The United Negro College Fund and the Fund II Foundation earlier this month announced a $48 million initiative intended to bridge the diversity gap in STEM fields.web-uncf

The scholarship program will seek to groom and assist Black students pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and create a pipeline to usher them into those fields.

“For years, the alarm bells have been ringing about the nation’s need for a more robust STEM education and career pipeline for people of color,” said Dr. Michael L. Lomax, president and CEO of UNCF. “African Americans are woefully underrepresented in the STEM workforce, and yet, are one of the largest consumers within the STEM economy. We are proud to partner with Fund II Foundation to break that cycle and give high-performing, highly motivated African American students a chance to become the next generation of STEM-industry creators through entrepreneurship and venture creation.”

According to statistics cited by the UNCF, African Americans make up less than 5 percent of the science and engineering workforce, earn a mere 8.5 percent of STEM degrees and comprise less than 1 percent of the workforce at funded tech startup companies.

Fund II, an Austin, Texas-based foundation, has the stated mission of preserving the African-American experience, safeguarding human rights and sustaining “critical American values such as entrepreneurialism,” among other things. The partnership with UNCF to address this critical area of concern was a natural fit, said Robert Smith, CEO of Vista Equity Partners and president of Fund II Foundation.

“Throughout my career I have become increasingly concerned by the lack of diversity across the engineering and tech disciplines,” said Smith, in a statement. “Engineers by definition solve problems. Fund II Foundation’s direct goal is to work with UNCF to create more opportunities for African Americans to enter the tech workforce so that they can help lead us into the fourth industrial revolution.”

Over the next five years, the STEM Scholars Program will identify 500 of the highest-performing African-American high-schoolers who intend to pursue STEM educations and careers. In addition to scholarships, mentoring and access to valuable internships, the program will also provide post-graduation opportunities for students to pursue their own entrepreneurial ventures.

The first group of students will be announced in late April.