The issue of diversity and inclusion is very prevalent in Silicon Valley. Recently, a group of more than 150 CEOs from some of the world’s leading companies have signed on to the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, in an effort to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace, an issue is often debated or discussed. However, there is not a lot of discussion about the myriad of unsung heroes in organizations that work with minority students, especially to build their capabilities in STEM. One of those organizations is the Dr. Frank S. Greene Scholars Program (GSP).

The Greene Scholars Program was founded in honor of African American Silicon Valley luminary, Dr. Frank S. Green Jr. A pioneering technologist, Dr. Greene will be remembered as a scientist, an educator, a parent, a mentor, a venture capitalist, an entrepreneur and the role model for the Greene Scholars Program. In the mid-1960s, Dr. Greene came to Silicon Valley to join Fairchild Semiconductor R&D Labs where he developed high-speed semiconductor computer-memory systems. Dr. Greene also holds a patent for the integrated circuit, which made Fairchild a semiconductor leader in the late 1960s.

In the early 1970s, he became an entrepreneur and co-founded two technology companies, Technology Development Corp. and Zero One Systems Inc, which developed software and provided computer services. He later founded NewVista Capital, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, with a special focus on minority- and female-headed firms. Dr. Greene stood among technology giants such as Robert Noyce, William Hewlett, and David Packard as one of 63 inductees into the Silicon Valley Engineering Hall of Fame, given by the Silicon Valley Engineering Council.

Dr. Greene obtained a BS, MS, and PhD. in Electrical Engineering from Washington University, Purdue University and Santa Clara University respectively. He gave back by teaching Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at multiple universities across the US.

The founder of the Green Scholars Program is educator, Debra Watkins.   Ms. Watkins spent decades in the East Side Union School District in San Jose, CA.  She earned a BA in English, with minors in French and Psychology, from Pitzer College. She then entered Stanford University’s Teacher Education Program and earned a Master’s degrees in Education. She later earned a second Master’s in Counselor Education from San Jose State University.  In addition, she obtained Life-time Teaching Credentials in English, French and Psychology. Ms. Watkins is passionate about the education of African Americans.  She is the Executive Director of the California Alliance of African American Educators which she founded in 2001 in tandem with creating the Greene Scholars Program.  

GSP Mission: To increase the number of African American youth choosing

STEM career paths through high school, college and into their professional lives

GSP Goal: Develop and unleash the next generation of talent that will solve some of the world’s biggest STEM challenges.  

The Greene Scholars Program nurtures students from their initial entrance into the program as early as 3rd grade through high school graduation. One hundred and fifty scholars receive year-round hands-on math, science and technology experiences and workshops, compete in annual science fairs and engineering competitions, and participate in entrepreneurial/leadership programs. These experiences strengthen the student’s entrepreneurial/leadership and problem solving skills, build the student’s self-esteem, stimulate the student’s intellectual curiosity and provide self-motivation, as they continue their exploration in STEM fields. The program is 49% girls and serves students of African ancestry from all socioeconomic backgrounds across the Bay Area.  GSP has sent 100% of those who successfully complete the program to college, with 60% pursuing STEM degrees.  

Since 2015, the Greene Scholars Program Director has been Dr. Ayodele Thomas. Dr. Thomas grew up in Kentucky, with four brothers.  As a young girl, she had varied interests, but her interest in engineering was sparked by her mother’s youngest sister, who worked for IBM during the summers while in college. She talked to her aunt about her work and asked her about what engineers do. Since she was very interested in math and science, she decided to be like her aunt and become an engineer.  Those conversations, and her aunt’s influence would shape not only Ayodele, but also her brothers who all obtained engineering degrees.

It is interesting to see some of the things she has that are in common with the inspiration for the Greene Scholars Program and its founder. Like the organization’s namesake and founder, she is also an engineer and an educator. Dr. Thomas obtained her BS in electrical engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology. In 2005, she earned the distinction of becoming the first Black woman at Stanford University to receive a PhD in electrical engineering.

Ayodele’s passion is to increase the undergraduate pipelines for minority students in the sciences and engineering and to increase minority representation in doctoral education and the professoriate. Since 2005, Ayodele has worked for the Stanford University, School of Humanities and Sciences, and currently serves as the Assistant Dean for Diversity Programs, Data and & Technology and a Lecturer. In her current role, Ayodele provides leadership for initiatives, which increases the diversity of the graduate student population. She also manages graduate fellowships, technology initiatives, and student-related data and analysis.

Dr. Thomas comes from a family with a rich history of philanthropic work.  Her story is a very powerful one.  Her grandfather served for decades as a leader in the Chattanooga and Tennessee NAACP.  Her mother, who integrated her high school, is a lifelong educator, and her father is an advocate for food justice.  Dr. Thomas grew up understanding the importance of giving back. Doing work of service is nothing new to her.  Even while completing her studies, she volunteered for the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and other organizations 20+ hours per week.

When her children were old enough to join the Greene Scholars Program, she applied and her children were accepted.  Since it is a parent volunteer led program, she began by working with the children.  When tapped by the organization’s founder to be the next Director, Dr. Thomas answered the call. After 15 years as a program of CAAAE, Greene Scholars became an independent non-profit in 2016 with Dr. Thomas as its Executive Director.

The dynamic leadership team of the Greene Scholars Program and all of the 200+ parent and community volunteers make this organization quite successful.  They are arming young African American children with a supplemental education in STEM, in a fun way where the kids are happy to participate and learn more, so that they can become the next Dr. Frank S. Greene.

For more information about the Greene Scholars Program and team click here