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MLK-inspired Inroads helps place interns

Among the millions of people inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech was a white executive named Frank Carr, who noticed the absence of minorities in the corporate world.

Today, many of the University’s minority business students find internships and jobs through Inroads, the organization Carr founded in Chicago after quitting his job and devoting his time to building connections between minority students and corporations.

“They train you pretty well,” said University marketing and finance junior Rosie Kumar. “They make sure you’re a well-rounded student.”

After acceptance into the Inroads program, Kumar did two summer internships in Target Corp.’s merchandising department.

“The main goal of Inroads is to have me accept a permanent position at Target,” she said. “It’s really building a relationship with the company.”

Melvin Collins, Minneapolis-St. Paul Inroads office managing director, said the program is a year-round commitment for the best minority students.

“The idea is they return each summer until they graduate, each time gaining a progressively more difficult internship within the company,” he said.

Collins said Inroads aims to have 50 percent of its interns offered full-time positions at graduation and to have 80 percent of them accept their offers. In the Twin Cities, he said, approximately 55 percent receive offers and approximately 85 percent accept.

“If you do an internship and are comfortable at that company, what are the chances you’ll take a job there? They’re pretty good,” he said. “It’s a wonderful way to change the landscape.”

At its peak, Collins said, the Minneapolis-St. Paul Inroads placed 132 interns each year. Currently, the program is working with 101 students, but Collins said he hopes to have 130 by the summer.

But the program is more than a placement service. Students must have at least a 3.0 grade point average to be admitted, Collins said, and candidates must complete pretraining sessions such as resume writing, etiquette and problem-solving before the program arranges from two to five interviews with companies.

Students become full Inroads members, Collins said, only after the have been offered an internship.

Each student also meets monthly with an adviser who monitors the student’s academic progress and conducts further training sessions.

“It’s a long-term commitment and a focus on excellence,” Collins said.

On the road in

Despite the progress of the last three decades, Collins said, the corporate world still does not have enough minorities or women.

“There wouldn’t be a need for an Inroads if we had that panacea,” he said.

But growing numbers of companies actively pursue women and minorities for corporate positions.

Kimeth Williams, campus recruiter for Prudential Financial, said her company and many others seek to work with organizations such as Inroads and the University’s Business Association of Multicultural Students.

“It ensures that the fresh talent you’re bringing in is diverse talent and that you have a representative sample of the population,” she said.

Williams said she looks for students who have the potential to develop into leaders within the company.

“(Interns) are looked at as potential future employees from the day they walk in the door,” she said.

Lan Ta, a University finance and management information systems senior, said during her internships with Xcel Energy’s internal audit department and Wells Fargo commercial banking, she was aware of being the only minority in the office.

“It’s just a growing process. It’s a developing process,” she said.

However, she said, the other employees treated her well.

“They were all very cultured people and they were interested in learning more about my background and more about me,” she said. “They helped me fit in as an intern and not as a person of color.”

Kumar said she thought opportunities were about equal and that younger generations are less focused on a person’s race.

“Personally, I might think the first thing people see is an Indian girl,” she said, “but the more I talk to people the more I see that isn’t true.”

Collins said being inclusive makes good business sense and that corporations have responded favorably to Inroads’s program.

“There may be some hostilities and some resentment, and somebody who feels like, here’s someone who’s getting something special, but for the most part the response is positive,” he said.

Changing the landscape

Recent years have seen women advancing significantly in corporations. The percentage of women in executive jobs rose to 15.5 percent in 2000, up from 9.2 percent in 1983, according to Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis. The number of women in clerical jobs fell over the same period.

The number of women in executive jobs is rising faster than the number of men, and in the 10 occupations in which the proportion of women increased most, women earn more than their male counterparts, according to the nonprofit Employment Policy Foundation.

Collins said efforts are still needed to increase minorities’ numbers in white-collar occupations.

“If you are very interested in leveling the playing field, you have to do something different, and Inroads is part of that,” he said. “This is not a discriminatory practice. This is an effort to make a difference on one side of the imbalance.”

Collins said companies are looking for minorities but also demand interns be skilled and resilient.

“They can’t disregard the fact that our students are talented students of color, but the bottom line is that these are talented people,” he said.

Andrew Pritchard covers politics and

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