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UNCF Student Leadership Conference Preps Students to Diversify Social Entrepreneurship, Financial Services Fields


Michael LomaxMichael Lomax

WASHINGTON — For Yauntilaa Lancaster, becoming a teacher will represent a crucial early step in a career she hopes will culminate with her establishing and running a public charter school. This summer, the south Bronx native who is a rising senior at Spelman College, will intern at the Building Excellent Schools organization in Boston, an opportunity she believes will take her another step closer to the ambitious education career she’s envisioned.

On Thursday, the United Negro College Fund hosted Lancaster and 38 students from historically Black colleges and universities during second day activities of the organization’s four-day annual Student Leadership Conference. The conference is designed to provide students, who will be working in UNCF-arranged summer internships, career planning and professional development workshops. In addition, UNCF officials have been motivating students with stirring talks and presentations.

“This program fits perfectly with what I want to do and what I’m driving toward,” Lancaster said of the leadership conference. “The talks and discussions I’ve heard have been very inspirational.”

With the idea that students often need workplace preparation before embarking upon internships aimed at helping establish them in careers, UNCF has combined students from two of its programs to create the Annual Student Leadership Conference. Those attending this week’s leadership conference are either in the UNCF/Walton K-12 Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship or the Gateway to Leadership program.

The UNCF/Walton K-12 Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship Program is focused on building a pipeline of African-American college graduates to enter careers that apply business and entrepreneurial principles to reforming elementary and secondary education. Launched in 2009, the program is sponsored by the Walton Foundation and has largely drawn the interest of aspiring educators, such as Spelman College’s Lancaster. The Gateway to Leadership Program is a diversity initiative that places minority college students in paid summer internships at leading financial firms. UNCF became a partner with the Money Management Institute (MMI) in late 2010 to manage the program.

In both the financial services and education reform sectors, UNCF officials cited the lack of diversity as a major factor as to why the Washington-based organization manages respective programs in those areas. UNCF is the nation’s largest minority education organization. It “supports students’ education and development through scholarships and other programs, strengthens its 38 private member colleges and universities, and advocates for the importance of college readiness and minority education,” according to UNCF.

Dr. Michael Lomax, UNCF president and CEO, told Diverse that he and foundation officials active in the education reform arena had grown concerned that there were too few African-Americans and Latinos taking part in the effort to advocate for and seek school innovation.

“The people we are seeing in this social entrepreneurship sector that is impacting the African-American and Latino communities are neither African-American nor Latino. And so we talked about trying to fashion a program that would encourage more Black college students to consider social enterprise,” Lomax said about discussions with Walton Foundation officials that led to the social entrepreneurship fellowship program.

“These young people can benefit from the exposure and the training that comes with their internships and they can explore this profession — this calling, this vocation — and help not only to make change but to diversify the community of change agents,” Lomax noted.

Ending on Saturday, the Student Leadership Conference will have provided a forum for equipping “students with the skill sets that they need to be successful as interns and early-career professionals,” according to UNCF. Conference activities are designed to boost critical thinking and project management skills, improve communications and networking skills, and increase workplace productivity.

Larry Griffith, UNCF senior vice president for programs and student services, said the impetus for creating the Student Leadership Conference has come partly from feedback UNCF has gotten from companies that are saying they want schools and leadership organizations to help groom students for the workplace.

“One of the things we keep hearing back from employers and we keep hearing back from leadership programs is concern over this idea of readiness. … And with so many students of color being first generation to the college experience they are often not as knowledgeable about what they need to know about working in a professional environment,” Griffith said.

“That’s part of what we do with the experience we provide,” he added.

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