Real Help For Real World Problems

The Ford HBCU Community Challenge helps students address local sustainability issues.

By Benjamin Perry

Rich in history and steeped in tradition, historically black colleges and universities are institutions of higher education in the United States that were established to enrich the total being of the African American student: mind, body and spirit. For the last four years Ford Motor Company, has supported this aim through the Ford HBCU Community Challenge alongside the company’s philanthropic arm, Ford Fund.

"Ford's commitment to education at HBCU's helps to enable and empower students by increasing college accessibility and opportunity, and addresses affordability through our scholarships, awards and other learning opportunities," said Pamela Alexander, director, community development, Ford Motor Company Fund.

Ford solicits proposals from teams of students at HBCUs around the country and tasks them with designing a project that addresses critical needs in their community. Each team joins forces with a local non-profit community partner to develop a proposal to further their initiative. “We’ve seen some really innovative ideas that range from mobility to alternative energy,” notes Raj Register, multicultural communications manager, Ford, “all based on the program theme of ‘Building Sustainable Communities’.”

Ford brings the top three teams to Dearborn, Mich., where they present their ideas to a panel of Ford executives, who also serve as subject-matter experts and mentors. The winning team walks away with an impressive $75,000 in scholarships—but the other two teams don’t leave empty-handed either. “The second and third place [teams] also receive implementation funds for their community,” explains Register.

Each year, the finalists bring creativity and passion to the program. Last year’s winning team, from Prairie View A&M University, partnered with Habitat for Humanity to develop an app that enables homeowners in Prairie View, Texas, to monitor water and energy use in real-time, helping them reduce consumption and save money. The second-place team, from Hampton University, created a program that tracks sea levels in low-lying Virginia communities at risk for flooding. Meanwhile, the third-place team from Johnson C. Smith University devised a project that raises freshwater fish for consumption in local North Carolina homes.

Through the program, Ford hopes to foster a spirit of innovation and civic-mindedness. Alexander is proud that the challenge encourages students to think about how they can support their communities.

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