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Houston conference empowers women of color in STEM fields

Late’jah Whittaker has always loved science. She started making robots in the fourth grade. In the fifth grade, she attended her first computer science-based program, learning how to program and make games. In high school, she excitedly registered for an Advanced Placement computer science course. But when she walked into class for the first time, she was shocked. More here.

Upworthy: This program has a brilliant plan for bringing diversity to the world of STEM

When Dr. Jennifer R. Cohen was working as a molecular biologist, she often wondered why no one else in her sector looked like her.

As a black woman, Cohen is not the typical face you’d see in a biochemistry lab. The sad reality is science and technology careers are still predominately assumed by white men even though there is a large reservoir of untapped talent among women and people of color. More here.

Univision: UTEC visita SMASH Stanford


Univision stopped by SMASH at Stanford this summer to interview and highlight some of our scholars and the program in the South Bay.

A first for our SMASH program, this segment was produced in Spanish! You’ll see 4 of our SMASH Stanford scholars and our SMASH Program Director, William Cardenas, featured in this video clip. Watch here.

New Resource Bank | Blog: Meet the Organization Addressing Inclusion One Student at a Time


Ninth graders who apply for the Level Playing Field Institute’s SMASH Academy – an intensive summer program to teach science and math skills to underrepresented students of color – go through a rigorous process similar to a college application. They write an essay, get interviewed, submit references, and take a math test; only 20% are admitted. But for those who make it, the experience is transformative, according to LPFI CEO Eli Kennedy. “We look for students with a deep interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) but who have not recognized their potential,” Kennedy says. “We want to change their trajectory so they go onto college.” More here.

SF Chronicle: Teaching tech helps bridge the digital divide

Major tech companies have blamed the lack of diversity in their workforce on a “pipeline problem,” meaning a lack of available talent. To address the vacuum, an increasing number of nonprofit programs are focused on expanding the representation of minorities in the tech sector.

These nonprofits are picking up the slack in an area where California public schools have lacked either the resources or the foresight to prepare students for this vibrant sector. More here.

Los Angeles Sentinel: UCLA SMASH Program Preparing Students for Tech America


“The consistent thing we hear from the Facebooks and Googles of the world is that they are not able to identify young talented people of color,” explained Eli Kennedy CEO of the Level Playing Field Institute, the organization that heads up the Summer Math and Science Honors program at UCLA.

“At the same time, we’re seeing job growth in America being driven by the tech sector.”

Low income students of color need the SMASH program to be able to compete, he said.

That is why, according to program officials, SMASH is free of charge.

Read more here in the Los Angeles Sentinel.

Atlanta Black Star: Morehouse Launches Successful Summer STEM Program that Puts Atlanta-Area Teens On Path to New Careers

Social justice and science in the summertime, SMASH (Summer Math and Science Honors) Program at Morehouse College, Atlanta, Ga. 7/10/17 Photo by Mikki K. Harris


When 28 high school-age boys signed up to participate in the first year of a STEM program at Morehouse College, they could never have predicted the bond that would develop among them.

STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers are predicted to continue to grow according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration, but nonwhite young men ― especially Black ones ― are some of the least represented.

Read more here from in the Atlanta Black Star.


Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Metro Atlanta students learning STEM to help themselves and others


About two dozen metro Atlanta public school students are spending much of their summer vacation on a college campus learning skills their instructors and organizers believe will help them improve academically and help others.

The students are the first local participants in a five-week science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) camp at Morehouse College that includes a social justice component. Organizers said the camp’s goal is to get the students, all rising tenth-graders, to begin thinking about solutions to problems impacting under-served communities.

Read more here in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Color of STEM: Jennifer R. Cohen, Ph.D | SMASH Berkeley Site Director

“The Color of STEM” is a thirty-minute 6-part television profile series that features HBCU schools, students and alumni, and takes a look at HBCU’s partnerships with industry leadership, organizations and government agencies as they provide career opportunities and program support. The Color of STEM also highlights the accomplishments that other underrepresented minorities are making and continue to make in the area of STEM.

