Twenty out of the top 20 business schools listed by "U.S. News and World Report" have an association or club for black business students. Research consistently shows diverse business teams perform better and achieve superior outcomes, so business schools across the country are not only working on strategies to recruit a diverse group of students but also to provide the resources needed to support them. The College of Business at the University of Nevada, Reno is no exception.
In Fall 2018, the College started its first Black Business Student Association to connect black students, or students of African descent, with one another to ensure student success.
For some students, the interest for the club was the result of who was leading it within the College’s administration.
“At first I thought the club announcement was just another email about ‘diversity,’ but then I saw who was behind it and became more interested,” Alexis Reel, a University junior economics major from Reno, Nev. said. “Christine is a great leader, and when I saw her name attached to it, I knew there would be substance. Turnout the first night exceeded my expectations. And, while the fact that this club was going to cater to black College of Business students was a draw, I stayed involved because it offered value.”
Christine Adelaja, an adviser in the College of Business, along with Stallar Lufrano-Jardine, the College's director of career services, co-led the creation of the College’s Black Business Student Association. The idea stemmed from a career services conference the summer of 2018 that Lufrano-Jardine attended. There, a session focused on how best to help disadvantaged populations through college. Presenters remarked on the struggle universities face when trying to help students at a tumultuous time. They said, at many institutions, key administrators struggle to find meaningful ways for diverse populations to feel welcome and comfortable on campus. Realizing her own position of leadership within the College of Business, Lufrano-Jardine immediately found inspiration to help those who are often underrepresented.
“It made complete sense,” Lufrano-Jardine said. “In my role as an administrator, I understand how things work and operate and can support students in creative ways. Why not apply my knowledge and expertise, tied with the services I already provide, to make a meaningful impact for a group of our students?”
The first meeting saw 12 students attend. According to Reel, Lufrano-Jardine and Adelaja verbalized their commitment for the association in that first meeting and showed overwhelming support and involvement throughout the year. They leaned on the students, all founding members of the association, to help shape their mission for the club by taking what they envisioned as administrators and merging it with what the students wanted to accomplish before graduation.
“These students feel empowered through achieving the goals we have set for this club,” Lufrano-Jardine said. “They consistently go above and beyond. After just one year, each of these students has grown stronger and more confident as a result of the support system this club has created.”
On a mission
"This club was created to better connect students who self-identify as black or of African descent to opportunities as College of Business students and graduates. We will offer additional resources such as partnerships, mentorship and service-learning opportunities to enhance community involvement and global leadership." -Black Business Student Association Mission
The Black Business Student Association is open to any student who supports the club’s mission. While additional resources such as partnerships, mentorship and service-learning opportunities are offered, members are given prerequisites, committing themselves to the association through active participation.
Each semester, students develop at least one professional partnership as an ongoing contribution to the club. Members are also required to host a business-related event with oversight from their advisors. According to Adelaja, students must also have a traceable investment in the club with 85% involvement to qualify for service-learning opportunities. Their participation is tracked through the University’s Give Pulse software, an online tracking software for service learning. Students decide which community events to volunteer and participate in and are also required to volunteer and attend already established career events through the College’s Career and Corporate Outreach Center. Additionally, students hold general member club meetings as well as smaller committee meetings.
“Students were excited to attend career and networking events,” Lufrano-Jardine said. “They want to be involved and just needed a nudge from people who support their goals.”
Community and business mentors are an important cornerstone for the College of Business and for the student association which strives to connect students to leaders in other organizations who can be a further resource. One of the key initiatives for the student association was to bring professionals to campus who could support students in the Black Business Student Association. Mentor Mingle was the club’s first official event, and 20 business leaders from the community attended.
“This was astonishing for our first-ever event with only a handful of students in the club,” Lufrano-Jardine said. “Many students made valuable connections. It also helped fuel the students’ excitement for the club and for events it could hold in the future.”
