Business school aims for diversity

Vasey Academy provides students professional mentors to encourage entrance into business world
Thursday, May 5, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:57 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

The students in marketing 4185 at MU might soon change the demographics of corporate America. The class, more commonly known as the Vasey Academy, serves to introduce minority students to business and economics and provide them with academic opportunities in preparation for a career in business.

“The program enables a far greater number of minority students to become exposed to and involved in the business world,” program founder Roger Vasey says. “What better way to increase diversity in the business world and provide it with a greater supply of talented people?”

Vasey, an MU College of Business alumnus, and his wife, Sandy, established the Vasey Academy in 1997. They’ve been so pleased with the program’s results that they recently pledged $1 million to cover its costs for the next 12 years. This will allow the academy to double its enrollment from 30 to 60 students a year.

The Vaseys also contributed an additional $90,000, which will be matched by MU funds to provide scholarships for high-need students in the academy.

Vasey says 75 percent of academy students ultimately enroll in the College of Business, and all Vasey business majors graduate.

Clarence Wine, who is the primary organizer and teacher for the program, says the overall graduation rate for Vasey students is 83 percent, which is even higher than MU’s six-year graduation rate of 67 percent. Sixty to 70 of the 294 students who attended the program over the past nine years went on to enroll in graduate programs in business administration, public administration or law.

Freshman Christina Dilworth plans to be one such Vasey success. She decided to major in business management based on her experience in the class and wants to pursue a graduate degree in business law.

“This class is leading me in the right direction and helping me meet the right people,” Dilworth says.

As a top executive at Merrill Lynch, Vasey found that despite the company’s efforts to the contrary, its workplace remained homogenous. Census data from 2000 confirms that while blacks make up 12.9 percent of the United States’ population and Hispanics and Latinos make up 12.5 percent, they make up only 6.3 percent and 5.7 percent, respectively, of management, business and financial workers.

Ken Evans, associate dean for graduate programs at the College of Business, helped coordinate the Vasey Academy. He says Vasey’s intent was to increase the enrollment of minority students in the business school’s undergraduate program, thereby providing the business world with a more diverse pool of job applicants. Evans says corporations benefit from increased diversity, as well.

“The business world obviously serves a very diverse customer base,” he says. “A corporation made up of individuals who don’t resonate with the marketplace very well ultimately ends up making some pretty bad decisions.”

Undeclared freshmen and sophomores who are of black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian and Pacific Islander descent are eligible to apply for the program.

Wine says the business school chose to target undeclared students because they were an untapped population that would be particularly receptive to the program.

Evans says program organizers found studies that showed many minority students did not choose the business direction because of inaccurate stereotypes they had about the field.

A semester at the Vasey Academy is geared toward providing knowledge about the field .

“If, at the end of that time, they make an informed decision that they don’t want to pursue business, that’s fine,” Evans says.

The Vasey Academy is structured as a one-credit course and is offered during the winter semester. Upon completion, each student receives a $1,000 scholarship.

During the semester, students are introduced to faculty members from departments in the business school and learn about various areas in business such as finance, marketing, accounting and management. Students also visit several companies to learn about the firms’ strategies and activities. This semester’s corporate visits included trips to the corporate headquarters of Edward Jones and Famous Barr, both in St. Louis. In addition to these activities, students must complete various written assignments and read and summarize articles in the Wall Street Journal on a regular basis.

Wine says the unique aspect of the Vasey Academy is a mentoring system that provides students with support and teaches them networking skills.

“In order for students to be successful, you have to surround them with successful people,” Wine says.

Each student in the program has a faculty mentor, a corporate mentor and a student mentor who is an upperclassman. Corporate mentors work at a variety of companies such as Boeing, Tiffany’s and Hallmark. Many are MU Business School alumni and also were Vasey Academy attendees.

Students are required to e-mail their mentors 10 times during the semester and are encouraged to consult with their mentor regularly.

Vasey Academy students form close relationships with their student mentors. Wine says 90 percent of student mentors previously attended the Vasey Academy. Student mentors serve as role models, provide support and serve as potential connections to the marketplace once they graduate.

Ashley O’Neal is a student mentor and was a member of the Vasey Academy during the 2002-03 school year. Now a junior, she is pursuing a degree in business management. Though her own student mentor has graduated, O’Neal is still close to her.

“When it comes time for me to graduate, if I ever need help to get a job, I can call her for connections,” O’Neal says. “When I was in Vasey, Mr. Wine always used to say you never get anywhere without help from somebody else. You can’t do everything by yourself all the time.”

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