Student Success

OU Alumnus Leads by Example

Stefen Welch's OU Story

A photo of Stefen andKaniqua Welch leaning on a table that has a Grizzhead decoration that says "Oakland University"

Kaniqua (left) and Stefen Welch (right).

icon of a calendarSeptember 16, 2021

icon of a pencilBy Catherine Ticer

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Sometimes, inspiration comes when you least expect it. For OU alumnus Stefen Welch (BA ’05), a commercial for Oakland University on Fox Sports would be the beginning of an incredible journey.

“It was the fall of 1997, and Oakland University had just turned Division I. FOX Sports Detroit was advertising the first home basketball game against Michigan State. Although I grew up 30 minutes away from campus, I was not familiar with Oakland University. I just happened to have the TV on at the right time,” says Welch. A couple years later, he would be a proud Golden Grizzly student.

Welch currently serves as divisional vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion at Saks OFF 5th. The first Saks OFF 5th employee to hold this position, Welch is responsible for creating initiatives, programming and strategy, and building a place of welcoming and belonging for all employees. His duties include attracting and acquiring diverse talent and ensuring the company is supporting supplier diversity, as well as developing and engaging associates.

“My goal is for Saks OFF 5th to be a trailblazer of diversity, equity and inclusion in the fashion and retail industry,” says Welch.

As a high school graduate, Welch knew he could have done more to pursue academic excellence. He is grateful to Oakland University for believing in him and giving him the resources and support needed to be a successful student. Welch spent his summer prior to freshman year attending classes through the university’s student success program. “I thought it was going to be the worst thing ever, but when I stepped on campus, I knew it was the best decision I ever made. It set me up for success.”

Early on, Welch’s professional ambition was to join ESPN as an on-air personality. A multicultural communication course taught by OU Professor Kellie Hay, Ph.D., would soon inspire a different path. “Dr. Hay helped cultivate and form my passion for diversity and inclusion and helped me realize that I wanted to make this my career,” he says. “I wanted to create pathways for people who come from different backgrounds and build bridges to businesses, organizations and communities. That class was the initial spark that set me down this road.”

He also credits Glenn McIntosh, OU senior vice president for student affairs and chief diversity officer, for mentoring him and holding him accountable. He notes that Dr. Scott Crabill, associate professor in the Department of Communication, Journalism, and Public Relations, and Rochelle Black, vice president for government and community relations, have had a profound influence on his career path. “These people helped me get involved with initiatives that I really cared about on campus and showed me how to get things done,” says Welch.

During his time at OU, Welch served as president of the Association of Black Students, was a member of the Student Life Lecture Board and Student Congress and played intramural basketball.

After receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication from OU, Welch went on to earn a Master’s of Community Development from University of Detroit Mercy and is currently in the Executive MBA Program at Howard University. He holds a Certification in Diversity and Inclusion from Cornell University.

As an alumnus, Welch has served on the board of OU’s Black Alumni Chapter and as an alumni speaker at commencement and career services events. In 2011, he was honored with the Oakland University Alumni Association Community Service Award. The award recognizes distinctive service of a humanitarian nature or citizenship through community, public or OU service activities. Welch also returned to OU’s Department of Communication and Journalism as a part-time instructor.

Welch says he met some of his greatest friends at OU. At the top of the list is his wife Kaniqua Welch, who received her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from OU in 2004. She has also stayed connected to the university as a member of the Oakland University Alumni Association and sits on the editorial board for OU Magazine. The couple married at Meadow Brook Hall.

He advises recent alumni to stay engaged with the university following graduation and to share what they learned as a student with the community. “I have personally benefited from my relationship with Oakland University and know that other alumni have, as well,” says Welch. “OU is home and we never really leave home.”

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