are available today. For a few hundred dollars, a person today can buy a terabyte of information and data storage. This would easily contain the data and information that a company like IBM possessed in all of its mainframe computers that ran its company just 20 years ago.

Why is it that any person, including women and African Americans, who are users of this superior computing, telecommunication, internet, and electromechanical technology able to use this technology to improve their own economic and job condition? Why is it that you look at jobs and companies today in the high tech industry you see so few African Americans and women in engineering positions?

In order to answer that question, Iʼd like to share a couple interesting experiences I had this year. This summer I had the unique privilege to meet and talk to some of our leaders in the information technology industry, Serge Brin and Larry Page, co-founders of Google and Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple. I was invited to the Google Faculty Summit and during the question and answer session I asked Serge this question: “How can a company, such as Google, say that diversity is important and needed, if it is already successful without a lot of diversity?”. He acknowledged that Google was not where they should be in the areas of hiring women and African Americans in engineering. He said that they realized from the beginning that if they did not make a concerted effort they were in danger of not having a diverse company because when they started their company, they had around 20 white, males. If you visit the main campus you will see it has not changed much although Google is making some efforts to recruit women and African Americans to Google. However, if you ever talk to a student that has been interviewed by Google, they would tell you that the technical questions that are asked can be extremely challenging, even to a college professor, and its easy to see why African Americans and women can be excluded legally. I heard one of our HBCU professors recall how their students weren’t hired for permanent positions because it was reported that they weren’t “Googly” enough.

Apple is a supporter and sponsor of our Spelman College all-women, African American, Robocup robotics team, the SpelBots and through that support also supports our ARTSI Alliance which we will talk about in our next session. Our SpelBots were invited this past November to do a presentation at Stanford University’s Clayman Institute. While we were in the Bay area we got to visit Apple. This was the second time during one of my visits to Apple someone pointed out Steve Jobs walking in the cafeteria during lunch. The first time, out of respect to my host, I resisted the urge to try to meet Steve. The second time was too much of a temptation for me to resist. But this second time, my host pointed out that he was walking with Jony Ives. Does anyone know who he is? I didn’t either. But my host explained that Jony Ives was his right hand man industrial designer who designed some little known devices called iPods, iMacs, and iPhones. So I used a strategy that I had learned from a buddy when he was trying to meet Tiger Woods. If you have ever been at a golf tournament with Tiger playing it’s almost impossible to get his autograph. But my buddy decided he would try to go talk to and get the autograph of his Caddy, Steve Williams. And before you know it, Tiger came up and granted the autograph. So I decided to use the same strategy and went up to Jony Ives and told him how much I admired his work (honestly, who doesn’t admire his work with the iPhone?). Then, as I strategically hoped, Steve Jobs came up to me. I told him I was telling Jony how much I admired his work. I told him I was visiting Apple because Apple supported our robotics team at Spelman College in Atlanta, a historically black college for women. Steve asked me, “Do you have engineering there?”. I explained to him that we have a dual engineering program with universities such as Georgia Tech and University of Michigan. He said, “Can you help us get black engineers? You know how many he have?”. Since Apple is one of our supporters I won’t say his answer out loud but in so many short but intense words Steve let me know that there was much room for improvement. He then gave me his email address and told me to let him know if I had any ideas. One thing that I have found with Apple is that once they learned about our robotics team, they sought us out to get to know about our students, supported us, and sought to build genuine academic-industry relationships with our faculty and students and continue to do so. I’m proud to say that one of our Spelman students, the captain of our SpelBots team will be working with them this summer. This to me is very positive example of how a company can stem the tide against subtle racism and discrimination in the high tech industry. Companies such as Apple, Seagate, and iRobot, are supporting our efforts to broaden participation in computing in our new ARTSI alliance we are announcing today.

So what lessons can we learn from Dr. King in this new age of disparity in the high tech age. How did Dr. King unite African Americans and many white americans to fight for Civil Rights of African American individuals? How can we use those same lessons to fight for a broader participation of African Americans in the high tech age of information and robotics. To determine this, I’d like to turn our attention to Dr. King’s involvement in the Birmingham bus boycott and his non-violent campaign that is spoken about in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”.

