Facebook is most commonly known as a place for people to connect with current friends or re-connect with friends from their past. In recent years, Facebook has also played a major role in politics, with President Donald Trump’s campaign going so far as to hire a Facebook employee to work on the campaign staff.

In addition to these roles, Facebook is hoping to play a major role in the nation’s education initiatives through a program called TechStart. A Facebook TechStart employee discussed education as the key to success Wednesday at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff as part of the company’s tech takeover roadshow. The event served kindergarten to 12th-grade students and took place in the STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] Academy. The students heard from TechStart employees and other professionals.

According to a statement released by Facebook about TechStart, “We believe that connecting (students) of any background to the field of computer science can lead to great opportunities. An early and engaging introduction has the potential to open academic and professional pathways for any student.

“That is why TechStart encourages our students to further explore this important field. Through approachable computer science experiences and projects that employ modern technologies, we strive to inspire, educate and celebrate the future leaders of our world.”

Lusmaia Diaz, a program manager at Facebook TechStart, shared her personal story at the recent UAPB event. Born in the Dominican Republic, she immigrated to the United States with her parents and sister and settled in New York City at age three.

“My parents left the Dominican Republic to have a better future for me and my sister,” Diaz said. “They left their community, they did not speak English, they left pretty much everything they know. Twenty-seven years later, I am working at Facebook, one of the biggest companies in our world. How does that happen? … There is one thing that my parents focused on and it starts with the letter ‘e’: education.”

Her parents worked multiple jobs in the United States, adapted to American culture, and learned English. Diaz credited her parents for installing the value of education as they settled into their new nation.

“I think education can change everyone’s life, regardless if you come from a dictatorship. That’s where we came from in the islands,” Diaz said. ” … How does this relate to Tech Start?”

Diaz discussed education as the keys to succeeding in life. Founded by Harvard University sophomore Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook has about two billion people using its social networking site. Diaz said that Zuckerberg’s mission is to use the company to bring people closer to each other.

“We know that all of you are the future,” Diaz said looking at the hundreds of students. “Focus on education. You guys will be running the show. Facebook wants to leverage the beautiful funds they have to get to where Mark did and where many of us did.”

Diaz discussed Facebook’s expansion that include sharing pictures, videos, and virtual reality. She said that these technologies correlate to students engaging in project-based learning and that the future has arrived.

“We are trying to expose you to technology that is going to be the future,” Diaz said.

Students were given tasks such as arranging themselves in order of height and in order by their birthdays. They were prohibited from talking while doing these tasks. Professional engineer Michael Gunter is a consultant with Highland Pellets. He told students to determine their academic interests with a vision of pursuing a professional career.

“The answer is always no unless you ask,” Gunter said. “This is all about getting your toolkit built and to demonstrate to an employer that you can solve problems and make them money. That’s what this is all about.”

Gunter told students to contact local industries and inquire about their occupational needs, to find a boss who will teach, to accept constructive criticism with grace, and to push oneself to the limits of one’s skill set.

“[Bosses] can be the biggest mentors in your life,” Gunter said. “While you are in college, who are your mentors? Teachers. Those are the people who will help you get a job so cultivate them as a reference.”

“Technology changes quickly,” Gunter said. “You need to understand that where you are going and what you are going into. This career field will cause everything you are learning today to be obsolete. You will have to rinse and repeat.”