Black Students and the Future of Technology

Ed Gordon talks with Omar Wasow, co-founder of Blackplanet.com, about his efforts to encourage college students across the country to think about the future of technology.

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ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon, and this is NEWS & NOTES.

Earlier in this show, we talked about how African Americans continue to lag behind the telecom industry. The same is true in the related fields of math and science. Omar Wasow of BlackPlanet.com understands the importance of minority representation in these fields and is teaming with a technology giant to inspire participation in the ever-growing world of technology.

Omar, welcome to the program, man. Good to talk to you.

Mr. OMAR WASOW (BlackPlanet.com): Thank you for having me.

GORDON: Hey, talk to me about this competition that you're involved with, a scholarship competition, we should note--really exciting as I read about it.

Mr. WASOW: It is exciting. So I am a judge, and--which is just fun for me, but the more important thing is that it's a competition sponsored by Motorola to encourage young people to think about the future of communications and, in particular, this idea of seamless mobility. And basically there's a $10,000 cash scholarship. You have the potential to win a brand-new Bluetooth enabled car and then even an apprenticeship with Motorola's chief technology officer. So it's a very cool prize, and then it's a real invitation for them to think big picture about the future of technology.

GORDON: You know, ironically, Omar, over the last month I have literally hosted three forums that talked about the importance of technology in where we're going today. It is imperative that we get into this world.

Mr. WASOW: It absolutely is. And what's nice--you know, I mean, one of the things I always try to preach in my work is that, you know, it's really important for people to go from being consumers to being creators, that, you know, that was really what was transformative for me, was I went from somebody who played video games to being somebody who programmed. And with BlackPlanet we've tried to encourage people to go from just, like, you know, browsing the Web to making the Web. And what I like about the Motofwrd competition is it's really trying to encourage young people to not just think of themselves as consumers of technology, but that they can be the inventors of it. In the black community, there's a long tradition of innovation around technology, but in the recent past we've tended to ignore that and just focus on the kind of consumer side.

GORDON: What was--and I know that you've talked to the people about the genesis, the impetus for this particular competition. Why did Motorola see it in terms of its importance?

Mr. WASOW: The--one of the things that's really important to them, just as we were talking about, is that, you know, whether you're looking at it as a national issue or even, you know, a community issue, America really has a challenge about encouraging young people to embrace not just technology in their lives, but technology careers and technology, you know, sort of engineering kinds of careers, science careers, math, and those sorts of kind of opportunities in their lives. And so this is a way for Motorola to say, `We want young people to think about these kinds of opportunities as real opportunities in their education and potentially beyond.' And so it's really pushing young people to submit visual or written entries, essays, white papers, even short films about what they think the future of communications, the future of seamless mobility will be like. But really it's about trying to get young people to think about not just sort of next generation of technology, but how they can play a key role in it.

GORDON: All right, Omar, who can enter and what's the criteria for entering?

Mr. WASOW: Well, what's nice about it is basically all college students can enter, full- or part-time graduate or undergraduate in any area of studies studying in the US. And they're even going to do an international version, but for now that's the kind of core audience. You can go to motorola.com/motofwrd and I should just spell it. It's M-O-T-O-F-W-R-D, motofwrd, F-W--with forward spelled F-W-R-D. And then, you know, again, the grand-prize winner receives a $10,000 cash scholarship, a brand-new Bluetooth enabled car, and an opportunity to apprentice with Motorola's chief technology officer. So it's a great opportunity, and it's not just limited to the techies.

GORDON: And we should note, not to be outdone by the young bucks, you have actually put pen to paper--or at least fingers to keyboard--and put out a paper that talks about your thoughts on seamless mobility, as well, right?

Mr. WASOW: Yeah. I mean, I--you know, my--the thing I always try to do is to think about how can you make something plain? How can you make it accessible? And so I talked about this children's story that I'm really found of. It's called "Stone Soup." And I don't know if other people read it, but it was one of my favorite stories as a kid. And basically it's this funny story of how these three soldiers come into a town, and they are hungry after a war, and they go around door to door looking for food, and, you know, nobody has anything, so they go into the middle of town and start saying they're going to make stone soup. And somebody goes, `Well, you can't make stone soup without some potatoes.' And somebody says, `Well, you've got to have some celery. You've got to have some carrots.' And at the end of the story, the town has this big feast where everybody's contributing a little something.

And the reason I like that idea as a metaphor for this notion of seamless mobility is really at the heart of this idea of seamless mobility is that there's going to be a communications infrastructure where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. And what that means is it's not just that, you know, you have a clear cell phone signal or you have, you know--you're able to access the Web, you know, more conveniently. But when you get all of these mutually reinforcing pieces, you end up with the ability to access information or entertainment or communications in a really elegant, integrated way, and you don't have to start thinking about, `Well, I use this device in this location and I, you know, have to access this network protocol.' Or, you know, `I have this cell phone--or, rather, this kind of subscription service in this place.' The pieces work together and you end up with something which is much better than just the potato or the celery or the stone in water. It's really--it ends up being, again, this sort of mutually reinforcing whole that is really exciting.

GORDON: All right, and we should note that the competition deadline is November 15th. Entries have to be submitted by then, right?

Mr. WASOW: Yes. So thank you for noting that. It is pending soon, and then the winners will be announced in January. So it's an opportunity to get a substantial cash scholarship and, you know, a great internship, the car, and then also to push yourself as a young person to think about how do I envision the future. And part of the idea here is you and I haven't grown up with technology in the same way that someone who's coming into college now is. And so it's really an invitation to say to young people to use all of that knowledge they have as people who've kind of come of age ingrained, surrounded by technology to share with us their vision of the future.

GORDON: Always good to talk to you, buddy. Glad you're a part of this very worthy competition, and we hope a lot of people afford themselves the opportunity to participate.

Mr. WASOW: Thank you, Ed.

GORDON: Again, get your entries in by November 15th.

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