LPFI was asked to participate in interviews for the next episode of this series. Check out Dr. Cohen’s interview below!

Black Enterprise: #BlackSTEMLikeMe Takes Over the Impact Hub


In an evening full of total engagement, immersed in the likes of entrepreneurs, astronauts, National Society of Black Engineers’ leaders and students, the #BlackSTEMLikeMe hashtag rang loud and clear.

We were met with stories of trials and triumphs, but they didn’t end on the stage. A clip was shown, we heard from speakers, and then the attention was turned to the audience. It was our turn. Topics surfaced like: explain a time when you were the “Hidden Figure” to give an example of when you had to take an active leadership position and make some less than desirable decisions.

Talk about vulnerability. Read more here in Black Enterprise.

East Bay Times: ‘Hidden Figures’: Can film inspire more young black women to embrace science, tech?

Danielle Rose, of Level Playing Field Institute, left, and Toni Vanwinkle, of Adobe, speak during a panel discussion hosted by the National Society of Black Engineers at Impact Hub in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. Hidden Figures cast member Karan Kendrick among other was one of the panelists who spoke, too. The film is based on the story of three African-American women working at NASA in the early 1960s. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

Danielle Rose, of Level Playing Field Institute, left, and Toni Vanwinkle, of Adobe, speak during a panel discussion hosted by the National Society of Black Engineers at Impact Hub in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. Hidden Figures cast member Karan Kendrick among other was one of the panelists who spoke, too. The film is based on the story of three African-American women working at NASA in the early 1960s. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

The movie tells the story of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, African-American women working at NASA who served as some of the brains behind John Glenn’s historic orbit of Earth in 1962.

And similar film screenings and forums are being held throughout the country, with high hopes that the film will galvanize interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — also known as STEM — in minority girls and boys….

Jennifer R. Cohen, site director of SMASH Berkeley, which is a free Summer Math and Science Honors Academy at UC Berkeley offered to underrepresented high school students of color, said her nonprofit has also been hosting screenings of the film, and it’s been inspiring to see young people’s response.

“They were saying we didn’t even know this was a part of history and part of space exploration. This has been a story of national pride, for many black women,” she said.

Read more here in the East Bay Times.

KBLX 102.9FM: KBLX Cares with Sterling James

LPFI Communications Manager/SMASH Alum, Ashleigh Richelle and Site Director of SMASH Stanford, Gabriel Chaparro came to our studios to discuss the SMASH program offered to underrepresented High School students as a free college preparatory STEM-Intensive Summer Math And Science Honors Academy program. Listen or visit here.

Bay Area Parent: How to Get Your Kids Excited About STEM

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Dr. Jennifer R. Cohen and Eli Kennedy work at the Level Playing Field Institute (, a nonprofit that provides free educational programs and resources to support underrepresented minority students in the Bay Area and help them pursue STEM careers.

“When I was in elementary school (Lakeshore Elementary School in San Francisco), my mother would tell me all the time that I will make a great scientist,” Cohen says. “My mother was a stay-at-home mom at the time, and although we didn’t know any scientists, I believed her when she told me I could and would be a great scientist.”

Read more here in Bay Area Parent about how parents can encourage their children to get into STEM.

San Jose Mercury: Opinion | Federal aid needed for teaching coding, science in schools


Computer occupations are not only some of the fastest growing in California and the nation, but also among the highest paying. Yet, by 2022, the nation is projected to have 1.3 million unfilled jobs in these fields, many of which will be located in our state.

In large part, this shortfall is  a consequence of the lack of access and disparities in access to computer science education in California. According to the Level Playing Field Institute, 65 percent of California public high schools offered no computer science courses in 2015; only 13 percent offered AP Computer Science.

Read more here at The San Jose Mercury.

The Bold Italic: Why Tech’s Diversity Problem Is Everyone’s Problem


It wouldn’t be hard to win a drinking game centered on the word “diversity,” considering how often the term gets tossed around in the tech world. We have diversity data, diversity initiatives, diversity events and more diversity initiatives. But the tech industry cannot talk about (much less solve) its lack of diversity in a bubble.

