Providing a ‘Road Map’ To the MBA

Providing a ‘Road Map’ To the MBA
Mentoring program exposes minority students early on to business and leadership skills.
By Eleanor Lee Yates

New York 
Paul Riser, a Florida A&M University graduate, had a job he loved at Sun Microsystems in Detroit. However, after working for a few years, Riser wondered whether he should quit his job and pursue a master’s in business administration (MBA)  full time at an Ivy League institution.
With the help of Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT), a nonprofit organization helping minority undergraduates plan their careers with an eye toward pursuing an MBA, Riser was paired with a mentor, Steven Johnson, a Baltimore-based engineer.
“He was a real inspiration for me,” says Riser. “He (Johnson) explained the value of working for a few years first.”
Riser worked out a plan to get his MBA through the University of Phoenix without leaving Sun.
“Steve told me I could be as successful as I wanted to be,” says Riser. “He helped me with the pros and cons of getting a graduate degree.”
Riser continues to work for Sun Microsystems, studying in the evenings and on weekends. He and Johnson still keep in touch regularly, despite the fact they have never met face to face. 

Charting A Path
There are several stories similar to Riser’s that MLT founder John Rice and executive director Monica Santana can share.
“It really helps to have someone to explain the path,” says Rice, a Yale University graduate who received his MBA from Harvard Business School in 1992. “We want to give young minorities maximum exposure to achieve their goals, to learn what entry level jobs can prepare them for their future.”
Santana, who directs the New York-based program, says although many students want to apply to an MBA program, many students of color don’t necessarily have all the information they need about taking GMAT prep courses or filling out business school applications. Some lack adequate interviewing skills. MLT often partners with corporations and other nonprofit groups in holding seminars on career planning and how undergraduates can obtain leadership experiences while still in school.
But the centerpiece of MLT’s program is its mentor-protégé component, which pairs business executives with students. Through regular phone conversations, e-mail correspondence and occasional get-togethers, the mentoring program helps provide a “road map to success,” says Rice.
The organization connects with students in several other ways. Its five staff members and numerous volunteers visit colleges throughout the nation, giving presentations about the program. These presentations emphasize key skills students can develop through extracurricular activities while they are undergraduates. Staff and volunteers encourage students to keep up their grade-point averages and stress the importance of networking. They also emphasize the importance of having business skills, regardless of a chosen career path. MLT visits seven colleges a year, a mix of historically Black colleges, such as Howard and Xavier universities, and Ivy League institutions, such as Harvard and Columbia.
The mentors also come from a broad base of colleges and universities, including Ivy Leagues, HBCUs and large public universities. The majority of mentors have MBAs or graduate degrees; others have completed some graduate work or possess the expertise to give advice on pursuing an advanced degree. 
Santana says college students in their junior and senior year are more focused and can therefore reap the benefits of a mentor-protégé relationship.
Currently the program includes 245 protégés and approximately the same number of mentors. Most of the students involved are African American, Latino, Asian American and American Indian.
The program recommends mentors and protégés check in with one another about twice a month. Relationships between mentor and student differ. Some living in close proximity to each other have lunch occasionally. Others rely on the phone and e-mail. And some protégés are able to attend the corporate functions of their mentors to get a flavor for the business world — up close and personal.

Making Good Choices
 Jerry McMillan, vice president of fixed income for Deutsche Bank in New York, has been involved with MLT for five years after hearing a presentation at Rutgers University.
“The speaker talked about the need for mentors to help youth with their choices. It’s so helpful to talk to people who have walked down the road before,” says McMillan, who reminds his protégé, Rutgers student Virgil Magee, that getting an advanced degree is important because fields such as banking are changing fast.
McMillan says the most important job of mentors is helping protégés make good choices, adding that many young people, after struggling financially to get through school, take the highest paying job they are offered, and never consider getting a graduate degree.
“I’m a big proponent of getting an MBA but each case has to be looked at individually,” says McMillan. “Sometimes it depends on the economy. When the economy is down, that’s a great time to be working on your master’s degree. When it’s thriving, that’s a great time to be working.”
He says young minorities must be sensitive to every opportunity.
“When you’re young, certain opportunities may not seem to have value,” says McMillan. “It’s good to have someone to guide you, to help you look at the ball from every angle.”
 
Clarifying the MBA Process
Similar to MLT’s student participants, founder John Rice says as an undergraduate, he, too, was unclear about the MBA process and how it helped one’s business career. 
The idea for Management Leadership for Tomorrow grew out of work that Rice conducted with an entrepreneurial management professor at Harvard. Researching programs that helped minorities pursue careers in business and graduate school piqued Rice’s interest.
He was 25 and in his second year at Harvard Business School when he developed the concept and original business plan for MLT. He then spent a couple of years raising money, doing research and refining the plan. He launched the program in 1994 with seed money from Citibank and a grant from Morgan Stanley. MLT receives most of its more than $1 million operating budget from corporations along with grants from foundations. In addition, MLT partners with several organizations such as the Robert Toigo Foundation, which makes scholarships available for those pursuing an MBA as does the National Black MBA Association.
Now 35, Rice lives in San Francisco and is working as a full-time volunteer for MLT after leaving his corporate job with the National Basketball Association  last year.
Rice says the program is in a significant stage of growth — it’s broadening its outreach on campuses and strengthening partnerships with companies. MLT has 10 corporate partners. A continuing goal is to increase the number of protégés to several thousand, says Rice.
Mentoring is an excellent way to “give a leg up to others,” says McMillan of Deutsche Bank.
 “When you help five or six kids and they turn around and help others, you’re helping generations to come,” he says. “You’re helping people you never get a chance to meet.”
For more information about the Management Leadership for Tomorrow program, visit <www.ml4t.org>.



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