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Wired for the Cause

by Black Issues

Wired for the Cause

As a youngster growing up in Boston, Dr. Bryant York experienced firsthand the educational benefits of the math and science push by the United States in the aftermath of the 1957 launching of the Soviet satellite Sputnik. One of the few Black junior high and high school students to be enrolled in the prestigious Boston Latin School during the late 1950s, York got the opportunity to take supplementary math courses during summers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
As a professor and research director in the computer science department at Portland State University (PSU) in Oregon, York has not forgotten the impact that the special academic attention had on him. The fact that he grew up poor in a tight-knit family within a supportive Black community has kept him wedded to a strong commitment to helping disadvantaged minorities succeed in math and science.
“I cannot remember when I didn’t think that helping people was important,” York says.
A co-founder and research director of the Institute for African American E-Culture, York has worked closely with Dr. Roscoe Giles of Boston University, initially as departmental colleagues at BU and as a collaborator in projects to expand African American participation in technology. York has held faculty positions at Boston University and Northeastern University.
At Portland State, York specializes in developing algorithms and codes for computing applications in signal and image processing as well as in crystallography and spectroscopy.  He also focuses on using geometric algebra to solve problems in graph theory. York, who is in his first year at Portland State, expects to collaborate with officials in the Portland city school system on developing software tutorial programs in high school mathematics that will work on wireless computing devices. 
“PSU has an African American president, Dan Bernstine. This means that there is someone at the top of the institution with more than a passing familiarity with the issues. PSU also has a very active Graduate School of Education and the nation’s oldest continuously active School of Urban Studies and Planning, which provide extensive opportunities for collaboration and connection with national IAAEC projects,” he says.
A stint at the National Science Foundation in the early 1990s proved instrumental in getting York to focus on digital divide issues. While he says that the “digital divide is just the most recent manifestation of the economic and educational divides that have existed for years,” the issue “began to seriously matter to me back in 1990 while I was at NSF.
“I ran a computer contest at the Benjamin Banneker High School in Washington, D.C., and around the same time I had occasion to visit Thomas Jefferson High School (in Fairfax County, Va.). The difference in facilities was astounding. Thomas Jefferson had a supercomputer, advanced workstations and labs donated by AT&T, Hewlett Packard, IBM and others. Banneker had a small number of archaic PCs,” York notes.
York says it’s critical to “fight now to develop a generation of people who believe in African American creation and ownership of technology” before low expectations become ingrained in how Blacks see technology.
— By Ronald Roach

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