- By Levi Rickert
DENVER, Colo. — Jeff Wilke, CEO of Worldwide Consumer at Amazon, and his wife Liesl Wilke, have been supporters of the College Fund for more than 20 years. Now, the Wilke Family Foundation has given the American Indian College Fund’s The TCU Computer Science Initiative a $1 million grant to promote opportunities for American Indian students pursuing careers in computer science.
“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,” Jeff and Liesl Wilke said. “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.”
To the College Fund’s staff the timing of the grant could not be better. The outbreak of COVID-19 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.
“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,” said Cheryl Crazy Bull, president and CEO of the American Indian College Fund.
The TCU Computer Science Initiative will address the TCUs’ (tribal colleges and universities) urgent need to create or expand computer science programs to meet the needs of Native communities, 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 in Native communities.
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.