The White House celebrated alumni, students, chancellors and presidents of Historically Black Colleges and Universities during National HBCU Week. The week included a three-day conference and a career fair that granted White House HBCU Scholars access to federal government jobs and other opportunities.
Two Howard University students, Malaya Moon and Naheim Banks, were among the at ambassadors from 56 schools who were honored during the conference at the Washington Hilton through the White House Initiative on HBCUs. Banks, who is a senior political science and criminology double major and chair of the Howard University Student Association senate, enjoyed being able to network with various federal agencies.
“At the federal government level — whether it’s all of Congress and different federal agencies in the White House — Black students are really underrepresented when it comes to that. So, it was amazing being able to go to career fairs and connect and have conversations with the assistant attorney generals, to be able to connect with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) representatives and people from the Department of Justice and the Department of State, to get more Black students to take up space in these predominantly white spaces and to use our experiences to influence policy no matter at what level … that might’ve been my favorite part of the whole program,” Banks said.
The HBCU Scholars also worked in10 teams for the Mini Minute Competition. Each team had to craft an idea to solve a scientific issue that they would pitch to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Students spent the past five months researching and refining ideas that address climate change, renewable energy, health care and more.
Danielle Jathan, a sophomore at LeMoyne Owens College, was a part of the winning team. Her team pitched technology that can attach to transportation sources, among other things, and convert air pollutants into reusable energy sources with the goal of reducing global warming and climate change.
“We were basically inspired by the crisis that we’re now facing: the high rates of global warming and also climate change,” Jathan said. “Our ecosystem is in dire need of help.” NASA provided a virtual platform for each team to meet. “That was really helpful to us, because we’re all from different universities,” she said.
The team will showcase its research in March 2023 at the OPEN Annual Conference hosted by Venturewell, a funding organization for faculty and student businesses.
Banks said the scholars also received free passes to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and a White House tour. They were also able to meet the second gentleman and Keisha Lance Bottoms, network with the U.S. House Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and speak on Capitol Hill.
Darreonna Davis is a reporter and regional bureau chief for HUNewsService.com. She is also an Inside Climate News Environmental Justice Reporting Fellow and Howard University’s ambassador for the Solutions Journalism Student Media Challenge.