Consider Facebook’s recent efforts to diversify its workforce and how those efforts contrast with the company’s actual data on diversity. For all of Facebook’s talk about increasing diversity, updated numbers showed no year-over-year rise in its dismal percentage of Hispanic (4%) and black (2%) employees in its workforce.

Read more here at The Bold Italic.

Youth Radio: The Literal Face of Diversity


The Kapor Center for Social Impact is pushing for Oakland’s expanding tech industry to reflect the city’s diversity. The Kapor Center purchased a billboard on Broadway and 22nd Street that reads, “As Oakland becomes more tech, let’s ensure tech becomes more Oakland.”

The billboard features the face of Haile Shavers, a computer science major at UC Berkeley. Shavers is an alum of SMASH (Summer Math and Science Honors Academy), an educational program for low-income teens of color to take STEM courses. At the opening for the Kapor Center’s Oakland headquarters, Shavers spoke to Youth Radio’s Grace Vaughan Brekke about getting her start in coding. What follows are excerpts from their conversation.

Read more here at YouthRadio.

Philanthropy Journal: Leveling the Playing Field in STEM for Underrepresented Youth

jorge-2By the time high school student Jorge Avelar-Lopez completed SMASH Academy, he was named a Latinos on the Fast Track (LOFT) fellow, had built his own health mobile app and was invited to demo his app at the White House. Jorge accomplished all of this and more, all the while, growing up in a neighborhood of East Oakland where even walking to school five minutes away was too dangerous. Luckily, at SMASH, Jorge found his passion for computer programming. Today, Jorge is preparing for the next chapter of his life: pursuing an engineering degree at Stanford….

The future depends on having all walks of life represented in this space. Through SMASH, we are developing the next generation of innovators that will shape our nation’s future for the better.

Read the rest of CEO Eli Kennedy’s featured article in the Philanthropy Journal here.

KTVU Ch. 2: SMASH prepares underrepresented students for success

SMASH is the Summer Math and Science Honors Academy which helps underrepresented high school students of color. The academy was created to level the playing field, in hopes of making the tech world more diverse. Features our very own Dr. Cohen talking about how SMASH prepares scholars for college and careers in STEM.

Watch FOX affiliate KTVU’s Paul Chambers’ excellent profile on SMASH!

11Alive’s Atlanta Tech Edge: A New STEM Program at Morehouse College Aims to Bring More Minorities into STEM Careers. 

The Summer Math and Science Honors Academy or (SMASH) is a part of the Level Playing Field Institute which started the program in California. It partners with several Universities including  Berkeley, Stanford and UCLA. SMASH is focused on creating a pipeline to get more underrepresented and low-income minorities into STEM Careers.

Watch NBC 11Alive’s Atlanta Tech edge cover SMASH At Morehouse!

NewsRadio KFBK 93.1FM: Program Prepping Underprivileged Students for College Comes to U.C. Davis


A program serving underprivileged students has expanded from some of the most prestigious universities in California to right here in our backyard.

The Summer Math and Science Honors Academy, or SMASH, has recruited low-income and minority high school students every summer since 2004.

It is a five-week program of science and technology classes offered at U.C. Berkeley, Stanford, and UCLA. The latest program was launched at U.C. Davis.

Read more here at NewsRadio KFBK.

Sacramento Bee: Math & science program at UC Davis recruits underrepresented students

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For more than a decade, the Summer Math and Science Honors Academy has recruited low-income and minority high school students to participate in a five-week program of science and technology classes at some of the state’s top colleges. After its inaugural program at UC Berkeley in 2004, the academy expanded to Stanford University and UCLA – and recently launched a program at UC Davis.

Eli Kennedy, head of the Level Playing Field Institute, an Oakland-based nonprofit that supports the summer academy, commonly known as SMASH, said UC Davis was chosen because it has attracted many academy graduates, and the Sacramento region is a growing hub for companies that offer jobs in science, technology, engineering and math.

