Jeff Wilke, CEO of Worldwide Consumer at Amazon, knows the difference technology can make. As a boy growing up in Pittsburgh, he learned to code. That skill took Wilke from public school to Princeton and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, opening doors to his current leadership role. Wilke and his wife, the writer Liesl Wilke, both supporters of the American Indian College Fund for more than 20 years, are now giving Native American students computer science opportunities at selected tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) with a $1 million gift for The TCU Computer Science Initiative.
The timing could not be better. The outbreak of the Corona virus hit Native communities harder than others. The pandemic underscored the ways in which technology keeps communities connected and allows people to continue their work and education—but also highlighted the digital divide impacting Native communities.
The TCU Computer Science Initiative will address the TCUs’ urgent need to create or expand computer science programs to meet Native communities’ needs, including improved education quality and opportunities, social and economic development, better managed health care systems, and career opportunities. The initiative will begin by bringing qualified computer science faculty to the TCUs to increase, improve, and expand computer science programming to Native communities.
Liesl and Jeff Wilke said, “We are thrilled to see this initiative taking shape and moving forward so that it can deeply impact Native communities. The demand for computer science in many fields of work and study accelerates every year. We hope to help meet the needs of Native communities to flourish in the digital age, whether that means access to more jobs or the ability to program health care applications for a reservation or to preserve language, impact safety, or improve communication among community members according to their unique needs and desires. The opportunities are massive and very exciting.”
Cheryl Crazy Bull, President and CEO of the American Indian College Fund, said, “We are so appreciative, on behalf of Native students and their families, of The Wilke Family Foundation and its willingness to invest in our communities. We know that computer science education is foundational to many aspects of modern life – everything from databases to mapping our lands to creating technology resources that improve our quality of life. This investment helps create a thriving indigenous future.”
The College Fund will facilitate a selection process to choose four TCUs which can support hiring computer science faculty and program development. Each TCU will receive $250,000 over a four-year period to include the costs of faculty salary and benefits, professional development, coursework integration, and other costs.