Minority role models in science, technology Message: Baltimore communications firm introduces black, Hispanic youth to achievers of color.

February 12, 1997|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

At a pace lively enough for the MTV generation, a syndicated television show blends images, narration and music into stories -- not of entertainers, but of top scientists, engineers, astronauts, all minorities.

On a magazine's glossy cover, a 40-something biker of Hispanic descent sits astride his Harley, a hobby, it turns out, he supports as senior vice president of the world's fifth largest computer maker.

In a packed convention center each year, college and high school students and children who might never have met an engineer mingle with black and Hispanic executives in the upper echelons of science and technology.

For a Baltimore-based communications company, the medium varies but not the message.

Through nationally distributed magazines, syndicated television programs and an annual career conference, Career Communications Group Inc. shows young African-Americans and Hispanics that they can follow the example of minorities making a difference through science and technology. From headquarters on Pratt Street, the company showcases that talent to the nation at large.

"Our mission is showing all of America the real contributions blacks, Hispanics and women are making in this country," said Tyrone D. Taborn, 37, president and publisher of the 12-year-old business. "We challenge the perceptions of so many Americans."

Even today, with the role of affirmative action debated, misconceptions prevail at senior management levels, especially at companies with a striking absence of minorities in those roles, he says. In talks with senior managers, he often is met with surprise that "so many people who look like that are doing such great things," he said. "That's good -- when we're challenged by misconceptions."

As he sees it, his company is working toward creating a better prepared work force that will sharpen the nation's competitive edge. That means cultivating and making use of the talents of minorities and sparking children's interest in technologies driving employment.

"Most kids have no idea they can be an admiral on a submarine," Taborn said, motioning toward the view from his fifth-floor office window, toward housing projects and streets where drug dealers sometimes seem to rule. "These kids don't have the dream."

For the 11th year, the 21-person company is preparing to infuse elementary, middle and high school students with such dreams, as well as link engineering undergraduates with jobs and honor top professionals, at the company's annual Black Engineer of the Year Conference.

The conference, co-sponsored by the Council of Engineering Deans of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, will run tomorrow through Saturday at the Baltimore Convention Center. The 7,000 anticipated attendees are expected to pump $16.1 million into the local economy.

While expanding its conference each year, the $3 million company is also expanding markets for its hourlong television show, "Success Through Education."

"A Salute to Hispanic Excellence" and "A Salute to Black Achievement" air once a year on the networks in major television markets. They feature celebrity-led rap sessions among teen-agers, as well as profiles of successful engineers, such as Linda Garcia Cubero, manager, Lockheed Martin Corp., and Walt Braithwaite, vice president, Boeing Commercial Airplane Group. Now, the company is repackaging its shows with a workbook to sell to schools.

On the publishing front, the company is working toward attracting a broader readership for its magazines, U.S. Black Engineer and Information Technology and Hispanic Engineer and Information Technology. Currently, the magazines, with combined circulation of 30,000, go mostly to engineering schools of colleges and universities, a mix of profiles, career advice and news. For instance, U.S. Black Engineers' winter 1996 issue featured stories about discrimination at Texaco Inc. and a story on work force diversity at IBM.

Such stories are important to tell, given the low percentages of minorities in engineering -- less than a quarter, said Dr. Eugene M. DeLoatch, dean of the School of Engineering at Morgan State University. Such low visibility could leave minority students with the impression, "This is not for me," he said.

DeLoatch met Taborn when the publisher was a student at Cornell University, and stayed in touch when Career Communications came to Baltimore 12 years ago. Together, they conceived the conference to involve more minorities in the profession. It has inspired many students to pursue advanced degrees.

"It makes what is typically an isolated, tough curriculum to get through something worth striving for," DeLoatch said.

At a conference in 1992, Melissa A. Young got encouragement and a job.

'It was motivating'

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