Google opening education lab in Oakland

By Stefanie Le and Samantha Clark

Internet company Google is opening a new technology education center in Oakland for minority youth amid criticism that Silicon Valley is not diverse enough.

Claire Shorall, the manager of computer science for the Oakland Unified School District, told Bay Area Bandwidth that the company had been working with local groups for over a year to pilot the project, and it decided to open the lab in Fruitvale, a predominantly Latino neighborhood.

The news was first reported by the San Francisco Business Times on Wednesday. Google, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., has not yet officially announced the new lab, and it did not respond to a request for comment.

Shorall said she was excited about the efforts Google had made to make sure that the lab would meet the community’s needs.

“Oakland is welcoming many tech companies into the city, but we want them to become more Oakland, and the key way to do that is to educate them on how to engage with the city,” said Shorall. “They’re going to learn just as much from our students as our students are going to learn from them.”

The learning lab, developed with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, one of the world’s top research centers, will be called Code Next and include an after-school mentor program particularly aimed at black and Latino youth, according to news reports.

It comes at a time when the industry is under scrutiny for its mostly male and white workforce and as OUSD builds out its computer science curriculum. Google has been trying to increase its diversity, publicly issuing reports on its progress. But as of its most recent report in January 2016, the company said its employees comprised just two percent blacks and three percent Hispanics.

“We’re still not where we want to be when it comes to diversity,” the company said in the report.

In the meanwhile, many of Oakland’s residents have felt left out of the economic boom in Silicon Valley.

According to census data, the city is one of the most diverse cities in the U.S. More than half of its residents are black or Latino. The city’s median income is $52,962, compared with $100,028 in Mountain View, where Google is headquartered.

Shorall said she was particularly pleased that Google chose Fruitvale as its site instead of the up-and-coming downtown area, where companies like Uber and Pandora have chosen to set up their headquarters.

The San Francisco Business Times said that the Code Next lab would be located in the Fruitvale Transit Village, a mixed-used complex owned by the nonprofit The Unity Council.

By being near a BART station as well as grocery stores and residential homes, Code Next would become part of the neighborhood, Shorall said.

Google is the latest tech company to expand across the bay, especially as Silicon Valley and San Francisco grow increasingly unaffordable. There’s a fear that the industry may change Oakland, but the city, activists and some companies say they are trying to change the industry first.

Shorall said Google had collaborated with community stakeholders and organizations such as The Unity Council on how to effectively engage and promote computer science and tech to the city’s youth.

She said Code Next will hold an open house on Oct. 6 at 5:30pm.

This story was first published in Oakland North.

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