Freada and Mitch Kapor’s SMASH Academy lands a Google grant that could help close Silicon Valley’s income gap

I recently urged Silicon Valley brainiacs to use their intellect and innovation to do something about the depressing gap between the incomes earned by whites and Asians and the incomes earned by blacks and Hispanics in the technology center of the world.

I didn’t mean to say that no one was doing anything and news from the Level Playing Field Institute that the Oakland nonprofit has been awarded a $25,000 Google Rise grant is a reminder that there are efforts underway.

The money will go to expand computer programming classes offered through a program called SMASH Academy that I wrote about in 2011 in columns here and here. Founded by Freada Kapor and her husband, Mitch of Lotus 1-2-3 fame, SMASH brings poor, primarily black and hispanic high school students, to UC-Berkeley, Stanford, UCLA and USC for three consecutive summers to study science, technology, engineering and math.

The grant was one of 30 presented to organizations from 18 different countries, according to the Level Playing Field Institute (LPFI), which oversees SMASH.

“LPFI is incredibly honored to be included among this highly selective group of organizations. This is a significant milestone for us that will assist us in increasing the pipeline of students who will pursue computer science, in particular, among those students who are currently vastly underrepresented in those fields,”Harry Bims, Level Playing Field’s board chairman, said in a press release.
Encouraging kids to pursue so-called STEM careers sets them on a path to the higher incomes that Joint Venture Silicon Valley and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation found whites and asians in the valley make. And Level Playing Field officials   are convinced that a strong computer science curriculum is a sure way to encourage STEM.
“When we saw the results of the computer science course evaluation we knew we were on to something. SMASH provides many of our scholars with their first opportunity to set foot on a college campus, so the fact that these same scholars are learning how to code and enjoying it was something we knew we had to build upon,” said Jarvis Sulcer, Level Playing Field’s executive director.
(Photo of Mitch Kapor talking to SMASH student Breanna Thomas at Stanford in 2011 by LiPo Ching)

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