Learnings, Inspiration From Zoom’s First HBCU Week

Here at Zoom, we just wrapped up our inaugural HBCU Week, recognizing and celebrating the history and legacy of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. With over 100 historically Black institutions across the U.S. whose principal mission is the education of Black Americans, HBCUs are critical for enriching the culture, advancing education, and promoting excellence and success within Black communities throughout the country. 

Organized by Zoom’s DIB and Social Impact teams in partnership with Zoom Soul, the employee resource group for Black employees, HBCU Week raised awareness of how HBCUs have shaped their alums to excel in the corporate workforce. Through spotlights, panels, fireside chats, and fundraisers, Zoomies from various backgrounds learned, shared, and celebrated the impact of HBCUs on their colleagues and communities. 

Here are a few highlights from this amazing week!

The importance of HBCU partnerships in tech

A panel of Zoomies who are Claflin University students and alumni, along with Associate Professor Dr. Karina Liles of Claflin University, kicked off the week’s events with a conversation highlighting Zoom’s partnership with Claflin and the importance of HBCU partnerships in tech. Throughout the discussion, the panelists stressed the impact of HBCU partnerships, citing the success and well-being of HBCU students after graduation and the competitive edge for companies to attract and retain the best talent. The discussion also centered on the familial atmosphere of HBCUs and the unparalleled experiences and opportunities they provide for their students.

AaLeeyah Housey

Security Analyst at Zoom & Claflin University Graduate

“Claflin instills Claflin Confidence in its students to become visionary leaders, better understand ourselves, and grow our talents academically and professionally.”

Harris Roach

Instructional Design Specialist at Zoom & Claflin University Graduate

Harris RoachHarris Roach

“HBCU representation is important in tech because it gives students role models to look up to. HBCU representation also helps companies understand their diverse customer base better.”

Iyonna Johnson

Engineering Intern at Zoom & Senior Computer Science Student at Claflin University 

Iyonna JohnsonIyonna Johnson

“I’m thankful for [this] conversation about Claflin and HBCUs. It’s important not only to have them but also for people attending who don’t know much about HBCUs to come and listen and learn about what HBCUs are and have to offer. I’m thankful that Zoom is a welcoming and supportive environment for HBCU students.”

Dr. Karina Liles

Mathematics and Computer Science Department Chair and Associate Professor at Claflin University 

Dr. Karina LilesDr. Karina Liles

“HBCU representation in tech is important because we bring a diverse skill set that [your] workplace doesn’t already have. Claflin’s relationship with Zoom, bringing HBCU students into tech, is genuine.”

HBCU Week 2HBCU Week 2

A family that prepares students for success

I had the privilege of hosting the culminating HBCU Week event, an inspiring fireside chat with entertainment host, actor, model, and fellow North Carolina A&T State University alum Terrence J. (Aggie pride!) We discussed his life before, during, and after attending NC A&T State University, and how his HBCU experience informs his life and career choices to date. 

Born in Queens, New York, Terrence J relocated to North Carolina at age 11. His mother’s dream for him was to go to college, and North Carolina A&T State University took a chance on him. While he began his college career battling low grades and academic probation, Terrence made a positive 180, was elected student government association president, joined a service fraternity, and graduated with honors.

During our conversation, Terrence emphasized that the HBCU experience goes beyond academics, echoing the sentiment expressed in the Claflin University panel event earlier that HBCUs are like a family. “The people are so nurturing. I met the right people who helped me get out of my own way and go after my dreams,” he said. Terrence shared that surrounding yourself with the right people was one of the three most valuable things he learned at his HBCU. Here are the three valuable things he learned from his time at North Carolina A&T State University: 

  1. Nobody becomes successful alone; surround yourself with the right people. “There’s no road to success without the right team and people. There’s no successful person that has been able to accomplish things on a big scale that didn’t have help and support.”
  2. Never give up on your dreams or yourself. “Where you start in the race does not have to determine where you end up. Just because you start with humble beginnings doesn’t mean you can’t be successful.” This point complements his first, as Terrence pointed out, “every successful person has an entire team surrounding them. Everyone needs help and support to accomplish their goals.” 
  3. Hold on to the culture and vibes. “Attending an HBCU teaches you how to perform at the cookout properly. Black people in the [United States] have over 400 years of tradition and culture — things we’ve inherited — much of which is practiced and upheld at HBCUs.”

In addition to his valuable lessons, Terrence also talked about gaining a strong network from attending an HBCU. Terrence noted that leveraging his network is not just about reaching up but also across. “Reaching across to people at your level and building something from there is of the utmost importance and how I got to where I am today,” he said. 

Having advanced in his career, Terrence now uses his platform to give back and support North Carolina A&T State University and  HBCUs across the country. He is the national ambassador for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and promotes HBCUs through various speaking engagements. Although Terrence has a significant influence over the broader HBCU community, he recognized the Zoom Soul team for helping to bring awareness and continued recognition to HBCUs. “People like Myja and Nicole [Gray] co-leading Zoom Soul are the ones doing the work. We need people who look like you — representation — to get people like me in here to have these conversations.” For HBCU alums to continue to grow and thrive after college, it’s crucial not only for influential HBCU alums with platforms to give back and raise awareness but also for companies and their employees to create the platform and resources for Black people to excel in the workplace. 

“When you show up to your meetings with HBCU backgrounds, you’re prepared, you show up with your head held high, and you wear your natural hair to work, you’re breaking barriers. That’s where the real work is being done,” Terrence J said.  

Join the Zoom family

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