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From the Classroom to the Boardroom

by Michelle J. Nealy

Dwayne Ashley, president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), is an unruffled perfectionist who is never satisfied with the status quo. When a challenge presents itself, Ashley eagerly seeks out a solution. His motto: find a way or make one.

When Ashley discovered that corporate America was not recruiting students at historically Black college and universities as aggressively as students enrolled in traditionally White institutions, instinctively, he sought a solution. Determined to pipeline public HBCU students from classrooms to boardrooms, he launched the Thurgood Marshall HBCU Talent Sourcing Program in January.

“From our most recent study, we know that Fortune 400 companies and government agencies, for budgetary reasons, are not recruiting students from HBCUs as aggressively as they should. We are bringing the best and the brightest students from our 47 institutions to them. When they have expended their budgets, they can access 235,000 men and women seeking opportunity through our database,” he says.

While there are other organizations that provide companies with minority résumé databases, TMCF is the only organization that hand-selects and pre-screens the students in their sourcing databases prior to making them available to hiring firms. Only candidates whose skills keenly match a company’s requirements are then recommended.

“We are not just a database service. We actually go to the campuses and recruit. That makes all the difference. We are meeting students where they are and conducting face-to-face interviews. There is no other program like this in the country,” Ashley says.

To be considered for TMCF’s HBCU Talent Sourcing Program, students must have a recommendation from a college counselor and a minimum 3.0 GPA. Recruits usually exceed these requirements, and the average GPA is 3.48, according to TMCF’s Web site. Thurgood Marshall recruits are advised to carry an air of professionalism everywhere they go. For Thurgood Marshall internships and conferences, a dress code of business attire is strictly enforced. Students are also asked to refrain from wearing braids.

“Our recruits have strong leadership and communication skills. They are bright and assertive as well as active on their campuses and in their communities. Our partners are always very pleased,” says Ashley.

Companies such as Aetna, Ford, Bank of America and the Tom Joyner Foundation partnered with TMCF to find top-notch minority talent like 22-year-old Ayodeji Olojo, director of marketing for the health care practice of the Gallup Organization.

Olojo, a recent graduate of Tennessee State University, credits Thurgood Marshall’s program for much of his success. He was hired by the Gallup Organization, a management consulting firm, during the fall semester of his senior year. Olojo contends that Thurgood Marshall and its talent- sourcing program shifted the direction of his professional life.

Prior to his relationship with Thurgood Marshall, Olojo, an electronic business major, planned to pursue a career in supply- chain management. But in a surprise twist of fate, Olojo found himself immersed in the complex world of health care. Now Olojo is about the business of saving lives.

“By working with Thurgood Marshall and their HBCU Talent Sourcing Program, I saw that there was a world of opportunity within health care that I never knew existed. Supply-chain management didn’t fit my personality. I would be miserable working in a factory,” says Olojo, who is responsible for increasing the brand name of Gallup within the health care industry. “Thurgood Marshall linked me with an organization whose vision matched mine. I’m passionate about people and passionate about saving lives.”

Career counselors at TMCF hope that the preliminary evaluations will lead to high retention rates among their recruits. Although the program is still in its infancy, TMCF officials expect positive outcomes. In nearly a year of existence, the program has built partnerships with 69 companies.

“Thurgood Marshall only looks for the very best students in a university, and the expectation for those students is always excellence,” Olojo says. “Excellence in everything you do and excellence in everything that you touch. Not only am I representing my family and myself, but I am also representing Thurgood Marshall. Therefore, I carry that expectation of excellence to my workplace everyday.”

 

Diversity: A Work in Progress

Diversity in corporate America is still a work in progress. Currently, minorities and women make up less than 30 percent of the total corporate workforce, and their retention rates are lower than White men.

According to a study conducted by the Attrition and Retention Consortium, a firm that analyzes the quitting patterns of women and minorities, quit rate predictions for Whites was 3.73 percent, as compared to 4.79 percent for Blacks and 4.79 percent for Hispanics. The quit rate for minority men was 4.07 percent, and for minority women, 5.42 percent.

Caroline Gundeck, executive director for Morgan Stanley’s Global Wealth Management Group, was particularly impressed by the analytical skills of the Thurgood Marshall recruits that participated in Morgan Stanley’s national sales internship program.

“Because of our partnership with Thurgood Marshall, we were able to source terrific candidates. These kids were rock stars. They were able to grasp the projects that we assigned and come up with innovative solutions to the challenges they faced,” says Gundeck, who offered three of the Thurgood Marshall recruits permanent positions with Morgan Stanley. “The work that they were able to complete in nine weeks really had an impact on our business.” Morgan Stanley hopes to strengthen its commitment to diversity through its thriving partnership with Thurgood Marshall.

“To us at Morgan Stanley, maintaining a racially diverse work force is very important. We want to be sure that our staff reflects the communities we serve. We plan to use Thurgood Marshall’s database in the future,” says Gundeck.

For many firms, recruiting can be an expensive and time-consuming process. Visiting a large number of job fairs on numerous college campuses can put a strain on company recruiting budgets.

image5:left***Thurgood Marshall’s recent study on the recruiting habits of Fortune 400 companies and government agencies revealed that 32 percent of Fortune 400 companies and government agencies did not visit any college campus last year, and only 20 percent made 11 to 20 campus visits. These recruiters usually visited the top 10 liberal arts schools in the country but not the smaller, more rural HBCUs.

Ashley insists that the HBCU Talent Sourcing Program benefits firms by relieving them of financial and time constraints. Gundeck agrees.

“Thurgood Marshall was able to vet the résumés of students from across the country for us, saving us a lot of time. This allowed us to focus more on the students really interested in financial services,” she says.

In addition to the Talent Sourcing Program, Thurgood Marshall has linked dozens of high-performing HBCU students with corporate firms and government agencies through its annual leadership institute. Now in its seventh year, Thurgood Marshall continues to bring the top 600 recruits from their institutions to one location for a weekend of career development and networking opportunities.

Students accepted into the institute receive résumé critiquing, leadership training, insight on navigating the corporate maze and access to high-level executives and corporate recruiters. Since its inception, the institute has graduated 1,500 students.

“We learned from 80 percent of the conference attendees that they were better prepared for the work force after having attended the conference,” Ashley says.

As an undergraduate student at Tennessee State University, William Busch recognized the significance of networking. He knew the relationships he formed in college would prove pivotal to his success as a professional.

 “Before I formed a relationship with Thurgood Marshall, I had access to a few important people; however, that was tremendously amplified by Thurgood Marshall. I was able to dialogue with the likes of (sports columnist) Stephen A. Smith and others on a very elite platform,” says Busch, an associate consultant with the Gallup Organization.

Charged with maintaining new and existing relationships for Gallup, Busch is excited about his current job and other business opportunities that await him. He hopes that other students will benefit as much as he has from a relationship with Thurgood Marshall.

“I am a huge fan of Thurgood Marshall’s talent sourcing recruiting initiative,” he says. “Talent doesn’t have a color. It is simply one’s innate ability to do one or many things especially well. The fact that one’s talent can be measured, highlighted and marketed to result in opportunity is very appealing.

–Michelle J. Nealy

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