By Edward Cardenas

DETROIT (CBS Detroit) – Professionals and students gathered Tuesday to discuss ways to enhance and improve the pipeline of minority candidates to fill openings in STEM, and inspire the next generation of technology innovators.

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The Lunch With Leaders Think Tank at MGM Grand Hotel took time to celebrate and discuss programs across the country which are introducing technology to children and offering programs for the community.

Van Jones, moderator of the event, said technology “is the future” and the children of today have it in their hands. But they need to do more than be users of technology.

“They are just downloading,” said Van Jones, a CNN correspondent and co-founder of #YesWeCode who was moderator of the event. “They are not uploading. Once you teach these kids how to be uploaders of their own apps and  their own technology and not just downloaders you will have a completely different country.”

The Lunch With Leaders Think Tank at MGM Grand is part a full-day of activities surrounding the Ford Freedom Award dinner Tuesday night. The Ford Freedom Award, which started in 1999 between Ford and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, celebrates and recognizes individuals bringing “lasting and positive” change for the African Americans and the world.

Attendees at the lunch heard from leaders in technology, education and manufacturing from areas around the country including Silicon Valley, New Orleans to Detroit.

Nearly 100 people heard about STEM NOLA, which has introduced 2,400 inner city students in New Orleans to STEM on Saturday and has grown to attracting suburban students.

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Chioke Mose-Telesford, from Grand Circus, shared how Grand Circus in Detroit is running coding boot camps for adults and inspiring teenagers to careers in STEM.

“Days like this really allow us to take a step back and share best practices and really figure out how we can move forward and maybe get more diversity in tech,” said Moses.

Ken Washington, Vice President, Research and Advanced Engineering, Ford Motor Company, stated that getting kids excited in STEM programs “doesn’t happen by accident,” but by being engaged and proactive.

He added Ford, and other companies that utilize technology, are seeking job candidates in five areas:

  • Electronics, mechatronics and miniaturization,
  • Connectivity,
  • Autonomy and robotics,
  • Big data,
  • Cyber security,

“I can’t find enough people in those five areas,” he stated.

The Ford Freedom Award dinner will honor late inventor Elijah McCoy; CODE2040 founder Laura Weidman Powers; and Lotus 1-2-3 developer Mitch Kapor and his wife, Freada Kapor Klein, social activist.

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This report was updated at 5:18 p.m. Wednesday.