Atlanta Will Be Home To A New Global Innovation and Learning Hub for HBCUs

A New Global Innovation and Learning Hub for HBCU

Atlanta is the designated home of the Propel Center, a soon-to-be-built physical and virtual campus that will support innovative learning and development for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) nationwide.

Designed by Ed Farm, an education initiative in Alabama that aims to increase educational equity, improve learning outcomes through technology, and prepare the future tech workforce, and launched with Southern Company and Apple Inc. as founding partners, the multimillion-dollar Propel Center is envisioned as a digital learning hub, business incubator, and global innovation headquarters for students of the more-than 100 HBCUs.

Apple and the Southern Company Foundation contributed $25 million each to establish the campus.

“These investments are critical as we begin to truly scale Black innovation ecosystems,” said Ed Farm Chairman Anthony Oni. “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.”

HBCU students will access Propel Center’s online digital learning platform from anywhere, and will also have access to the 50,000 square-foot Propel Center headquarters, equipped with state-of-the-art lecture halls, learning labs, and on-site living for a scholars-in-residence program.

The physical campus will be located at the Atlanta University Center, a consortium of HBCUs comprising Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Morehouse School of Medicine, Morris Brown, and Spelman College. Curriculum options will include artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, agricultural technologies, social justice, entertainment arts, app development, augmented reality, design and creativity, career preparation, and entrepreneurship tracks.

“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,” said George T. French Jr., Clark Atlanta president and chair of the Atlanta University Center Consortium Council of Presidents.

A partner in the Propel Center initiative, Clark Atlanta is the largest of the four HBCU institutions – including Morehouse, Spelman, and Morehouse School of Medicine – that comprise the Atlanta University Center consortium.

“We know inequities exist in our society, and it’s up to each of us to be more intentional in our efforts to make a difference and bridge the gap,” said Tom A. Fanning, chairman, president and CEO of Southern Company. He added, “more must be done,” and noted that his company’s involvement in the new center demonstrates its commitment to move “communities to a more equitable future.”

In 2020, Southern Company and its subsidiaries (including Georgia Power) committed $50 million to provide scholarships, internships, leadership development, and access to technology and innovation to support career readiness for students attending HBCUs located in the company’s service areas: Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Southern will serve as the energy partner for the construction of the Propel Center building, with the goal to make it sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Speaking for Apple, Lisa Jackson, Apple’s Vice President of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives, acknowledged the HBCU community as “a tremendous engine of Black creativity, entrepreneurship, and inclusive opportunity.”

Yet, Black and Latino college students transfer or drop out of STEM programs — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — at higher rates than their white peers, according to a study published in the journal Education Researcher.

“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,” said David A. Thomas Ph.D., president of Morehouse College.

The hope is that the Propel Center will go a long way toward fulfilling that need.