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Morgan Hosts White House ‘Data Jam’
Thomas Perez, U.S. Secretary of Labor

Morgan Hosts White House ‘Data Jam’

On Friday, July 25, Morgan State University was the focus of a White House initiative to help Americans find jobs through the use of technology innovation and open data. The Obama administration’s second “Data Jam” event was held at MSU’s new Center for the Built Environment and Infrastructure Studies and included presentations by U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs Mark E. Doms, Lynn Overmann, senior advisor to the chief technology officer of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, David Langdon, senior economist in the Office of the Chief Economist and other speakers. MSU President David Wilson attended the event and gave remarks.

The centerpiece of the Data Jam was a brainstorming session in which the participants — which included government administrators, technology workers, technology entrepreneurs, educators, university students, angel investors and others — came up with ideas to “help job seekers, employers and policy makers navigate labor market information.”

Six ideas for technology applications were developed at the event and will now be realized (“scaled up”) over the next 60 days by Data Jam participants. They will then be presented to Obama administration officials, which may include the vice president and president.

Keith H. Jackson, Ph.D., Morgan’s interim provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, welcomed the guests and outlined the goals of the event.

“It’s good (that) in our youth, we have jobs, be it picking up trash at Dairy Queen (as I did) or babysitting or other things,” he said. “(But) what we’re really talking about today is not a job. We’re talking about how we transition from jobs to careers. What are the essential skills to have that the marketplace is looking for?”

Four Morgan students participated in the Data Jam session: Vladimir Celestin, a senior biology major; senior electrical engineering major Kendric Squire; Ashley Jones, a 2014 graduate of Morgan’s bachelor’s degree program in transportation engineering and current graduate student in MSU’s landscape architecture program; and Anthony Davis, who earned his B.A. in history from Morgan in 2012 and is now enrolled as a graduate student in MSU’s transportation engineering program. All four were mentored by Timothy Akers, Ph.D., Morgan’s first assistant vice president for research innovation and advocacy, in the “Morgan Xtreme” program, which he and the students created.

“This is a perfect opportunity to get my ideas out there, because I plan on owning several businesses in my lifetime,” said Squire. “This is a perfect opportunity to brainstorm, network and get an understanding of how the business market is and how to get to the next level.”

Ashley Jones, MSU landscape architecture graduate student and 2014 graduate of Morgan's transportation engineering program

Ashley Jones, MSU landscape architecture graduate student and 2014 graduate of Morgan’s transportation engineering program

“I think the topic today is very important because (what) I hear from different people is that they’re not finding jobs and not finding careers….” said Jones. “My main purpose for being here today is to get to know people who have their own businesses, so I can grow my own (technology) company, and to get as much information as I can, because that’s my passion.”

“The diversity of the expertise here, from industry and government, is just amazing,” said Dr. Akers, “and it aligns perfectly with the efforts of Dr. Victor McCrary (Morgan’s vice president for Research and Economic Development) to push innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development at Morgan.”

Secretary Perez led a private meeting with Data Jam’s student participants, Undersecretary Doms and Morgan Regent Tyrone D. Taborn, chairman and CEO of Career Communications Group, Inc., before addressing the entire group.

Perez underscored the importance of getting job market data to the people who want it.

“(The president and I) hear from businesspeople all the time, ‘I want to grow my business, and I’m bullish about the future, and insourcing’s the word of the day.’ And then what we hear is, ‘One of my biggest challenges is, I need that skilled workforce to compete,’ ” Perez said. “Then I talk to job seekers everywhere I go, and (they say), ‘I want to upskill. I want to be an EMT. I want to be an IT specialist. And sometimes it feels a little daunting.’

“…Technology is a huge ally,” Perez said, “as we move forward in this effort.”