A couple years ago I set up a channel between my department (and my affiliated departments) and a few different companies I used to work with (and the one I worked for) to recruit underrepresented students from my school. The companies get to use the students’ faces and stories to pitch that they’re a diverse and forward-thinking company (and if they hire them they get a kick-ass student!) and the students get work in the summer and contacts in the field. With two companies, I worked with them to set up a scholarship fund. So the companies pay for a handful of students’ tuitions and they just have to keep up grades and work in a lab. I’ve been pretty proud of this, and the students love it. We’ll have lunches and/or dinners with the sponsors too when they come through town. Ultimately, the majority of students that graduate head over to industry, and since I have the contacts this became a must-do for me in my service. It’s kind of like REU, but with more money and industry-focused.
Today in a cross-departmental strategy meeting with some faculty and department heads I was asked to talk about ways to expand these programs to other departments. I started mentioning what needs to be done and I even offered to shepherd this through for the year just to be nice. There were two faculty members, one from my department and one from an unrelated department, that were vehemently against it. They cited the over-intrusion of industry into our ‘pure’ academic environment. Firstly, we’re not so pure. Secondly, they’re not infiltrating our research unless we let them. This is just a program to help place students. AND take the financial burden off of the students that we are trying to recruit. We need to help our underrepresented students as much as we can. Somehow they think that the companies will own our school? Unlike the Major-Computer-Company Computing lab we have in our building? I agree that if industry seeps too much into our research that it can muddle things. But this is specifically for the students with no overlap other than the research-bound scholarships. But the companies don’t get to pick the research the students do. These companies are investing in the students, that’s it.
Look, I don’t trust corporations. I play very carefully around them and always operate like they’re just waiting for the opportunity to stab me in the back if it means their stock will climb by 0.01%. Part of the reason I left the corporate life was because I thought it was soul-draining. But as educators, we need to prepare and entice students, especially underrepresented ones to enter the field. And for those having difficultly making ends meet, we need to help them if we can.