By Benjamin Hosking
SMASH Academy is a rigorous, three-year residential college prep program, located at leading universities, that helps students deepen their talents and prepare for STEM degrees and careers. Beginning in 2020, Northeastern will offer Boston high school students the opportunity to participate in this interdisciplinary tech program with a focus in computer science.
Every summer, Boston SMASH Northeastern scholars will be immersed in tuition-free studies at Northeastern’s Boston campus. During the academic year, scholars will participate in monthly events. The program will be made possible in part through a generous gift from the Akamai Foundation, the philanthropic arm of cloud services and security network company, Akamai Technologies.
Northeastern will partner with SMASH, founded in 2004 by Freada Kapor Klein. Its flagship program, SMASH Academy, launched at UC Berkeley. Its mission is to empower underrepresented students of color with rigorous science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, culturally-relevant coursework, and access to resources and social capital that enable SMASH students to pursue a successful career in tech and entrepreneurship. Bridging the tech jobs gap means expanding the tech talent pool. As SMASH CEO Eli Kennedy puts it, “We’re committed to eliminating the barriers faced by young underrepresented people of color in STEM and fostering their untapped talent for the advancement of our nation.”
Anthony Williams, president of the Akamai Foundation, credits Khoury College’s leadership in the arena of tech diversity as integral to its decision to join with SMASH. He says, “Dean Brodley is focused on driving diversity within the computer science field – we share a mutual interest in broadening the technology ecosystem.”
Dean of the Khoury College of Computer Sciences, Carla Brodley, emphasizes the multifaceted nature of the partnership with Akamai and SMASH. “We are excited about the SMASH Northeastern partnership. The Akamai Foundation gift provides seed funding that will create meaningful opportunities for local high school students of color and help deepen and diversify Boston’s technology talent pipeline. In addition to the foundation’s philanthropy, we will partner with Akamai Technologies to provide out of the classroom experiences for the SMASH scholars.”
Over the last 16 years, SMASH programs have empowered over 1000 young people of color to pursue STEM. Focusing on serving students from African-American, Latinx, Asian/Pacific Islander, and other underrepresented populations, the results are exemplary. As of 2018, 100% of SMASH scholars complete high school (national rate is 83%), and 86% of scholars graduate college within 5 years of high school graduation (national rate is 60%). Furthermore, 72% complete their bachelor’s degree in STEM, more than double the national average of 34%.
Kennedy believes that the partnership with Northeastern will create new opportunities for students. “We look forward to the tech doors this CS-focused approach will open for these students and how we will apply this knowledge to the thousands of students in the SMASH community.” He hopes that the partnership will extend beyond three years. “We’re also encouraging our alumni who are interested in CS to pursue the master’s programs at Northeastern and will leverage this partnership with Khoury College of Computer Sciences to bring leading CS curriculum to thousands of students nationwide.”
Williams is thrilled that Akamai and its foundation could contribute to a local program. “This gives us an opportunity to cultivate and drive diversity in STEM, particularly considering the role that Massachusetts and Boston play in technology. We are extremely pleased to be in the inaugural SMASH program in our backyard of Massachusetts. It was an opportunity we could not turn down.”