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Chief student marshals on mission to increase representation of Black people in tech industry

Tech led the way for nearly 600 Southern University and A&M College graduates on May 13. The Spring Class of 2022 featured two chief student marshals, both with a 4.0 GPA and majoring in computer science. Candace Chatman of Baton Rouge and Rason Irvin of Houston will also begin careers with two of the largest tech companies in the world and hope to encourage other Black students to enter the industry.

“(On some company teams), I’ve only worked with one Black person,” said Irvin, who will be heading to Adobe as a project manager. “I get on calls and I won’t see any Black people but I’m super happy to break in and lead a pathway to help out other students. My biggest goal is to get students to want to work at these companies and secure full-time roles and internships. Just because we don’t see people in these positions that look like us doesn’t mean they aren’t for us.”

Chatman, who will be working for Microsoft as a software engineer, has similar sentiments.

“It’s a fact that there are fewer black females in tech and fewer African-Americans in general,” Chatman said. “Representation is everything. Not being able to see yourself in spaces is part of the reality that keeps people out of spaces, so I knew that I wanted to be a part of that representation for others. Back in high school, to even think of having a job with a big tech company, I felt, was far removed from what I could do just being interested in computer science. I never thought I could end up at a major company, so I made that a goal for myself a long time ago.”

Irvin said his participation in Thurgood Marshall College Fund programming helped him to see more representation in the industry.

“It was a great opportunity to work with TMCF,” Irvin said. “I didn’t realize they have some of the best HBCU students working together to solve real problems in partnership with different companies. I got hooked.”

Like TMCF, other programs available to students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and/or Southern played a big role in the successes of Irvin and Chatman. Both graduates were part of the Top Jag program, a Southern alumni-powered scholarship and mentorship program for high-achieving incoming and current students.

Both graduates also say internships were vital. Chatman was a three-time intern at Microsoft — which subsequently hired her full-time — and Irvin interned with Tesla, Uber, Disney and Apple.

Thanks to online classes offered by Southern, Irvin was able to finish his final semester a year early while completing his internship with Tesla in San Francisco. He also lauded his major for this balance.

“Computer science offers flexibility,” Irvin said. “Anything you can think of, you can make. All you need is a laptop. You literally have the power to create anything you want.”

Chatman, whose parents both attended Southern, said the opportunities she received while at Southern will always influence her.

“My parents suggested I go to Southern because of their experiences there,” she said. “Southern cares about us being professionals and developing greatness and I take pride in knowing that.”