HBCUs to launch ‘game-changing’ Propel Center in fall

The hub for innovation and technology, which will operate virtually and at a campus in Atlanta, will serve students from all of their locations.
By: | January 13, 2021
An architectural rendering of the Propel Center, a new digital learning hub, business incubator, and global innovation headquarters for HBCUs.

Game-changing. Equitable. Monumental.

Those were the words of college and business leaders reacting to Wednesday’s historic announcement of the Propel Center in Atlanta, a multimillion-dollar global hub of innovation that will serve students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU).

Designed by nonprofit Ed Farm and with the help of partnerships from businesses such as Apple and Southern Company, which contributed $25 million apiece, the launch of this jaw-dropping digital campus in Atlanta will give HBCUs the opportunity to provide pioneering curriculum and career development to students – both virtually and within the Propel complex.

Its primary emphasis will be on social justice and equity.

“Propel represents the most inclusive, game-changing and collaborative partnership that I have witnessed within my 17 years as both college and university president,” said George T. French Jr., president of Clark Atlanta University. “Propel will provide HBCU student-scholars across the country access to cutting-edge technology, resources, and programming to be globally competitive across multidisciplinary disciplines and career trajectories.”

This gateway of learning is expected to begin this fall online, with the physical campus completed shortly thereafter. The main building is an architectural marvel, an elevated freestanding and long rectangular structure with glass façade. All told, there will be 50,000 square feet available for “learning labs, lecture halls, and on-site living for a scholars-in-residence program.”

From artificial intelligence and machine learning to entrepreneurship and design, this multipurpose venue promises to connect students from the 100-plus HBCUs like no other effort has, bringing with it opportunities and advancement potential that have been out of reach in the past.

“Tech jobs offer lucrative salaries and among the best opportunities for growth, yet the workforce in the nation’s top firms still does not reflect the country’s diverse population,” said Dr. David A. Thomas, president of Morehouse College. “Black and Hispanic professionals continue to be underrepresented in STEM careers. What students need are more opportunities at the college level to show and grow their skills in coding, programming, and data analysis in partnership with industry leaders.”

To that end, and as a part of the commitment to students, part of the financial donations made by Southern Company and others will help provide scholarships and internships, as well as training through several HBCUs.

“These investments are critical as we begin to truly scale Black innovation ecosystems,” said Anthony Oni, chairman of Ed Farm, which was created by Southern Company and Apple to advance innovation strategies and improve outcomes for underserved students. “By leveraging technology and partnerships to connect students with unique learning opportunities, we can lift up the talent that already exists at these institutions of higher learning and accelerate their development. In doing so, we will have a hand in shaping the workforce of the future — and the leaders of tomorrow.”

The campus – which will be part of the Atlanta University Center that includes Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Morehouse School of Medicine, Morris Brown, and Spelman College – promises to be a destination for future executives and entrepreneurs to gain critical knowledge from thought leaders, speakers and others within the HBCU system, as well as a hub to meet with experts from around the world.

“The HBCU community is a tremendous engine of Black creativity, entrepreneurship, and inclusive opportunity,” said Lisa Jackson, Apple’s Vice President of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives. “We are thrilled to join with partners and community stakeholders to support the Propel Center and be part of this groundbreaking new global hub for HBCU innovation and learning.”