Since 2015, Intel\u2019s Native Coders initiative has provided pathways to computer science for hundreds of Native American high school students through a culturally sensitive curriculum that bridges cutting-edge technology and endangered traditions.\nThe initiative began as part of Intel\u2019s broader goal to achieve full representation of women and underrepresented minorities in its U.S. workforce by 2020 \u2013 which the chip maker achieved last October, two years ahead of schedule. That means that the percentage of women and underrepresented minorities matches the talent pool available for skilled workers in the U.S, according to Intel.\nNative Coders launched in 2015 in the Navajo Nation in Arizona at three Navajo high schools. A computer science curriculum was added to the schools\u2019 coursework, and Intel funded the addition of computer science educators and a full computer lab at each site, says Jolene Begay, an engineering technician at Intel who played an integral role in developing the Native Coders program.\n[ Find out how organizations are building the next generation of IT leaders. | Learn what it takes to retain top employees. | Get the latest CIO insights direct, with our CIO Daily newsletter. ]\nBegay herself is Navajo and grew up on a reservation. She knew from the beginning there would be unique challenges bridging the gaps between corporate culture and Navajo culture.\n\u201cThe Native Coders initiative is very special to me because I\u2019m from that tribe, and technology and Intel have played a huge role in my career. Growing up, I didn\u2019t come from a family of engineers, and I didn\u2019t have that exposure to the field \u2013 I wanted to be involved in this because I wanted to develop a pathway for others into this industry,\u201d Begay says. \u201cBecause of our history, we\u2019re very protective of our culture, so bringing a big corporation onto the reservation was a huge hurdle. I went, first, to speak to the tribal leaders and talked about the positives and the opportunities available, and because it was brought from someone in the community, it was more easily acceptable.\u201d\nCombining tech skills with Navajo culture\nNavajo culture is based around family and community and preserving that cultural identity, Begay says, but Navajo culture and technology don\u2019t have to be mutually exclusive.\n\u201cA career in computer science offers opportunities to both stay at home and preserve culture while making an impact on the larger world \u2013 for these kids, if they have a laptop and the internet, they can be entrepreneurs, they can work remotely, they can help to expand access and opportunities to others in their community,\u201d she says.\nIn addition to leveraging Begay\u2019s connections with Navajo tribal leaders, Intel approached development, strategy and launch of the program differently by partnering with other organizations such as American Indian Science and Education Society (AISES) and aligning curriculum and strategy with the White House CS4All initiative in 2016, says Rhonda James, senior program manager and head of global diversity and inclusion programs at Intel.\n\u201cWe didn\u2019t want to do what companies typically do, where we build the strategy, create products and programs, and then onboard everyone else \u2013 the top-down approach,\u201d James says. \u201cWe wanted to involve the community from the very beginning and hear from them about their challenges and opportunities, so we held a \u2018convening.\u2019 We had tribal leaders, non-profits focused on Native Americans; we had students, Intel employees \u2013 all sorts of people \u2013 come together to talk about the issues and opportunities and what\u2019s next. We brought in AISES, which has an existing curriculum that we integrated and that meets Arizona state educational codes, we brought in the National Center for Women in Technology (NCWIT), and together with all these partners and all this feedback, we created this program.\u201d\nThe program includes general, standardized curriculum that all students can relate to, but is also highly customizable for different tribal needs, James says. For example, Navajo students can use their technology skills to design weaving patterns and learn how technology can impact design and color process for traditional textiles, says Begay.\n\u201cWeaving is very traditional in our culture. Creating the patterns, dying and spinning the wool \u2013 many of these aspects of creating textiles have traditional cultural processes and meaning. But showing students how math, engineering, [and] computer science can be leveraged in these traditional arts is building a bridge between our traditions and future innovation,\u201d Begay says.\nWith 573 tribal communities within the U.S., the curriculum developed for the Native Coders initiative can be customized so that all native communities can align their traditions and cultures with STEM, Begay says, and find new ways to integrate the two.\nThe program is now entering its fourth year, and 2019 will see the Native Coders\u2019 initiatives first graduates this spring, says Begay.\n\u201cWhen we first kicked off, we opened up the program only to high school freshman, so we haven\u2019t yet had a class go through the full three-year program. This year will be our first! We will then have 439 students who\u2019ve completed this program,\u201d she says.\nIn addition, Intel has launched a $1.37 million scholarship program for Native American students to pursue their undergraduate and graduate degrees in a STEM field, says James, and Intel\u2019s leadership has been touting the program to other industry partners.\n\u201cWe\u2019ve been encouraging other partners and colleagues in the industry to pursue initiatives like this, but the challenge is in the numbers,\u201d James says. \u201cThe representation of Native Americans in STEM is less than 1 percent \u2013 what we hear a lot is, \u2018Oh, we\u2019ll do a low-touch model because the numbers are so small,\u2019 or \u2018Well, we don\u2019t have any Native Americans at our company.\u2019 But regardless of those numbers, this is a valid and valued program, and we want these communities to know that we value them and want to see greater representation! If a company doesn\u2019t have that representation, that isn\u2019t a reason to ignore certain groups \u2013 that\u2019s a challenge and an opportunity,\u201d James says.