Last modified: Tuesday, March 27, 2007 4:02 PM CDT
Corporate community reaches out to talented students
By Erin Taylor
Today's college students know it takes a lot more than a degree to be successful in the corporate world. It takes determination, hard work and in some cases, knowing the right person.
The Regional Business Council, a group of presidents and CEOs from some of the region's biggest companies, say they recognize the talent coming out of area universities and are looking to put students in touch with the right people.
Part of that effort includes the RBC's Higher Education Collaboration, a partnership with colleges to "create and retain a more effective workforce in the region" that includes the African-American Corporate Network.
At a network meeting hosted March 22 in Clayton by the Ernst and Young accounting firm, more than 30 black students from 13 area colleges and universities met with representatives from the corporate community.
Too many promising talents leave St. Louis after graduation, said Tony Thompson, of Kwame Building Group Inc. The Higher Education Collaboration works to keep high-achieving students, especially those who are black, in the area and working in the local business community, he said.
Though he had no official figures, Thompson said more than half of college students leave St. Louis after graduation.
"If that number was 60 to 75 percent, I would not be surprised," Thompson said. "Through efforts like this we're starting to see a reversal of that trend."
The effort includes a mentor network and panel discussions, such as the one that took place at Ernst and Young.
Representatives from MasterCard Worldwide, CitiMortgage and BJC Healthcare spoke to the students about success in the business world -- and what it takes to get there.
One thing all the panelists agreed on was never saying no to an opportunity, even if it's outside of one's planned field.
"What you end up doing may not be what you started out doing," said Freida Wheaton, of CitiMortgage. "Have a good network of advisers and mentors. You're going to get a lot of good opportunities, and you need to know which ones to take."
Mary Elizabeth Grimes heads the marketing division at BJC Healthcare, but that's not where she started. Grimes had a number of positions in news and radio before taking her current position and said all of her experiences have contributed to her current success.
Grimes told the students that St. Louis needs black professionals to stay in the area.
"I encourage you to stake your claim here and not only make this city better for yourself, but better for those who follow you," Grimes said.
Thompson urged the black students to consider taking financial classes, no matter what their career plans entail.
"Most minority businesses fail, not because they don't know the technical aspect, but because they don't know the financial part or have the money-management skills," Thompson said.
Keasia Johnson is a first-year information technology student at St. Louis Community College-Forest Park. She said she'd never thought about studying finance, but she's considering it now after hearing Thompson's advice.
Johnson attended the panel discussion with her brother, Maurice Johnson, a senior at Webster University. Both siblings said the African-American Corporate Network is an invaluable resource for black students.
"It's a way of getting out and meeting different people who have been there before," Maurice said. "You're learning from African-Americans who are at the top."
Keasia Johnson said she learned to open herself up to opportunities.
"I appreciated how much they stressed that what you're doing now may not be what you end up doing," she said. "It's making me think about opening up my mind in case another opportunity comes along."
More than 200 students have participated in the mentor network since the Higher Education Collaboration was established in 2003. Participating schools include Fontbonne University, Harris-Stowe State University, Lincoln University, Lindenwood University, Maryville University, McKendree College, St. Louis University, St. Louis Community College, Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, the University of Missouri-Columbia, Washington University and Webster University.
You can contact Erin Taylor at email@example.com.