Read more here in the Sacramento Bee.

Atlanta Voice: Eighth Graders Get SMASH at Morehouse College


Summer Math and Science Honors Academy (SMASH), a once California-based program has ventured east of the Mississippi River for the first time and has landed at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

SMASH is a program initiated by Level Playing Field Institute (LPFI) program and the Kapor Center For Social Impact based in Oakland to provide students with resources to succeed in STEM careers.

While the Georgia Department of Education (GADOE) is dedicated to preparing students for the 21st Century workplace careers by providing high quality educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, CEO of LPFI, Eli Kennedy explained that a lot of students from underrepresented communities are still not being introduced to STEM.

Read more here at the Atlanta Voice.

ESPN | The Undefeated: Morehouse joins elite STEM training program

Omar & MaryannaSMASH Academy is building new generations of scientists and engineers.

Morehouse College has become the first historically black campus to join an elite West Coast-based science and math training program whose main mission is to identify and train African-American and Latino technology workers.

The Summer Math and Science Honors Academy (SMASH) typically trains rising 10th- through 12th-graders in a 5-week residential summer program that exposes them to computer science, math, science and engineering design.

Read more here at ESPN’s The Undefeated.

NPR | WABE 90.1FM: Interview with Rose Scott

A Closer Look with Rose Scott & Jim Burress at WABE 90.1 radio station in Atlanta, GA.

24:13: Eli Kennedy, CEO of Level Playing Field Institute, talks about SMASH (Summer Math And Science Honors), a new program at Morehouse College to encourage African-American and Latino 8th graders to pursue careers in STEM fields.

SF Chronicle: Gender, racial equality a lifelong passion for Freada Kapor Klein


Freada Kapor Klein is a rare type of social change-maker/philanthropist. The Oakland resident had long been a national leader in pursuing gender and racial equality before she started writing checks to help make her vision a reality in the tech world.

For her work, she is a nominee for the 2016 Visionary of the Year award sponsored by The Chronicle and the School of Economics and Business Administration at St. Mary’s College.

Read more here at the San Francisco Chronicle




Leadership Magazine: Why Computer Science Matters

Leadership Magazine…In a report released earlier this year, “Path Not Found,” research staff from the Level the Playing Field Institute found that public high schools in California with the highest percentage of students of color offer com- puter science courses at a rate nearly half that of schools with the lowest percentage of un- derrepresented students of color. While Af- rican American and Latino students make up 59 percent of California’s public school students, only 11 percent were 2014 AP Computer Science test takers.

More than 75 percent of schools with the highest percentage of low-income students offer no computer science courses. Student access to computer science courses does not reflect the state’s student demographics, and this decline in numbers has had a disparate impact on African American and Latino students from low-income communities.

Read more here in Leadership Magazine


LPFI Visits CBC Tech Delegation – Diversity in Silicon Valley

LPFI joined a roundtable discussion on August 4th at Bloomberg’s west coast tech hub with members of the CBC: Congressman G.K. Butterfield (NC); Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA); and Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (NY) on the advancement of African Americans in technology.

Organizations represented at the table included: Bloomberg Beta, Hidden Genius Project, NCWIT, Code 2040, #YesWeCode, Google and Facebook.  Participants discussed the deficiencies in tech that are driving the lack of diversity and were positioned to advise the attending CBC members on the necessary considerations as they further build out their strategy to address the problem.

A proud moment for LPFI was when second year SMASH Berkeley scholar Harrison Harvey gave a statement during the press conference. Hear what Harrison had to say:

San Jose Mercury News | Quinn: The Kapors raise the bar for tech diversity

The first ever White House Demo Day on Tuesday came with lots of announcements about what companies, government agencies and organizations are going to do to address the lack of diversity in the tech industry.

And that was wonderful. But one set of announcements from Mitch Kapor, one of the co-founders of Lotus, and his wife, Freada Kapor Klein, stood apart.

