In the Fall of 2006, Kirsten Hassert (OC), Leslie Feinzaig (OF) and Helen Trapp (NB) decided to team up with silo leaders Jean-Philippe Odunlami (OA) and Jeff Shaddix (NH) to work with Dillard University. This marks the second year that HBS students have partnered with Dillard University, one of the oldest institutions in the network of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The entire campus was flooded after Katrina for three long weeks, wiping out the entire IT and electrical infrastructure, making every single building unusable and resulting in damages worth several times the school’s small $40m endowment. In spite of this major challenge, Dillard had been able to survive, hosting the 900 returning students (out of 2,500) in a downtown hotel and conducting classes there for a year. So when the HBS team arrived, although the students were back on campus, the university was still recovering from Katrina. Very few of the buildings were back in shape, many of the professors were teaching five or six classes per day due to staff cuts and a general feeling of uncertainty lingered over the campus.
Armed with plenty of work experience to share, some strategic ideas and lots of enthusiasm, the HBS team conducted an intense weeklong session focused on career development. Given that few companies were coming back to recruit-and that the Career Services office was down to a single person-Jeff, Helen, Leslie, Kirsten and JP felt that focusing on career development would have the most impact, for their 10 days in New Orleans and beyond. Furthermore, the HBS students had the precious help of NC Partner and HBS Career Services professional Elizabeth Benson, who wanted to share her CS experience and resources with Dillard. Additionally, the silo teamed up with Dillard alumna and JPMorgan banker Tiffany Singleton, who saw the work of the HBS team as an opportunity to prepare and select students for much-needed summer internships. In short, it would be a win-win situation for everyone.
Once on campus, the HBS students quickly realized that their neatly designed plan would need to be adjusted to the realities of the local environment, which ranged from communication issues (limited internet access) to scheduling constraints (final exams the following week). Undeterred, the team made 25+ classroom presentations in a day and a half, plastered the campus with flyers and met individually with professors and administrators. Their hard work was quickly matched by the enthusiasm and warmth of everyone at the University, from staff to students. One professor’s comment describes the general reaction well: “This is a great program! The students really need it and have asked for something like this, we just didn’t have the resources”.
Having reached out to 200 business undergraduates and their professors, the HBS team felt ready to roll out the program. It was a resounding success. The first session had a full house. It was led by Tim Butler’s partner Dr. Jim Waldroop, an expert in career development and one of the architects of CareerLeader. With the results of CareerLeader College in hand (Tim and Jim had donated access to the system to all Dillard business students). Students were actively engaged in a presentation about general career goals, industry paths and internships. The next day, the HBS team met with Dr. Marvalene Hughes, Dillard University’s courageous president, who had taken over a few months before Katrina. With the assistance and participation of HBS & KSG professors as well as crisis management expert Dutch Leonard, they engaged on a fruitful discussion about the university’s future and ways to create partnerships with HBS. Finally, over the next several days, the HBS team members met individually for one-on-one sessions with over 50 students, discussing career strategy, internships and networking. Those long days paid off. Each HBS volunteer was able to give relevant advice based on his/her experience, share contacts and give students confidence. Additionally, partly thanks to the team’s effort, several students were interviewed on campus by JPMorgan, and some flown to New York for second round interviews.
Looking back, the impact worked both ways. The HBS team was able to carry out an ambitious career plan which Dillard officials want to replicate throughout the academic year, leveraging tools like CareerLeader College. On the other hand, Leslie, JP, Kirsten, Helen and Jeff all felt embraced by the Dillard “family” and came back inspired by the motivation and resilience of the Dillard students, professors and staff, many of whom lost everything in Katrina. “The Dillard University community welcomed our team with open arms” said Jeff. “I was amazed by the resilience and positive attitude of the Dillard students we met. The storm forced Dillard to shut down the campus for a year, several students lost most if not all of their possessions and are still negotiating with FEMA and insurance companies.” Leslie described the mutually beneficial relationship quite well, “I don’t know whether we changed lives or altered courses. But I have no doubt that we opened many eyes and many doors for some very inspiring kids.” Their enthusiasm, appreciation and desire to keep going will be a lasting memory for this group of HBS students.
Kirsten summed up the general feeling, “I was incredibly inspired by the Dillard students and their passion, strength, and aspirations; this helped me at least as much as I coached them.” Naturally, all hope for another Dillard silo next year so that more HBS students can share this experience. “Partnerships like these-with real human interaction-are one way for us to really step up to grow as people who make a difference-and inspire others to do the same!” said EC Kirsten. For RCs like Jeff, he is “already looking forward to next January.”