Dr. King was a young Baptist minister who first acknowledged his call to the ministry while he was a student at Morehouse College. He went to a seminary in Ohio and then went on to earn his doctorate from Boston University. In those days, seminaries in the south did not welcome blacks to study about Moses or Jesus in their classrooms. It’s ironic that those who taught about the Greatest Lover of Mankind that ever lived would not extend that same love to their own Christian brother.

Dr. King and his wife Coretta accepted a call to serve at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Jim Crow Montgomery, Alabama. It was there on December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks (for whom our youngest daughter is named after) decided not to move to the back of the bus in the reserved “white” section. From there E.D. Nixon along with Rev. Ralph Abernathy planned The Montgomery Bus Boycott that was designed to end segregated busing.

Dr. King later moved to Atlanta where his Civil Rights leadership continued. In 1963, he led the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights to protest Jim Crow in Birmingham. King writes, “In the entire country, there was no place to compare with Birmingham. The largest industrial city in the South, Birmingham…was a community in which human rights had been trampled on for so long that fear and oppression were as thick in its atmosphere as the smog from its factories… The challenge to nonviolent direct action could not have been staged in a more appropriate arena.

Eight of the local white ministers in Birmingham wrote to Dr. King calling for an end to the demonstrations. They called his actions “unwise and untimely”. Dr. King wrote a letter to them explaining what his actions were and why they were needed.

From the Letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr. King writes, “Non-violent direct action seeks to creates such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to dramatize the issue so that it can no longer be ignored”. In other words, Dr. King was saying, create tension for attention.

Dr. King outlined the four steps in a nonviolent campaign for justice and peace:

Step 1. Collect facts on injustice.

Step 2. Negotiate with those committing the injustice to see if it can be ended.

Step 3. Self-Purification, or self-examination to see if one is ready to endure the ramifications of taking direct action to end the injustice (e.g beating or prison).

Step 4. Direct Action to bring the injustice to everyone’s attention.

King wrote: “So we had no alternative except that of preparing for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and national community. We were not unmindful of the difficulties involved. So we decided to go through the process of self-purification. We started having workshops on nonviolence and repeatedly asked ourselves the questions, “are you able to accept the blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeals of jail?”

King also wrote, “I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of PREJUDICE and RACISM to the majestic heights of UNDERSTANDING and BROTHERHOOD.” How does this apply in the absence of a Jim Crow system. I would say, today our problems in education and economics are often LOW EXPECTATIONS and LACK OF OPPORTUNITY. We should want to change Low expectations to MOTIVATION and RECOGNIZED POTENTIAL. We want to change lack of opportunity to the presence of opportunity in education and economics. The illegal injustices of yesterday have turned into the legal disparities of today. THE ILLEGAL INJUSTICES OF YESTERDAY HAVE TURNED INTO THE LEGAL DISPARITIES OF TODAY.

Dr. King went through the four steps of a nonviolent campaign in Birmingham. He and his colleagues reviewed the facts and it was obvious that there was injustice in Birmingham. They met with the elders of the city to see if the problem could be resolved. They had a workshop to decide if they could withstand beatings without hitting back or go to prison for what they believed in. Then they took the direct action…they didn’t ride another city bus until the boycott ended. Sound simple? Could you live without your main source of transportation, for most of us it’s a car? Or looking at the other struggles during the civil rights movement. Could you allow yourself to be punched and kicked just because you were a certain race? Have you ever been punched in the face? Kicked? Beaten? Put in Jail? Probably did not feel too good. What about the others in the rest of the south that lived, bled and died for the Civil Rights Movement and the end to legalized injustice. For many, the fight is not over. But the fight that we are taking on is a fight against in education and more specifically in computer science and engineering:

