ODI celebrates 10 years
On Saturday, April 10 — during Destination Johnson, the annual hosting weekend for accepted students — Adebayo and Dobbins were among a host of current and prospective minority students who gathered in the Ramin Parlor with faculty and administrators to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Johnson School’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the first of its kind at a top-tier business school.
“Inclusion means everybody.”
- Dean Joe Thomas
“Inclusion means everybody,” said Dean Joe Thomas as he welcomed the students and thanked event sponsor Johnson & Johnson. “We want to attract you here and help you succeed, and we want you to help us improve. I hope you’re the kind of people who want to make this place better while you’re here and after you leave.”
Five years after graduating from the Johnson School, serial entrepreneur Angela Noble-Grange, MBA ’94, proposed a new office to increase programming to attract and retain diverse students. It was part of her effort to make the school a better place. In 1999, she became founding director of the Office for Women and Minorities in Business (OWMB), now known as the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI). Ten years later, ODI has much to celebrate, says Noble-Grange, and many supporters who share in the credit for all that has been accomplished.
In the last decade, Johnson School students have launched both the Hispanic American Business Leaders Association and Out for Business to promote the networking opportunities that facilitate a successful career. Every fall, the weekend recruiting event Johnson Means Business brings prospective minority applicants to campus and connects them with current students and faculty. ODI provides support for all of them. “The office was a center for coming together,” said Noble-Grange, now a lecturer in management communications. “It was a signal to the inside and outside world that the Johnson School cared about diversity and we were going to change the face of corporate America. That was our vision: to make corporate America look more like America.”
Corporate America still has room to improve on that front, says Noble-Grange, and so does the Johnson School. “My expectations were very high,” she says, “and we’re only just beginning to fulfill them.” While women outnumber men in the general population and under-represented minorities comprise 30 percent of the resident population in the United States, business schools nationwide have struggled to attain enrollments higher than 30 percent for women and 10 percent for under-represented minorities. Representation of women and minorities in the upper echelons of corporate executive suites is even lower.
Yet the Johnson School has a rich legacy on which to build, says Noble-Grange. Years before the Civil Rights movement turned institutionalized discrimination on its head, Jane Stevens, Cornell’s first female MBA, graduated with the business school’s inaugural Class of 1948. Two years later, former Tuskegee airman Wilbur Parker became the school’s first black graduate. “Each year a little more magic came to be,” said Noble-Grange. “More students, more energy, more passion, more magic.” The Class of 2012 will be comprised of 31 percent women and an unprecedented 16 percent under-represented minorities.
Director of Admissions, Financial Aid, and Inclusion Randall Sawyer attributes much of the success of this year’s recruiting cycle to the Johnson School’s first year of membership in the Consortium, an elite non-profit comprised of 17 top business schools that promotes diversity and inclusion through admissions, recruitment, networking, and career development activities. Says Sawyer: “The Consortium membership helped tremendously; we brought in nearly 30 percent more applications from under-represented minorities and 61 percent of our offers to those students have been accepted.”
In December, Consortium alumna and now board of trustees member Nsombi Ricketts, a former diversity recruitment manager at American Express, was hired to lead the Office of Diversity and Inclusion for the Johnson School. In March, Ricketts distributed an anonymous survey to faculty, staff, and students to assess the Johnson School culture and evaluate progress around diversity and inclusion initiatives. While student programming took priority through the remainder of the semester, delaying survey analysis until summer break, Ricketts says community response to the survey itself paints an encouraging picture. “We had a 53 percent response rate,” she says, “which is evidence of the community’s commitment to addressing issues of diversity and inclusion.” The analysis of the survey results will inform the school’s new strategic diversity plan.
Among her top priorities, Ricketts plans to form both an alumni advisory council and a diversity council comprised of students, faculty, and staff. “The last ten years were focused on creating strategic recruitment pipelines to increase representation of underrepresented minorities,” she says. “Now that we have built this foundation, the next step is to have an engaged inclusive community, where everyone is better equipped to work with diverse people and understand diverse cultures.”
Park Fellow and Consortium member Elisa Dobbins, who received scholarship offers from several schools, committed to the Johnson School well in advance of the school’s April 15 deadline. “I truly felt like the admissions staff, students, and alumni cared about me and my goals,” she says, noting that local job opportunities for her partner were among the factors she was considering. “After we began looking, we were surprised to find that there were actually jobs in his field nearby. We are also getting a lot of support from my new Cornell family.” Park Fellow and Consortium member Wale Adebayo will move to Ithaca in July. He hopes to have enough time before school starts in August to settle into the community and get involved. “The people I’ve met at the Johnson School are so intelligent, down-to-earth, and motivated,” he says. “It’s encouraging.”