By Branden LaCroix
The College of Business began its Corporate Readiness Academy 101 Program for the spring semester.
The program is a series of workshops and one-on-one conferences that focus on coaching students of color in business management as well as educating them on how to navigate obstacles in corporate workplaces, such as microaggressions, racist incidents, and discrimination.
Patricia Thomas, dean of FSU’s College of Business, said, “One of the things that came to the forefront was the fact that students of color were not getting good jobs.”
She said, “It was important to have a space for students of color to start a network and have some shifts happening that allows them to be more successful going out so when they graduate, they're not in the same job that they were in while in college.”
Thomas said plans were in place to start the program during the Spring 2020 Semester, but the plans were upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. She added looking back, the upside of the plans needing to be pushed back was that she did not have the personnel to put them in motion.
She said over the previous summer, she and Erastus Ndinguri, a management and business & IT professor, recruited Professor Denise Brown to help the program get up and running.
The program is primarily designed and led by Sunni McCoy, a visiting lecturer and enterprise Lean leader at GE Healthcare.
McCoy explained the program is intended to “demystify” a lot about working in the corporate world as a person of color, addressing the issues people of color often face, and filling the “gaps” in corporate workplaces.
McCoy said, “If you just look at the senior leadership bands in corporate America, they're typically not diverse.”
She added, “We as a society do a great job focusing on diversity and a lot of time,” but added businesses often focus more on filling “quotas” than focusing on inclusion.
McCoy gave an example of the difference between a white worker approaching a corporation’s human resources department versus a person of color.
“If I had to go to HR and you had to go to HR internally, I might be dying and afraid to go to HR, and you may just have a different level of confidence because your parents told you, where you heard at your table, ‘HR was on your side,’” she said. “I didn’t hear that at my table.
“So this is allowing us to shed some of what I would call ‘societal myths’ that are out there for societal challenges and understand how to show up to them,” she added.
McCoy said she focuses on teaching the Lean Six Sigma methodology, a combination of the Lean philosophy of manufacturing and the Six Sigma methodology.
According to The Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Manufacturing at Marshall University, the Lean method, also known as the Toyota Production System, is a manufacturing philosophy that seeks to increase efficiency by “eliminating waste” of resources.
The Six Sigma methodology is a set of standards and tools to help refine manufacturing production, according to American Society for Quality, an organization of industry and management professionals.
She explained when she recruits, she looks for people who have experience with Lean projects on their resumés. “Once you've completed your certification, you go into these fortune 500 companies certified - you have an advantage over someone graduating from BU that does not have that certification.”
She said group workshops are held on the first Wednesday of each month and she also holds one-on-one “direct coaching” sessions with students on Wednesdays and Fridays by appointment.
Brian Gerard, a senior management major, is an ambassador for the program.
He said the ambassadors act as mediators between students and high-level employees at various companies. “Professional staff can tell you all day long about the x's and o's and everything like that, but you want to hear from somebody who was busy in your shoes, you know. Where you are right now, I was a year ago - so you want to hear from a first-time experience, rather than from a professional staff member who is always somewhat rehearsed,” he said.
He added the ambassador role is also a way to get students “interested and enthusiastic” about the program.
Gerard said the program is “about individuals who are striving to find a way into the corporate workplace, but might not have had the complete guidance that they needed to throughout all different years of schooling.”
He said McCoy is doing “an amazing job” operating the program and has given students “a great opportunity to realize what the mindset is and what the criteria is to get into these fields.”
Denise Brown, a professor of management and business & IT, said the ambassadors are a “founding cohort and they were with us at the beginning.
“They went through a process with us and gave us their ideas and what they would like to see and the things that they would like to embrace,” she said.
She added the program is beneficial to the ambassadors as well as it helps them gain valuable experience.
There are currently 10 ambassadors who volunteer for the program.
McCoy explained the role of ambassador is voluntary, which is important for students to know that this person is volunteering their time to help navigate the process of entering corporate jobs.
“I don't think anybody here would have been comfortable just kicking off a relationship with the VP of claims at Aetna without that safe space being created first,” she said. “We made our ambassadors to recruit to the program one, because it's beneficial; two, it's our way of giving back; and three, it's voluntary.”
Maya Brown, a freshman fashion design and retailing major, said what she hopes to gain from the program is “to meet with Black people or people that look like me that have had a similar experience as me and that are successful.”
She added, “It is really helpful to see that because it lets me know that I can do that.”
Maya Brown said she started at FSU in 2020, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic and financial troubles, she had to take multiple leaves of absence.
“There were so many things that kept building more barriers for me and I felt like, ‘How can I do it?’” she said.
Maya Brown said she has been in work environments where she felt “really unprotected and unsafe,” experiencing threats of violence and racial slurs.
She said, “There's so many things as a Black woman that I have to think about and really think about how I do things, and I think I'm looking for advice on how to navigate those situations.
“I know that people are going to try to disregard my feelings of who I am and are trying to tell me who I should be. And I need to know how to navigate those situations and what to do in certain situations,” she said.
She added the program helped her find a community on campus, which was previously difficult for her. She said finding a community is important “because when you're by yourself, it can be really alienating, and in a lot of my classes, I'm the only Black person there.”
Maya Brown said she encountered similar obstacles at FSU where staff were “dismissive” of her grievances.
She said as much as the University “prides [itself] on that diversity chant, I don’t think it’s true.
“I don't feel welcomed here. I don't feel safe here. I don't feel respected as a Black person here,” she added.
McCoy said the issues Brown described are similar to many of the issues people of color face in corporate environments. She said the program “takes you and teaches you skills and tools to react to those situations.”
Maya Brown said she wants to be a business owner and establish her own clothing brand. She said as a fashion designer, she wants to focus on making clothing that is “more inclusive and better for everyone.”
She said she has multiple family members who have arthritis, so she wants to design clothing that’s “easier for them to navigate,” as well as clothing for people with other disabilities that is “easier and accessible for them.”
Izzy Lucien, a freshman management major, is another student who is participating in the program.
She said, “I'm really excited about this - to have a space where there's people who look like me. People who are in higher positions who look like me.”
Lucien explained throughout her years in school, she rarely saw other students of color or people of color who were teachers or counselors whom she could interact with.
“When it came down to racial things, or like anything that had to do with any type of race, it was always me against the class,” she said.
She added, while in high school, it was difficult for students of color to take AP-level courses. She said the teachers would “not allow students of color to be in or they would suggest you go to the lower level first and then maybe possibly move up the next year.
“It was always a big, constant issue,” she said.
With the Corporate Readiness Academy 101 Program, she said she is excited to see what is possible for students of color.
“You think, ‘Are people even able to get to that point? Are they even allowed to be a teacher or be in a higher position like a CEO? Is that possible for Black people?’” she asked.
McCoy said there are also plans to host events on Thursdays. In February, the program will hold an event at which leaders across various industries will visit FSU for a panel discussion. A resumé feedback event is planned for March, and a “speed-dating” interview event will be held in April.
The program is open to all students who are interested, but the main focus is on students of color.
“You want to be successful,” McCoy said. “You want to graduate with a 4.0 - right now, you’ve got a 2.1. I'm going to help you figure out what got you the 2.1, and what is your plan to get it back up to 4.0 by the time you graduate.
“But I'm going to show you how to dig down under the ground and come back up the right way,” she said.