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The Importance of Making Connections

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The Importance of Making Connections

Education

The Importance of Making Connections

The Importance of Making Connections

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Getting ahead in life is as much about who you know as what you know. That's why the Thurgood Marshall College fund is changing its game; it gives scholarships to students at America's historically black colleges and universities. But now it also helps them network with top companies across the country, says Dwayne Ashley, president and CEO of the organization.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Getting ahead in life can be as much about who you know as what you know. That's why the Thurgood Marshall College fund is changing its game. The fund gives students at America's historically black colleges and universities scholarships. But now, it also helps them network. They get to hook up with top companies across the country.

Dwayne Ashley is president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College fund. Dwayne, thanks for coming on.

Mr. DWAYNE ASHLEY (President and CEO, Thurgood Marshall College Fund): How are you?

CHIDEYA: I'm doing great. So how important are contacts when it comes to leaving school and getting a job?

Mr. ASHLEY: Well, it's extremely important. I mean, we've learned over the last 20 years that scholarships alone are not enough to insure that young people have the opportunity to compete for those jobs because at the end of the day, when students have, you know, paid for that education, they want a job. And so you need to have contacts of people that can help you onboard into your career start.

CHIDEYA: Now, how do you think African-American graduates, generally, are doing in the department of networking?

Mr. ASHLEY: Well, they're doing well. The challenge is, is that a lot of these companies and government agencies don't recruit as historically black colleges and universities. I don't think that that has anything to do with the fact that they don't think the schools are producing quality graduates but it's budgetary reasons often.

And so our program now brings those students together where companies can access the talent at one place. And so when you've expended your budget, you can come to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and we'll hook you up with more than 235,000 bright, talented, young men and women, who are just seeking opportunities.

CHIDEYA: So, what kind of companies have stepped up and are helping you really find the next generation of great talent?

Mr. ASHLEY: You've got retail management companies, Wall Street firms, banks. You've got government agencies that are working with us. I mean, we have a number of companies that represent various sectors that are looking for talent. So we think that this is a broad scope program that's going to appeal to every major employer who's dealing with succession planning, dealing with the fact that a large push of the baby boomer generation is going to be retiring and they're looking to replace that talent.

CHIDEYA: You also work on retention. And it's really the case that a lot of people go in with the best of intentions to big companies and, for cultural reasons or family reasons or other reasons, they say this isn't for me. How do you really make it clear to people the choices that they have in deciding to stay at a big company or maybe reframing their decisions about work?

Mr. ASHLEY: Well, what's really unique about our program is the selection process. We really do a lot of pre-interviewing, making sure that we understand where the students' strengths are. The Gallup organization works very closely with us to do the strength finders so students can understand - you know, are my real strengths in being an engineer or might it be better if go into a career in communications?

By doing a lot of the pre-counseling, the pre-screening, helping the students understand what kind of corporate or workplace culture they would best succeed in, that's where you get to the retention issue. If a young person understands the best environment to succeed in, they're going to onboard into that environment and have the chances for a much better career success than if they didn't do the pre-work in advance.

CHIDEYA: Now, what about the big company versus the entrepreneurial spirit? There have been many African Americans, and in recent years, many black women particularly, who started their own businesses. A lot of those businesses, however, don't grow very large. So do you see yourself in opposition to the idea of entrepreneurship or do you see yourself in conjunction with it and why?

Mr. ASHLEY: Yeah. We complemented a number of our students interested in going into their own businesses. In fact, at our leadership institute we have a track that's focused on entrepreneurship for those young men and women who really want to look at starting their own businesses. We believe that the skills that we're teaching are transferable to whether you're going to be an entrepreneur, whether you're going to do in graduate school or whether you're going to start your career immediately. Our goal is to make sure that we compliment and augment what the universities are doing to help those young men and women be better prepared to enter into the workforce.

CHIDEYA: So when you look at people who've gone through your program, what do you see?

Mr. ASHLEY: We see talented young men and women, who have an average GPA of 3.58. To go into this program, you must have a 3.0 GPA. You must have proven leadership skills. You must have good communications and presentation skills. And if you're lacking in those areas, we work with you to get you prepared on to on-board with those skills into the workplace. But we see young men and women who are ready, who are determined, who are passionate about what they want to do. They really do embody the legacy of Thurgood Marshall himself. They know what they want to do. They just need the opportunities.

CHIDEYA: What's the best story you've ever heard about someone who's taken advantage in what you do and then made it into their life?

Mr. ASHLEY: Well, there's a young man from Mississippi. He attended Mississippi Valley State University and was one of the first in his families to attend college and to graduate from college. He came to our leadership institute, secured an internship, worked at the company for two summers and on-boarded with that company after graduation. He then relocated his entire family to Connecticut to live where the company is based and be there with him. And so, it changed their whole economic status. And now, he's thriving. He's doing extremely well. And he credits the experiences that he had with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund that prepared him to on-board into that company, to develop those networks, to develop mentorships. And now, he's going back and helping to teach those same lessons to other students.

CHIDEYA: Well, Dwayne, thanks so much.

Mr. ASHLEY: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Dwayne Ashley is the president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. They're linking HBCU students with Fortune 500 companies.

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