3 N.C. A&T students among first batch of Apple Scholars

Silicon Valley wants to become more diverse, so the world’s largest tech company is reaching all the way across the country to do just that.

Three students from N.C. A&T are among the first class of Apple HBCU Scholars, a new scholarship and internship program launched this year by Apple Inc. and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

Two of A&T’s winners — Zanetta Tyler and Angelica Willis — are Greensboro natives. A&T’s third Apple Scholar, Paul Hammond, is from Stone Mountain, Ga. All three are majoring in computer science and are slated to graduate in May 2017.

“I’m just excited to see the inside of Apple and learn about the company from the inside out,” Willis said. “They inspire innovation. I want to be part of that.”

As far as scholarships go, the Apple HBCU Scholars Program is a pretty sweet deal. Each winner gets a one-time academic scholarship of up to $25,000 to pay for his or her senior year of college.

“It’s going to feel great not to have to take out loans next year,” Tyler said.

During the upcoming spring semester, Apple will fly the scholars to its corporate headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., for a 10-day orientation. Next summer, the scholars will return to Cupertino for a 3-month summer internship. After that, the scholars must spread the word on their campuses about the scholarship program.

The 31 winners from historically black colleges and universities were recognized in mid-November at a ceremony at Washington, D.C. Only Spelman College in Atlanta (four winners) and Alabama A&M University (three) had as many scholarship recipients as A&T.

The announcement of the first Apple scholarship winners comes amid reports of scant racial and ethnic diversity at American tech companies. A recent Washington Post report noted that only 2 percent of Yahoo employees are black. Facebook, meanwhile, counted fewer than 100 African Americans among its 5,500 employees.

The Apple scholarship is the first by a major Silicon Valley tech firm for students who attend historically black colleges, which produce thousands of African American graduates each year with science, math and engineering degrees.

Even before getting their scholarships, these students from A&T trio long had been interested in computers and technology.

As a child growing up in Greensboro, Tyler served as her family’s in-house tech support. (“When my mother’s computer would crash, I would fix it and reboot it,” she said.)

At A&T, Tyler, a Dudley High School graduate, learned several computer-programming languages, including Java, C++, HTML and Python. She said she hopes during her time at Apple that she will be able to learn Swift, the language that powers iPhone apps and Macintosh computers.

Computer coding can be frustrating, Tyler said, but she loves it.

“When you get it working, it’s an absolutely wonderful feeling,” she said.

Willis, who was home-schooled before coming to A&T, designed websites for local businesses as a teenager.

In college, Willis has worked as a research assistant on a two different faculty projects. One is the study of behavior biometric authentication — whether the way a person moves a computer mouse can be used like a password or a fingerprint scan to confirm his or her online identity. (Tyler worked on the same project.) The other is whether computers can determine a person’s gender from online conversations.

Willis, who has won scholarships from Buick and Burger King and has a perfect A average at A&T, said she wants to work with driverless cars, a technology that Apple is rumored to be developing.

“I want to eventually work on large world issues using computer science — those kind of moonshot problems that require a lot of macrothinking,” Willis said. “Ultimately I want to be a better problem-solver, and I think Apple does a pretty good job of solving problems.”

Hammond calls himself “an entrepreneur at heart” who is starting a consulting company to help with website and application development. But he said he would love to end up at Apple after graduation.

“I hope to become a part of a profound network of like-minded individuals with a similar passion for innovation in technology,” he said. “Apple has been and always will be at the forefront of the next generation of technological advancements.”

There’s no guarantee that these Apple Scholars will end up at Apple or any other big tech firm. But the three said the exposure to Apple and Silicon Valley will be invaluable as they look to launch their careers.

Being an Apple Scholar “means being the best of the best,” Tyler said. “It’s an amazing opportunity.”

Source: Greensboro News & Record