Molly Campau, director of recruiting and training at Reno-based ITS Logistics, was one of the mentors who connected with and supported one of the club’s students, Tianna Madden, a senior Information Systems major from Las Vegas, Nev.
“I met Tianna at another College of Business event, and she invited me to the Black Business Student Association’s Mentor Mingle event,” Campau said. “I learned the intention for this group of students is to connect with any and all business mentors in the community, and I appreciated the significance of the event. I was impressed by the turnout of employers who came to the meeting and would encourage other community employers to participate. It’s a necessary step in the right direction, and I hope it continues to increase diversity in the College and in the workplace.”
When asked about Madden, Campau did not hesitate in her response.
“Her vulnerability really struck me,” Campau said. “She approached me and asked if we could meet for coffee. When we met, I could tell she was nervous, but she asked me very thoughtful questions: ‘What is it like to be a woman in a professional world?’ ‘What hurdles did I overcome?’ as examples. I was really impressed with her initiative.”
After their initial coffee meeting, Campau and Madden met several more times. Campau even invited Madden to one of the divisions of ITS Logistics and gave her a tour of the organization. “I feel a connection to her, and I know she’s hungry to succeed in life. I want to be there for her and help her any way that I can.”
Madden said the Black Business Student Association has helped her feel like what she’s learned in her coursework is applicable and that it continues to reinforce what she’s learned in class. She has also attended a number of Wolf Pack Shadow events, another program of the College of Business, in which students tour area businesses and hear from a variety of alumni and business professionals.
Another mentor participant this last year was Haydeé Acebo-Bermello, manager of global talent acquisition at Charles River. Acebo-Bermello attended the Mentor Mingle and was impressed with the group of students who attended.
“This is clearly a group of go-getters,” Acebo-Bermello said. “I was approached by many students who were eager to meet with me and tell me about what they were doing. The students were very prepared. I spoke with a number of students but distinctly remember one lady in information technologies who clearly knew where she wanted to go, the industry she wanted to work in and she had the confidence to ask questions about how to get there.”
Acebo-Bermello went on to say, “I appreciated the special attention being given to these students. As a minority (I am from Ecuador) in college, I missed out on a lot of things because some students could participate in extra events, while I had to work. I still made time to do extra – just had to work that much harder. I believe events like this offer minority students the platforms they need to get where they want in their careers.”
“It’s important for us to connect students with mentors who can make a difference in these students’ lives,” Lufrano-Jardine said. “It can be demotivating in the business world when you don’t see people you identify with as succeeding. Just like anyone looking to get ahead in business, having a mentor who you can connect with and who can advise you, is invaluable. Students like Tianna, have really seized many of the opportunities within the College, and she’s going to be a strong professional business leader as a result.”
As the Black Business Student Association continues to develop, the goal is to connect each student with business mentors throughout Nevada.
In addition to bringing community business leaders to campus for a networking event, the club has also reached out to other universities to learn about their programs. Students participated in an overnight trip to San Francisco to visit with the Black Unity Center at San Francisco State University.
“At SFSU we engaged in candid conversations about the success of their students of color and how they have grown their graduation rates and resources over the past 10 years,” Adelaja said. “While at SFSU our students also had the honor of viewing one of a few still existing Emancipation Proclamation pamphlets in the Sutro Library. This moment is hard to describe. The pamphlet, although worn and aged, represented the beginning of opportunities for our ancestors who are to thank for where we are now.”
Sommer Broussard, a senior business major from San Francisco, stressed how positive the group has been for her academic career.
“Since joining, I’ve learned helpful networking skills, how to build an online profile and have gained confidence as a business major,” Broussard said.
“Our students are here, each day, trying to make a difference,” Lufrano-Jardine said. “And we need to give them every opportunity possible to meet those goals. They have unbelievable drive and motivation to make the business world a better place."
There are currently 10 student clubs within the University's College of Business. Each club is designed to foster students' professional and academic goals.