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Georgia Tech Markets Educational Opportunities In Order To Boost Minority Graduate Enrollment

Robert Haley wants to be clear about one thing. The Georgia Tech administrator says he is a marketer — a marketer of graduate education opportunities for minority students.

“I’m not in recruiting,” says Haley, assistant to Georgia Tech President Wayne Clough. “Marketing is a skill and marketing is expensive. And I’m marketing graduate education.”

The former IBM sales professional’s approach has been a success so far. The Atlanta school leads the nation in granting engineering master’s degrees to African-Americans and shares third place for awarding the most engineering doctoral degrees to Black students, according to Diverse’s Top 100.

Haley has been at the forefront of Georgia Tech’s efforts to attract minority graduate students, particularly with the FOCUS conference, which began Thursday and culminates on Monday’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The FOCUS conference, the 16th annual event created and headed by Haley, will bring nearly 200 of the nation’s brightest Black students from nearly 100 institutions across the country to Georgia Tech for an intensive introduction to one of the nation’s most highly-regarded higher education institutions.

Since Haley created it in 1991, the program has brought nearly 3,000 students onto the Georgia Tech campus, many of whom decide to attend Tech.

But for Haley, it’s not just about getting students to think about coming to Georgia Tech. It’s about providing an educational opportunity.

“There’s a quote by Horace Mann,” Haley says. “Education beyond all other devices of human origin is the great equalizer. That’s what motivates me. That’s what drives me.”

Haley grew up in the hard-working, blue-collar environment of the West Virginia coal mines. But his mother was an educator who held a Ph.D.

“So I was motivated and just determined to succeed by her to be all I can be,” he says. She sent her son to a Catholic military school where Haley did well enough to get a chance to go to Duquesne University.

He followed that with a successful 28-year sales career with IBM. But one day he decided he had a higher calling.

“I said to myself, ‘What are they going to say about me when I’m gone? What is going to be my legacy?’” he recalls.

Haley left IBM and went to Georgia Tech to help the school boost its minority student population — a tall task in Atlanta, a school that’s home to historically Black institutions like Morehouse and Spelman colleges and is only 45 minutes away from the state’s land grant university, the University of Georgia. He decided to use what seemed like competition to his advantage.

“I’m in Atlanta, where everybody wants to come,” he says. ”So I put this program together here in Atlanta, home of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and saw the Atlanta University Center schools as feeder schools and I had Tech, a top-tiered technological university.”

His idea? Bring juniors from across the country to Tech and let them talk to everyone at the university, from students and instructors to Clough and top corporate professionals. The students, who spend four days on campus, must have a GPA of 3.6 to participate. But they also get a year to think about Tech and what the school offers. The program also serves as an introduction to graduate school for many of the juniors.

This week, students will get to hear from Dr. Calvin Mackie, a Tulane University associate professor who’s also the founder of Channel ZerO. They will also attend an ecumenical service commemorating the life of King in the city where the late civil rights leader grew up and preached.

Haley, who just ended a term as president of the influential 100 Black Men of Atlanta, has also spearheaded other education efforts in Atlanta. He’s working with Atlanta Public Schools to create a private academy for Black male students. It’s all part of Haley’s marketing plan — not to make money or build a business. But to build a strong educated minority.

“I wanted to give back,” he says.

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