The East Bay couple, who for years have been on the forefront of the issue of tech and diversity, said they will spend $40 million to address the structural inequities that make it hard for African-Americans and other groups to become successful tech entrepreneurs.

Read more at the San Jose Mercury News

SF Business Journal: East Bay tech power couple to give $40 million to make industry more diverse

East Bay tech power couple Mitch Kapor and his wife Freada Kapor Klein have pledged to give $40 million over three years to make the technology industry more diverse. The announcement was made at the first-ever White House Demo Day, which was held Tuesday.

The news comes as major technology companies and venture capital firms have come under increasing scrutiny for employing few women and minorities as well as for backing relatively few startups with women and minority founders.

Read more at San Francisco Business Journal

Business Journal: Study finds Clovis, Fresno schools lacking in computer science instruction

Less than 1 percent of high school students enrolled in Clovis and Fresno Unified schools have access to computer science courses.

The districts are not alone however, as public high schools throughout California have relatively low enrollment figures for computer science classes.

According to a recent report from the Level Playing Field Institute (LPFI), only 1 percent of students in the state’s 20 largest school districts are enrolled in any type of computer science course. Based in Oakland, the organization’s “Path Not Found: Disparities in Computer Science Course Access in California High Schools” study highlights the need for increased exposure of public high school students to science, technology, engineering and mathematic (STEM) fields.


Kids of Color Are Already Behind on Landing These Future Jobs

Path Not FoundAnyone with a computer probably knows the legend of Google: A pair of Stanford computer geeks in suburban San Francisco put their heads together and created a company that transformed the California economy and changed the world. But if you’re a poor and minority public high school student in the Golden State—or anywhere else in the country—that legend feels like a particularly challenging mythology.

Regular and Advanced Placement computer science courses—and teachers to lead them—are nearly nonexistent for African American and Latino students, particularly if they attend underserved schools or are English-language learners, according to a new study from the Level Playing Field Institute, an organization dedicated to bringing black and Latino kids up to speed on the information superhighway.

Read the Yahoo! News article


Report: Computer science unavailable to many minority kids

Millennials may be the first generation born and raised in the digital age, but the state of California has a long way to go in catching up to modern times in providing the state’s minority students with a proper education in computer science, according to a new report.

“Path Not Found: Disparities in Computer Science Course Access in California High Schools,” a reportfrom the Level Playing Field Institute, found that public schools with a high number of students of color are half as likely to offer computer science classes as schools with a predominately white or Asian student body.


Calif. Study: High-Minority High Schools Offer Little Computer Science

Computer science courses are often inaccessible for black, Hispanic, Native American, and low-income high school students in California, according to a new study.

The report, released yesterday by the nonprofit Level Playing Field Institute, confirms other recent research on computer science and underrepresented students. For instance, last year not a single black student took the Advanced Placement computer science exam in 12 states, and no Hispanic students took it in six states.


Confronting the Disparities in Access to Computer Science Education in California

Today, across the nation, tens of thousands of students will take the Advanced Placement Computer Science (AP CS) exam with dreams of pursuing computing careers. This exam is a critical step in the path toward entering computer science as a field of study and a profession. One might expect that in California, home of Silicon Valley’s rapidly-expanding technology industry, just about every public high school would offer introductory and advanced computer science courses. Unfortunately, this is far from the case.


In a new report released today from the Level Playing Field Institute, not only are computer science courses offered at surprisingly low rates throughout California’s public high schools, the coursework is particularly out of reach for African-American and Latino students, low-income students, and English language learners.

The report, Path Not Found: Disparities in Computer Science Course Access in California High Schools, illustrates the disconcerting statistic that California public high schools with the highest populations of underrepresented students of color are half as likely to offer computer science courses than schools largely composed of White and Asian students (populations already disproportionately represented in the computing sector, as demonstrated in recently released diversity data from myriad technology firms).

The computer science opportunity gap is even more stark for high school students in California who want to earn college credit in computer science before they graduate: schools with the highest percentage of underrepresented students of color offer AP Computer Science courses at a rate twelve times lower than those with majority White and Asian students. Path Not Found reveals similar disparities in computer science offerings at schools with majority low-income students and schools with a high percentage of English learners in their student population.

