This week, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund is hosting its 19th annual Leadership Institute in Washington D.C., bringing together hundreds of undergraduates from historically Black colleges and universities for four days of networking and professional development.
The event begins on Wednesday, Oct. 16 and will culminate in a recruitment fair on Saturday, where students meet with representatives from companies and graduate school programs.
The 401 student leaders attending have been carefully selected from among 2,237 applicants. This year’s cohort is 57 percent female and 43 percent male, representing 44 public HBCUs affiliated with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. Students have an average GPA of 3.56 with 47 percent majoring in business and 42 percent majoring in science, technology, engineering and math fields. The group includes 125 first-generation college students.
To be considered for the Leadership Institute, students need to fill out an application, use a Gallup assessment tool, which analyzes their skills and interests, and complete a Skype interview. For accepted applicants, the Leadership Institute follows a series of professional development webinars.
Students come “ready to go out there and literally conquer the world,” said Dr. Harry L. Williams, president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. “When you have an opportunity to engage with one of the students attending our historically Black colleges and universities, I’m telling you, it’s a treat.”
For him, the Leadership Institute is about pairing the “best and brightest of our students” with the “best companies in America.” Williams hopes students will walk out with new skills but also concrete offers for jobs and internships, he said. In past years, he’s heard from students who left the event with three or four new career opportunities.
“This is one place where companies can go and have a concentrated group of students, specifically African-American students, in one place,” Williams said. “To able to get that type of access is very valuable because they know that these students have already been vetted, already gone through a rigorous process.”
This year, the event has 70 corporate sponsors, including Microsoft, JP Morgan Chase and Co., Boeing, Walmart, United Airlines, The Kellogg Company, Honda and more. Wells Fargo will be the Leadership Institute’s presenting partner.
“Our firm has been very strategic about creating national partnerships with organizations that align with our values, vision and goals and also solve and help to meet the needs of our communities,” said G. Dewey Norwood Jr., senior vice president in corporate philanthropy and community relations at Wells Fargo. “We see the work that we’re doing at TMCF and across the HBCU landscape as doing exactly that.”
Wells Fargo has been the presenting partner at the Leadership Institute for the past seven years, so Norwood has watched the program grow and change.
“Each and every year, I’ve seen the TMCF staff tweaking the model, adjusting to the times and really fitting the needs of scholars,” he said. “Every year it gets better, every year it gets stronger, every year the content becomes more rich. The scholars are excited, and they leave with the resources that are going to help them as they transition into their careers or as they transition into graduate level programs upon graduation.”
In addition to the company’s financial contributions – Wells Fargo has given over $7 million to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund – Wells Fargo representatives will participate in sessions throughout the Leadership Institute. For example, Norwood will be moderating a plenary titled “Strategies for a Successful Financial Future” while other Wells Fargo leaders will sit on panels like “Design Thinking and Problem Solving” and “Leadership and The Big Picture.” They will also be involved in gender-separated “Brother to Brother” and “Sister to Sister” sessions about work-life balance and self-care.
“One of the biggest things we bring to this work is our senior leaders,” Norwood said.
For him, the goal is to equip students with practical “financial wellness” skills – from investing in a 401K to saving up to buy a home – “to make the journey for scholars better than our journey,” he said.
In the future, Norwood would like to see more companies get involved in the Leadership Institute.
“I would encourage other partners, other organizations, whether you’re in the financial services industry, whether you’re in the cybersecurity or tech space, whether you’re in governmental agencies, wherever you are, I would encourage you to come and join us here for the Leadership Institute,” Norwood said. “You’re absolutely going to find the best and brightest talent right here with us in the nation’s capitol.”
Sara Weissman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.