As assistant vice president for development at a historically Black college/university (HBCU), I have made it a point as part of the graduation process at my university to personally speak with every graduating senior that I come into contact with to convey a matter of utmost importance for their beloved institution: Supporting their alma mater as they move forward in their careers.
The charge I give to all graduating seniors who will take the time to listen is compelling and necessary if the HBCU sector is to obtain enhanced corporate-sector resources from graduates in the future. For the record, becoming an internal champion/supporter on behalf of their alma mater is not mutually exclusive to the HBCU sector, but is a function that every graduate should perform. However, HBCUs, like some majority small colleges and universities across the United State simply do not have the name recognition that other institutions have earned over the years. As a result, those institutions now enjoy productive relationships and partnerships with the nation’s corporate sector.
Millions of dollars are given annually to assist prestigious public and private research-driven and liberal arts colleges and universities. One strategic aspect of this kind of giving relationship is that these institutions have produced human capital employed by corporations, and over the course of the years these individuals have moved up the corporate chain to decision-making positions. This kind of corporate philanthropic giving/investment paradigm is simple yet complex in its longitudinal process — these individuals perform the role of corporate champions on behalf of their alma mater, benefiting the school’s philanthropic private-dollar resources.
I ask graduating students to rethink and therefore reassess the institution from which they are about to earn their degree — a degree which took hard work and in some cases sheer determination to earn, and represents a significant achievement. They should be forever mindful that at the apex of this process of skill development was the institution, nurturing the student’s potential for leadership.
I find that this is the most difficult part of my informal presentation: Conveying to graduates that they owe a great deal to the institution that prepared them for corporate America and other professions. The plain fact of the matter is that most graduates leave their campuses without a clear understanding of the institutions’ historic founding mandates. It should not be difficult to solicit funds for their alma mater if they as alumni have a firm grasp of their school’s rich history, many of which include having been established to address the complex issues of mankind’s progress by providing academic rigor in disciplines that benefit civilizations.
Corporate America has played a role and had a rich history with higher education over the course of the years. It could be argued that it is this relationship that is one of the cornerstones to this nation’s enjoyed status as the sole global super-power. It is the colleges and universities that produce trained human capital that the corporate sector has used the talent and intellect that propelled companies to earn billions of dollars in profits annually. To that end, most larger and mid-sized companies actively engage college graduates with the skill sets that are needed for generating and enhancing profits.
I inform graduates that once employed; they must perform their best at any task placed before them. Our goal is that over time, the graduate can look to his/her employer for corporate support of their alma mater. There are, after all, always those students behind them who need support. This is where the rubber meets the road. I offer to the graduating class strategies on doing just that.
As an internal champion of their institution each graduate should perform the following tasks:
· Seek to learn if their company has a corporate dollar match policy
· Seek joint research and development projects for their schools
· Seek joint programs and projects for their schools
· Seek to increase a relationship for enhanced internships and cooperatives for their schools
The greatest product of any institution is leadership development in all fields of human endeavors. The challenge that I set forth is of crucial importance for the 21st century sustainability of HBCUs and every other institution that produces leadership. I say to all those gradating seniors, “Please do not forget those who trained and believed in your previously untapped ability. Stand ready to show your support by being an internal champion for your alma mater.”
Dr. John Berry is the assistant vice president for development at South Carolina State University.
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