It’s no secret that the technology industry has a diversity problem. Reports from major companies indicate that underrepresented minorities make up less than 5% of the tech workforce overall, and as little as 2% at larger tech companies. Even when efforts are made to diversify the talent pipeline by providing outreach programs to students of color, the focus is often only on teaching coding, creating a conundrum for diversity efforts in the field of user experience (UX) design.
UX design is the process of creating products that provide meaningful and relevant experiences to users, which includes both digital experiences (like the functionality of a website or an app) as well as physical, in-person experiences (like the navigability of a retail store or SEPTA fare kiosk). Kyree Holmes, a UX Researcher and graduate of Howard University’s School of Business and Carnegie Mellon’s School of Design, recognized the need to expose students of color to UX and decided to do something about it.
“I stumbled across this career path by accident. There was no one to introduce me to it, which is not surprising considering black people make up only a small percentage of tech industry workers,” Holmes said. “I wanted to see more people who looked like me working in fulfilling careers in the UX field.”
In 2016, Holmes launched Onyx Valley through the Institute of Hip Hop Entrepreneurship’s startup incubator program. Onyx Valley is a community building venture that offers recruiting and consulting services to tech companies and organizations with UX needs that are interested in attracting and retaining diverse talent. Since its launch, Onyx Valley has hosted workshops and engagement events for students to learn about careers in the tech industry, providing them with networking opportunities and hands-on experiences in design, coding, prototyping, project management, and executive presenting.
Onyx Valley focuses on culturally themed programming to encourage students to view their minority status as a strength. “Last year's portfolio program was framed around the theme ‘Designing for Safe Spaces,’ inspired by the events that had just occurred at a Philadelphia Starbucks around the same time. Students were able to draw from their own experiences and participate, which made learning key design principles less daunting because they learned in the context of subject matter that was already familiar to them,” said Holmes.
Holmes wanted to extend the reach of Onyx Valley, which helps match students with internship opportunities, by partnering with universities. “The first part of getting a more representative UX field is making sure everyone knows about it in the first place. The university chapters were created to give students a sneak peek into all of Onyx Valley’s offerings,” said Holmes. So far, the group has chapters at Dickinson College, Drexel University, and Temple University.
The Drexel University chapter of Onyx Valley (DUOV) will be led this year by the club's president Jason Ngov (Computer Science, ‘23). DUOV’s executive board is comprised of students and alumni from the College of Computing & Informatics (CCI), LeBow, and Westphal. Ngov, who is a self-described “developer at heart” was first introduced to Onyx Valley by his friend Su Hnin Pwint, who graduated in June with her degree in Interactive Digital Media.
“[Pwint] was getting ready to graduate and she was a campus ambassador for Onyx Valley. She asked me to help her co-found the club, and even though I wasn’t totally sure what user experience was at the time, I said ‘sure, why not?’ What I’ve realized in the process of getting this club up and running is that user experience design is essential not only in technology but in other areas of life as well. These UX practices transcend technology, so in addition to recruiting students of color, we also want students from all sorts of disciplines and majors to join our group,” said Ngov.
“We invest heavily in our students and expect the same level of commitment back,” explained Holmes. “We'll be looking at students who are actively involved with their student chapters to share our advanced opportunities with. Throughout the school year DUOV will be hosting its own events, but also be on the lookout for official Onyx Valley sponsored events as well.”
Students interested in joining DUOV can attend their first event of the academic year, a walking tour of Philadelphia exploring its rich history and mural arts program, on Friday, September 20 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. RSVP here to reserve your spot.
If you’d like to learn more about Onyx Valley’s mission and upcoming events, visit www.onyxvalley.com. To keep up with the Drexel University chapter of Onyx Valley, you can find them on Facebook, Instagram, and DragonLink.
If you're interested in studying UX, CCI offers a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and UX, as well as our new MS in Information with a concentration in HCI/UX.