By Alicia Jackson,1 Isaac McCoy,2 Anthony Nelson,3 Joe Ricks,4 Van Sapp,5 Fatemeh Zakery6 

Conversations at the HBCU Business Deans Roundtable and subsequent in-depth interviews with deans have identified concrete ways that HBCU-corporate partnerships can empower everyone – companies, institutions, and students – to achieve greater success. HBCU graduates are the workers that corporations seek, and corporations have the resources and skills to elevate the quality of those graduates. 

“Corporations are in the business of acquiring and retaining the talent,” says Dean Anthony Nelson of the Business School at North Carolina Central University. “We’re in the business of producing that talent. It’s beneficial for both of these to take the time to communicate so we can do a good job of producing that talent, so they can do a good job of acquiring and retaining that talent.” 

HBCUs can provide a certain kind of worker with a background, both before and during college, that enhances organizational and team diversity. Graduates of smaller HBCUs and larger HBCUs – there are 111 HBCUs nationally of different sizes, histories, and specialties – bring different dimensions of diversity and opportunity. Smaller campuses, for example, typically have closer faculty-student relationships, and faculty can help companies identify particular graduates most likely to succeed in the firm’s environment. 

Education at an HBCU provides more opportunities for minorities than education of minorities at TWIs. This includes multiple leadership roles in teams, clubs, organizations, volunteer projects, and a host of other activities early in their academic career that develop an agile entrepreneurial mindset. 

“Students design, create, implement, and evaluate a lot earlier and more often in their academic career at smaller institutions,” says Dean Isaac McCoy of the Stillman College School of Business. “We need all talent at the table so students’ talents, skills, and abilities are identified and honed as soon as they step foot on campus.” 

It also includes a different kind of classroom experience, where conversations that touch on the black experience in America happen in a more shared and mutually-understood context. It might include a greater faculty-student mentoring relationship. Black students will engage people who look like them, both as classmates and as professors, more than they would in other institutions. At the same time, it will likely reveal the breadth of diversity within the black community itself, a vital experience for every individual who will work in a broader and more diverse environment. Many students come to an HBCU with the assumption that their own experience in their community and high school is “the black experience,” and they discover the wide variety of definitions covered by that term. This revelation instills a deeper appreciation for difference and inclusion that accelerates the transition into workplace environments where they may not be in the majority. 

These soft skills and diversity contributions are not a substitute for relevant, rigorous skills training and expertise in the student’s field. In the present environment, up-to-date classroom training is necessary but not sufficient – students, even in their early years, must gain real-world experience where they see the powerful impact of knowledge and how to bring it about. This can happen both on campus and in the workplaces of partner organizations who benefit from the students’ meaningful participation in their projects, problem-solving, and discovery. 

In order to ensure that the classroom training is effective, students need teachers who are on the leading edge of the field teaching courses that prepare them for the real demands of workplace, both hard and soft skills. This includes both their traditional faculty and visiting faculty who are working practitioners. Faculty as well as students need exposure to the realities of the contemporary workplace through in-person participation, mentoring, and other opportunities for learning. Visiting lecturers and short- or long-term executives-in-residence on campus can enhance both individuals’ knowledge and curriculum content. 

“Sometimes we as academicians tend to get so deeply involved in knowledge-based teaching and research that we tend to become disconnected with the practical aspect of our profession,” says Dean Fatemeh Zakery of the Anheuser-Busch School of Business at Harris-Stowe State University. “What if we had a corporate executive resident from corporations like Google, Facebook or Amazon to spend a week, a month or a semester on our campuses? A corporate resident could teach a seminar course as a professor; interact and consult with faculty and students on a daily basis on various relevant business issues; conduct workshops for students on various topics including how to use skills they acquired in school to successfully navigate job market and how to adapt, manage diversity, lead well within any corporate setting and serve on business schools’ advisory boards. 

Hands-on faculty experience inside corporations can equip professors to bring real industry needs to the classroom for students. Dean Joe Ricks of the Division of Business at Xavier University in Louisiana had three internships at 3M through its Frontline program during his academic career. The relationship has generated one or two hires of Xavier business graduates a year by 3M since 2001 – a small annual number that adds up over the years. Another way HBCUs and corporations can partner to engage faculty and industry leaders is through dedicated agenda time during industry meetings and academic conferences. At these meetings faculty and hiring managers can learn from being immersed into each other’s world and have set meetings for planning, implementing, and evaluating faculty development and pipeline plans and initiatives. 

This education requires sophisticated infrastructure, including state-of-the-art technology and support. Many individual HBCUs lack sufficient resources to invest in such infrastructure. Some seek to solve the problem with collaborations among HBCUs or TWIs, but often the most effective partnership is with corporations. 

“We do have limited access to what’s new and up-and-coming in the corporate world,” says Dean Alicia Jackson of the Albany State University College of Business in southwest Georgia. “I think my faculty could benefit from spending a summer, for example, with a company in their specific area and finding out what’s really going on…to gain some more background on these topical areas they could turn around and share with their students.” Because many faculty depend on teaching summer classes to earn money, the program would need financial support to be feasible. 

Corporations seeking to establish deeper relationships will get better results by approaching deans rather than presidents. They might offer executives to serve on advisory boards, help develop curriculum, and give lectures and workshops as well as provide executives-in-residence and student and faculty internships and mentoring. They might visit classrooms and dining halls or rent campus facilities for board meetings and team meetings so that they establish a presence and opportunities for serendipitous encounters that will give them a fuller perspective on students than career fairs, where students best able at selling themselves in such an environment might not be the best fit for the company. 

“Like all your recruiting, you have to form some relationship to get the best talent for your organization,” says Dean Van Sapp of the School of Business, Management & Technology at St. Augustine’s College, who suggests both deans and professional development officers as effective connections. “Make sure have a link with the people who are producing the product rather than just the people who are selling the product. “Spend time and effort to create the relationship.” 


About the HBCU Business Deans Roundtable


HBCU Business Deans represent 83 campuses in 22 states and the Virgin Islands with more than 250,000 students enrolled. 

Mission: The purpose of this organization is to provide a forum for deans of HBCU business schools to address opportunities and challenges associated with enhancing business programs and initiatives. The organization also seeks to strengthen and develop strategic partnerships and alliances with corporations, government, and national organizations to provide the essential tools and resources for student success.



1 Dean, Albany State University College of Business.

2 Dean, Stillman College School of Business.

3 Dean, Business School, N.C. Central University.

4 Dean, Xavier University of Louisiana Division of Business.

5 Dean, St. Augustine’s College School of Business, Management & Technology.

6 Dean, Harris-Stowe State University Anheuser-Busch School of Business.


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