Student Success

SBA students set to ACHIEVE more inclusive workplaces

ACHIEVE program's new focus on DEI has major impacts on professional development

Four people talking around a table

icon of a calendarAugust 22, 2023

icon of a pencilBy Patrick Dunn

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SBA student Torey Green had never really thought about disability as a facet of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) until he had the opportunity to listen to two speakers from Leader Dogs for the Blind at a capstone event for SBA's ACHIEVE program.

"Not everything in life can be seen," Green says. "I never would have known that one of the speakers was vision impaired. So, given the opportunity to hear them out and hear them speak, it allowed me to feel for them and understand something that I never would have thought about."

That's just one example of how SBA students are gaining valuable perspective through the ACHIEVE program's new focus on DEI. All SBA undergrads must complete ACHIEVE, a series of three courses that teach students core competencies including communication, networking, professionalism, critical thinking, and ethical decision making. The program began incorporating DEI as one of its key focus areas in the 2021-2022 school year.

"There's a business case and a human case to be made for students graduating from Oakland University ready to be inclusive business professionals," says ACHIEVE Program Manager Virginia McMunn. "It is a skill set and competency that is wanted by employers, and affirmed by national associations and research-based best practices. And, our students appreciate the opportunity to learn more about DEI, especially inclusive practices, as part of ACHIEVE."

ACHIEVE's DEI focus began with a pilot led by former ACHIEVE Program Manager Andrea Mill and OU Marketing Professor Steven Stanton. Mill and Stanton worked with Dr. Deirdre Pitts, OU's Associate Dean for Faculty & Staff Affairs and Professional Development, to create a DEI lesson for one of the ACHIEVE classes. The trio went on to write a comprehensive plan to incorporate DEI elements into all three ACHIEVE classes, including adapting Pitts' presentation into two videos that are shown in each of the first two ACHIEVE classes. The first video delves into what DEI means and why it matters, while the second focuses on inclusive leadership skills and how to promote DEI in the workplace.

"We've really recognized that the more touchpoints students have to build their capacity for diversity, equity, and inclusion, the better," McMunn says. "There's benefits to integrating DEI in every class, or in every activity and experience that students participate in. So we've been really thoughtful about deepening what that can look like in ACHIEVE."

Building DEI practices among volunteers

ACHIEVE has also prioritized DEI in training the more than 90 active volunteers who support the program – and McMunn says that idea actually came from a volunteer.

"A lot of the volunteers are recruiters, so they know what they're looking for when they hire," she says. "So they bring those suggestions to us and give us the opportunity to give that awareness to all SBA students, which is really powerful."

ACHIEVE's volunteer orientation now includes tips on inclusive mentorship, and its email newsletter for volunteers has shared articles on topics such as recognizing unconscious bias in discussion of topics like professionalism.

"Our volunteers have really shared in our commitment to DEI, both in being inclusive with our students themselves and in teaching our students about how to be equitable and inclusive business professionals in their future careers," McMunn says. "They've been really open to just making it an honest dialogue about how we can all work to promote more inclusion in business."

Jasmine Hines, ACHIEVE volunteer and Senior Talent Relationship Manager at Rocket Central, says she appreciates ACHIEVE's heightened emphasis on DEI because DEI is also a major focus for her employer.

"I think it's important for people to be comfortable with bringing their full, true, unique selves to not just work, but any space, every single day," Hines says.

Gabriella Minaudo, ACHIEVE volunteer and Campus Recruiter for Northwestern Mutual’s Mirabella Network Office, says ACHIEVE is an important and unique program.

"I work with a lot of different campuses and none of them have anything like ACHIEVE,” she says. “I feel like it is very valuable for the students to learn these things that they might not normally learn in the classroom, but are still great lessons for them to know in their professional careers."

Exposure to different experiences

The culminating component of ACHIEVE's DEI programming is a capstone speaker event focusing on DEI topics, sponsored by Oakland University Credit Union. McMunn says both the Capstone events from 2022-23 were widely popular and encouraged students to think about disability as part of DEI. The fall event featured OU professor Darlene Groomes, a researcher in vocational rehabilitation, while the winter event featured Jeff Hawkins, Consultant and Leader Dog Handler, and Dave Bann, Director of Corporate Relations, with Leader Dogs for the Blind.

McMunn and her staff connected to Leader Dogs for the Blind through ACHIEVE volunteer Mark Guthrie, Senior Director and Chief Information Officer at AM General. Guthrie recalls the enlightening but uncommon experience of learning from a blind floormate while he was at OU himself, and says he's glad a large group of current students (including Green) had a similar experience through the ACHIEVE capstone event.

"Depending on [students'] background or where they grew up, they might not get the exposure [to people with different life experiences], let alone an appreciation," Guthrie says. "It's so valuable to be leaving the university and then entering the workplace having the benefit from the exposure to these kinds of programs."

ACHIEVE's capstone events have had a major impact on Green and many other students. Valeria Lezama, a recent SBA grad, was struck by Bann and Hawkins' description of feeling ignored in social situations.

"My biggest takeaway is that we don't have to judge anybody for the way they look," she says. "We have to include them in activities, even if they are different or have different capabilities. We need to treat them with the same respect and make them feel comfortable. Maybe that's something that you don't realize until someone makes you see that part."

DEI for a better future

SBA students report that ACHIEVE's DEI programming is having a major effect on their growth as business professionals. In a recent survey, students ranked "preparation for equity and inclusion in business" as one of ACHIEVE's greatest contributions to their career development. Over 80% of students have also agreed that ACHIEVE's DEI videos promote better self-awareness and critical thinking about equity and inclusion.

The ACHIEVE Instructors, Troy Nelson and Michelle English, are both exceptional educators who continually think about how the ACHIEVE program can best support students. "It's so powerful for the ACHIEVE team to read the responses from students and to see how they say they're going to take what they've learned into their future careers," McMunn says.

SBA student Cameron Wright says he was pleasantly surprised by how much he learned about DEI in ACHIEVE.

"Initially, honestly, I was like, 'DEI is a topic everyone kind of brushes over. Got to do it to get the grade, right?'" he says. "And then once it started happening, it was super interesting. I think in today's day and age, DEI is so much more important. Introducing young professionals entering the workplace to that is just going to set them up for a better future."

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