Three students win Xerox STEM studies scholarship

Originally published in the Central Florida Future: http://www.centralfloridafuture.com/news/three-students-win-xerox-stem-studies-scholarship-1.2722853

Three UCF students have won prestigious scholarships designed to support women and minorities in their pursuit of science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees.

The Technical Minority Scholarship, a grant that is offered by Xerox Corp. to help adjust the underrepresentation of women and minorities in technical jobs, was awarded to UCF’s Jing Zou, Alexus Smith and Matthew Hulbert, along with 126 graduate and undergraduate students from across the country. They were recognized for their high academic achievement in the STEM fields.

For 25 years, the company that introduced the first plain paper photocopier has been awarding between $1,000 and $10,000 to qualified minorities enrolled in a technical degree program.

“We’re looking for students who clearly have an interest in completing a degree in a technical field,” said JosephCahalan, the president of Xerox Corp. “We don’t need dean’s-list people. We try to pick applicants that look like they have a chance at completing the degree, that are focused on getting through school with the degree and that have the financial need.”

But the most significant criterion needed to receive the scholarship has nothing to do with skill or dedication. Xerox Corp. primarily looks for students who are most underrepresented in technical fields. 

“There’s a shortage of technical people and engineers generally in two populations: minorities and women,”Cahalan said. “We need to specifically recruit a lot of new people, and we need to focus on populations where people haven’t been considered for these kinds of jobs.”

Zou, a Chinese woman who hopes to find a position as an electrical engineer in a green tech job, is a perfect representation of the “new people” that Cahalan believes should be given that opportunity. 

“I want to do something with power supply, power transition and green energy,” the junior electrical engineering major said. 

According to research conducted by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, just 6.1 percent of men and 8.2 percent of women working in high-tech companies in Silicon Valley are minorities.

That small number could leave Zou scouring for a job in the valley that has been dubbed the epicenter of America’s clean tech industry. By comparison, non-hispanic whites make up nearly 64 percent of the United States’ population.

The same study also showed that representation at the highest levels of the technical ladder is especially poor for women of color. African-American women hold about 4.6 percent of entry-level positions in technical jobs. Their presence significantly decreases to 1.6 percent in higher-level positions.

Smith hopes to work for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, an agency that supports the Department of Defense by developing imagery and map-based intelligence. She may also be curbed by these statistics simply because she is an African-American woman. 

Xerox Corp.’s main goal in providing students with these scholarships is to prevent them from dropping out of college or switching their major. 

“It’s a rather small amount of money, but it’s intended to help minorities stay in school and complete degrees in technical areas,” Cahalan said. “There’s a lot of potential in those populations, but they’re dropping out at a larger rate than [white men].”

The fact that women and minorities have always been underrepresented in engineering and technology fields may create a sense of isolation among those who are currently pursuing degrees in those areas.

In small schools, men and women of color are often the lone African-American, Hispanic or Native American in their classes. This isolation can cause students to be less engaged and less motivated to continue studying within those majors. 

But by awarding students for their achievements, Xerox Corp. does more than just supply students with extra cash for their tuition. The company also encourages students to persist in their upcoming technical professions.

“At first I was kind of skeptical about my chances of winning it, but I just decided that it wouldn’t hurt to apply,” said Smith, a freshman computer engineering major who was awarded with $1,000. “I was just surprised when I found out that I won. … I felt ecstatic, surprised and happy.”

And Zou, who at the same time received a scholarship from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, said that being a recipient of a scholarship from such a well-known company has “brought me confidence.”

Since its inception in 1987, the Xerox Technical Minority Scholarship Program has provided nearly $2.6 million in funding and helped about 2,000 students achieve their academic and professional goals.

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