NEW ORLEANS, July 19, 2002 — As a child in St. Louis, Tammara Combs Turner was always a good student, especially in math and science. But growing up in an inner-city neighborhood, she didn’t think much about going to college.
“I always thought college was a good thing, but I didn’t think I could go,” Turner recalls. “No one in my family had gone to college, and no one really said ‘You should go to college’.”
Her perspective changed, however, after enrolling in TRIO, a series of programs designed to help underprivileged students get into — and thrive in — college.
Microsoft’s Bill Gates (L), Xavier University president Norman C. Francis, and United Negro College fund president and CEO William H. Gray III (R) talk to student Keira Isaac of New Orleans in a Xavier computer lab.
“Going through the courses in the Upward Bound program proved to me that I could succeed in college,”
“But even if I had been accepted to a school, I didn’t know how I was going to pay for it.”
To help solve that problem, Turner applied for — and won — the Valenteen B. Abbington Scholarship, offered by the United Negro College Fund (UNCF). The scholarship paid half her college tuition.
“The Valenteen gave me a ton of hope,”
“Because I thought if I got this, there were probably others I could get.”
There were, including the UNCF’s Microsoft Technical Minorities Scholarship, which allowed Turner to earn a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Xavier University in New Orleans, and a master’s from the University of Maryland.
Now 27, Turner works at Microsoft as a research manager for online communities in the Product Support Services division, and is working on her doctorate in information science at the University of Washington.
Helping today’s students see similar potential in themselves is the reason that Bill Gates, Microsoft’s chairman and chief software architect, announced today Microsoft Community Affairs donations to both the United Negro College Fund and the TRIO Programs.
“At Microsoft, we believe that technology can help everyone realize their full potential,”
“It’s our hope that today’s donations will enable the UNCF to enhance delivery of services to its constituents nationwide, as well as create opportunities for local New Orleans students — today and for a lifetime.”
Microsoft Community Affairs is donating US$25 million in software to help UNCF’s 39 member colleges and universities implement technology in the classroom and across campus, benefiting over 60,000 students who attend those institutions.
“We are extremely appreciative of Microsoft’s continued support and commitment to closing the digital divide and expanding educational opportunities for the deserving young men and women that attend UNCF institutions,”
said William H. Gray III, president & CEO of UNCF.
Founded in 1944, the UNCF has in recent years been a strong advocate for helping African American students and institutions acquire the technology and experience to succeed in today’s digital workplace. In 2000, the fund began a program called Technology Enhancement Capital Campaign (TECC) with Microsoft, IBM and AT & T.
“We want to ensure that all students and faculty at historically black colleges and universities are prepared for the globally competitive digital economy of the 21st century,”
Microsoft helped launch the campaign with a $50 million software donation.
“It’s so important to support programs like the TECC,”
said Bruce Brooks, director of Community Affairs for Microsoft.
“Technology is a key tool to help people be more creative and expand their range of possibilities, and we want those possibilities available to all students.”
In response to the donation to the UNCF, U.S. Representative William J. Jefferson, who represents Louisiana’s Second District, released a statement echoing this need to provide solutions that ensure equal opportunity for all students.
“It is clear that the ability to understand and use information tools will be necessary for personal and economic successes as we move into the technology age,”
“And I am glad to see that companies such as Microsoft recognize that we must move forward to ensure that America evolves into a classless, cyber-society and that all Americans can compete on a level playing field.”
U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana called Microsoft’s donation
“a solid investment in future generations of information technology workers and inventors.”
Said Landrieu in a statement,
“No one knows for sure who the next Bill Gates will be; however these grants will go a long way to increasing the odds that whoever he or she is has the best educational opportunities available.”
Second Donation Puts Computer Hardware in Louisiana Schools
Microsoft also partnered today with Dell to donate 75 computers to the U.S. government’s TRIO Upward Bound program in the New Orleans area, including 25 computers to the TRIO lab at Xavier University, and 25 computers each to two local high schools that participate in the TRIO program. An additional 75 computers were donated to three separate elementary schools in the New Orleans area.
The computers were donated after being used at the Microsoft Global Briefing (MGB), an annual meeting of Microsoft’s international sales, marketing and product support groups, which is being held in New Orleans this week.
Microsoft has provided TRIO with over $26 million in software and technology since 1994. In a letter of thanks from Dr. Robert Belle, Jr., Director, Office of Federal TRIO Programs, Belle estimated that donations from Microsoft have benefited over 50,000 participants in TRIO, a program born in 1964 to pursue equal opportunity in education. Students from low-income families, with little or no history of college, receive a training regimen that teaches them how to get into college and how to succeed once there.
Of the approximately 95 students enrolled in Xavier University’s TRIO program each year, 99 percent graduate from high school, 92 percent get into college, and over 42 percent graduate from college within six years.
Marie DeLarge, director of the TRIO Program at Xavier, says the program succeeds because it makes students believe in themselves.
“Our kids come in the summer before they start college and take one or two college-level courses and it gives them a jump start,”
“It means the world to these students. It gives them more confidence, because they know a little bit more and realize it immediately when they start classes in the fall.”
DeLarge said the latest donation by Microsoft and Dell will help institute a program that will give students tutoring help with their school work online any time during the school day via Instant Messaging.
“We’re excited about the online communication we’ll have with the students at the site schools,”
“It will make a stronger bond between Xavier and the site schools.”
Besides supporting scholarship programs and academic training, Microsoft works at many universities to recruit students to be part of its internship program.
“We can’t expect college grads to come in and be IT professionals,”
says John Nordlinger, program manager for Microsoft’s University Relations Program.
“Our internships help students get real-world training and exposure to the world of business and software, and we’re able to develop future talent that will improve the IT industry or our company.”
Microsoft has active internship programs at 60 schools across the United States, including several members of the UNCF.
Brooks said that helping students succeed requires programs that provide a continuum of learning.
“It’s not just about enrollment, or scholarships, or studying skills, or mentoring, or internships. It’s all of those, and if we can provide access to those opportunities to all students, our entire society will benefit because they’ll have the tools they need to achieve whatever goals or ambitions they set for themselves.”
UNCF scholarships, TRIO programs, and internship programs like those at Microsoft can provide a path and options that that may not be readily visible to some students. Recalling her youth in St. Louis, Turner says that seeing examples of what else life might offer her in high school had a huge impact on the path she created for herself in life. She tries to do the same for others.
“I like to see other successes,”
“I go home at least once a year, and talk to my family members about what I’m doing, and also go back to local schools and talk with teachers, students and in neighborhoods.”
For Turner, measuring success isn’t so much about accomplishments as it is a continual ambition to do more, to learn new things. Though she is on track to receive her doctorate in the next two years, Turner said that isn’t likely the end of her academic career.
“I stay in school to prove a point, that no matter what you’ve accomplished, you can always go further. I’ll probably never be out of school.”