Specifically, the report finds that in California public high schools:

  • Nearly 75% of schools with the highest percentage of underrepresented students of color offer no computer science courses.
  • Just 2% of schools with the highest percentage of underrepresented students of color offer Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science.
  • African-American and Latino students make up 59% of California public school students but were just 11% of 2014 AP Computer Science test takers.
  • Over 75% of schools with the highest percentage of low-income students offer no computer science courses.
  • Only 4% of schools with the highest percentage of low-income students offer AP Computer Science.
  • In Silicon Valley’s backyard, under 2% of students are enrolled in computer science (SFUSD+OUSD).
  • Of the more than half a million high school students in the largest 20 California districts, just 1% are in any computer science course.

Cumulatively, these findings suggest systemic barriers for students of color, low-income students, and English learners in accessing computing careers, which are among the highest-paying and fastest-growing occupations in the nation. Given the rising demand for skilled computer science professionals in California, it is vital that the state’s public schools provide all students with a solid foundation in computer science. With the rapidly changing racial landscape of the state and the nation, the lack of diversity within computing fields suggests there is a large pool of untapped talent which comprises a critical component of the future computing workforce.


Research shows that diverse groups are associated with increased success and innovation, which not only impacts continued economic success of the technology industry but also has implications for creating innovative technological solutions to tackle real-world problems affecting all segments of society. Moreover, the underrepresentation of diverse groups within the technology industry greatly affects future economic opportunities for communities of color.

Level Playing Field Institute believes we can narrow these gaps of access and opportunity through comprehensive K-12 public education computer science funding strategies, teacher workforce development, and technology sector partnerships, as well as the development of programs designed to develop computing interest among underrepresented groups. By addressing disparities in access to computer science courses, more equitable pathways to the fastest-growing industries will be created, thus providing growth and sustainability opportunities for communities of color, the technology industry, and the nation’s economy.

All students deserve the chance to succeed in the 21st century workforce. Computer science instruction is now as foundational a part of preparing students for academic and workforce success as basic mathematics, reading, and writing instruction was a century ago. Equitable computer science course access is an investment in the future for all Californians.

Written by Alexis Martin & Frieda McAlear

(A repost from


Standing before a large crowd at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in January, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich laid out the company’s plan to change the future of technology. He debuted a 3-D printer that’s 10 times faster than any of the others on the market. He chatted with the CEO of iRobot, who rolled onto the stage via a teleconferencing automaton that flaunted Intel’s new emotion-detecting cameras. Then he closed his keynote with a plan that might prove far more challenging than either of those other ­innovations: Over the next five years, Intel plans to invest $300 million in something called the “diversity in technology initiative,” which will aim to bring the company’s workforce to “full representation” by 2020.

Read the Fast Company article

Ford Motor Funds high tech program for low income students

Ford STEAM Lab, a Ford Motor Company Fund educational program, and the California-based #YesWeCode and Level Playing Field Institute will host a special educational event for 100 Detroit-area middle school students March 27-28. The highly anticipated Ford Steam Lab Hackathon encourages student participants from five Detroit-area middle schools to learn software coding skills and develop solutions to education.

Read the Michigan Chronicle article

Ben Jealous and Al Gore Honor Freada Kapor at Tech Diversity Forum

At the recent Fairness Matters Forum hosted by The Level Playing Field Institute (LPFI), founder Freada Kapor Klein was recognized as “the moral center of Silicon Valley and an O.G. in technology,” as Benjamin Jealous put it. As a visionary who has addressed the issues of hidden bias in Silicon Valley, she was given a heartfelt recognition for her impact on diversity at the event, which was held at the Twitter headquarters in San Francisco on Dec. 4. Kapor’s work through the LPFI Summer Math and Science Honors Academy (SMASH) has diversified the pipeline for people of color in the tech industry.

Read the Post News Group article