1. Lack of opportunities to learn cutting edge technology through educational and research opportunities,

2. Lack of interest, encouragement, and motivation, and

3. Lack of role models and mentors.

We live in a world dominated by technology and most in our community are technology consumers but not technology producers. We want to be part of the process to produce technology producers who will get graduate degrees in computer science and engineering and robotics and then educate and train others to prepare them for educational opportunities, industry opportunities, and entrepreneurship opportunities which lead to economic opportunities. Implicit in this process is the character development of a student who needs to learn character qualities of integrity, perseverance, knowledge, wisdom, and ingenuity to succeed a rigorous academic program. We want to encourage our students to dream technology dreams that can improve society. We want them to see the value of science and mathematics and how it applies to discovering new theories that can lead to new applications of those theories to improve the human condition. We want to expose them to research that will whet their appetite to study at a graduate school like Glenn Nickens who did a summer NSF REU you this past summer with Professor David Touretzky at Carnegie Mellon in robotics and is now at graduate school at Norfolk State University. After all, research is the contribution to knowledge. And technology is the application of knowledge to improve the human condition. This is what we are seeking to do with the ARTSI Alliance. Advancing Robotics Technology for Societal Impact. ARTSI involves Education and Research in robotics centered around improving our society in the areas of healthcare, the arts, and entreprenuership.

So how can we use Dr. King’s model for a non-violent campaign to bring about social change in the area of technology education and economics?

Step 1: Collect facts about injustice, or disparities.

You see now we are not fighting prejudice as much as we are fighting low expectations. We are not fighting racism so much as we are fighting lack of opportunity. While our forefathers were fighting with MLK to combat prejudice and racism to lead to understanding and brotherhood, we can fight low expectations and lack of opportunity so that we can produce students with recognized potential and educational opportunity. How can a person learn about robotics if they do not have access to a robot and a robotics lab equipped with relevant software on their computers, wireless network, robotics curriculum, technical support, and a knowledgeable instructor? I don’t need to cite statistics for you and I to know that the average African American does not have access to this kind of learning and technology today.

Step 2: Negotiate.

We can seek to negotiate with companies, industry, and foundations as well as research centers to help us in providing the resources to make this happen. I’m happy to report that companies like Seagate, iRobot, and Apple are partnering with us in this effort. But to provide these opportunities at more of the over 100 HBCUs we need more companies and organizations to join in.

Step 3: Self-Purification

Self-purification means different things for different people:

  • Industry – realize talent can come from anywhere (like Spike Lee says) and educational pedigree is not necessarily the determining factor for success. Their are other indicators of success.
  • Faculty – We have to look at ourselves, and see if we can be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

I wasn’t initially trained to be a robotics expert. I had to use what all of us are born with, the ability to learn, to acquire new knowledge or invent new technology. Maybe to some of you I am a robotics expert but compared to half of this faculty in the ARTSI Alliance, I know very little although my area of expertise is in the area of artificial intelligence. Each of us may look at ourselves and see where we lack the expertise or the motivation to learn new things and make changes in this situation. But this is the self-purification process that our faculty have to face. But for most HBCU computer science faculty, robotics, for example is a new area. An even robotics faculty that know robotics only know a few areas in robotics extremely well. So it’s a team problem. We all have to work together. We all have to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable as we go through the group learning process together.

Step 4: Direct Action

We need to take direct action. We can not be passive and expect a change in our country’s condition. This is not just a black-white issue. This is an issue of our countryʼs global economic survival. People, in our country, are our nation’s greatest resource. This human resource is going to waste if we do not invest in every aspect of human capital in our country including African Americans and women. The direct action our alliance is taking includes P.E.E.R. Team projects, Developing curriculum materials, training faculty in robotics, reaching out to our communities to expose them to robotics, creating innovative projects the involve using robots for healthcare, the arts, and entrepreneurship.

As a united community, we can help more African Americans to value and use computer science and engineering, in general, and robotics, specifically, as a means to contribute to knowledge (research), heal people (medicine), create inventions (arts and sciences), and generate wealth (economics). I confess, I am a dreamer…Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired me to be a dreamer. With the ARTSI Alliance we have some ambitious goals to increase the number of students who pursue computer science and robotics education and research training to improve society using robotics in healthcare, the arts, and entrepreneurship. But like Dr. Benjamin Mays, the former President of Morehouse College said, “It must be borne in mind that the tragedy of life does not lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy of life lies in having no goal to reach.” I leave you with this last question: What Would Dr. King Do (WWDKD)?