Moses Namara knew two fundamental truths: first, that misuses of AI disproportionately harm Black communities around the world, and second, that Black people are underrepresented in university AI programs. Just 1.8% of students enrolled in computer science PhD programs in the United States were Black in the 2018-2019 school year, and the numbers were only marginally better for master’s students.
Namara knew something else, too: that the barriers to entry are often rooted in resources, and that some of those resources were things a mentorship network could provide. “One is just information,” he says. For example: applicants need to know which research opportunities to pursue as undergrads, which university programs and professors best suit their interests, and what resources might be out there to help with the expensive process of actually applying. “If you don’t know where to look for the information, then that’s the number one step that you’re going to fail,” he says.
So in 2018 Namara co-created the Black in Artificial Intelligence graduate application mentoring program to help students applying to graduate school. The program, run through the resource group Black in AI, has mentored 400 applicants, 200 of whom have been accepted to competitive AI programs. It provides an array of resources: mentorship from current PhD students and professors, CV evaluations, and advice on where to apply. Namara now sees the mentorship system evolving to the next logical step: helping Black PhD and master’s students find that first job.