We are a community for Black students, alumni, faculty and staff at the UCI Paul Merage School of Business.
What strategic initiatives are you excited about right now?
There’s five big areas of focus for us based on a strategic plan (started last year), rooted in two principles:
Our slogan is “Leadership for the digitally driven world”. I think we can be those leaders, but are we going to be leaders of all or leaders of a few? So far, we’ve been leaders of a few. By that I mean, there have really only been a few communities that have really benefitted from the full scale and impact of the tech industry. We want to be the place that ensures that all communities are able to thrive in this digital economy. It’s more than having thought leadership and programs, the second step is to ensure that our activities are being shaped by the communities we serve.
Given our two guiding principles, today we have five areas of strategic focus:
We also appreciate that a lot of what shapes diversity in our school happens before students even enter our university. I have spent a lot of time with members of the CEO Leadership Alliance of Orange County. These leaders stress the need for tech-savvy talent and have a concern that Orange County won’t have enough local talent to meet their staffing needs. One approach to addressing this issue is to focus on recruiting talent from out of state, I’m saying let’s look at communities like Santa Ana and Anaheim as opportunities to engage the talent that’s already here.
As I’m having those conversations, I’m also visiting local high schools to understand what’s happening there. The observation was that high schools have classes on cybersecurity and accounting, but if you look at who’s taking those classes, it’s not a lot of Black and Hispanic kids. The question becomes, “Why?” What I have learned is that there is often no context for students to understand why they should take these classes in the first place. If we increase this pool of students on the front-end, we’ll get our own fair share as a business school but more importantly, there will be a bigger talent pool for the local business community to draw upon and we get a broader range of communities participating within the technology sector.
These observations led us to launch the Future Leaders Initiative, a community outreach and certificate program designed to encourage local students to pursue business careers in technology sectors. The program provides participants with awareness of technology-related business careers, access to role models currently working in these jobs and fosters their ambition to thrive in these spaces. In 2022, our first year running the program, we worked Santa Ana High Schools and Santa Ana Community College. In 2023 we expanded to include Anaheim Union High School District. While we accept students from across all of Orange County, we focused on these districts because they serve a large group of underrepresented students. In our first year we 40 students and this year we nearly tripled to 110 students. My goal is that we will touch 3,000 in the next 10 years!
Most recently, The Supreme Court struck down affirmative action, effectively ending race-conscious admissions. How can we reassure our community that Merage is still making diversity a priority when it comes to admissions?
I don’t agree with the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Affirmative Action, because there are structures in place across society that weren’t designed to ensure that all communities thrive. Affirmative Action was an intervention designed to alleviate the pain and disparities these communities have experienced for decades. In my opinion, this decision is not going to help turn that around.
California, for better or for worse, provides some insight into what the future might look like for other parts of the country. In 1996, Prop 209 was passed which was a very similar ruling, as it removed the ability for state institutions to use race and gender in selection decisions. That had a traumatic effect on the UC system, where enrollment for Black and Hispanic students dropped dramatically. It forced the UC system to respond by proactively evaluating the factors that contribute to systemic disadvantages, like removing standardized tests as a requirement since they’ve historically caused barriers for underrepresented students. By taking a holistic approach of prioritizing inclusive excellence, UC Irvine has soared in this area, long before the Supreme Court ruling took effect.
The other aspect around this is it is an unescapable truth that academic institutions will not thrive without fair and diverse representation. California generates more patents than any other state, and that is in large part connected to the diverse communities we have here. If you don’t prioritize diversity as an educational institution, you’re going to get left behind and you won’t be attractive to a large number of employers. The diversity we have at the Merage School is a distinguishing point of difference for us.