Thurgood Marshall College Fund helps HBCU grads establish careers
TMCF provides scholarships and connects students with jobs. OFC helps launch entrepreneurs
By Christine Heinrichs
Senior Contributing Editor
The Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF, thurgoodmarshallcollege fund.org, Washington, DC) has been providing scholarships and job placement help to students at public historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) for almost thirty years. Now TMCF has extended its programs to help innovators and aspiring entrepreneurs. In August, TMCF acquired the Opportunity Funding Corporation (OFC), making it a division of the larger organization.
“Our focus for the last twenty-five years has been on getting jobs for our graduates with the government or large private employers,” says Johnny Taylor, TMCF’s CEO. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but we were missing the opportunity to start creating job creators. The engine of the American economy is small and middle-sized businesses. OFC takes up the challenge of fixing that, particularly in the African American community.”
Named in honor of the U.S. Supreme Court’s first African American justice, TMCF provides scholarships to undergraduate, graduate, medical and law students attending the nation’s public HBCUs. TMCF also provides leadership development and training as well as programmatic and capacity building support to its forty-seven member schools, which are located in twenty-two states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Its mission is to partner with member schools to increase access, retention and graduation rates of students; to identify and prepare students attending member schools who have significant leadership potential; and to create a pipeline for employers to highly qualified member-school students and alumni.
The nation’s 105 HBCUs graduate nearly 20 percent of the African Americans who earn undergraduate degrees and more than 50 percent of their professionals and teachers. More than a dozen HBCUs have engineering schools or programs, and even more offer computer science and IT courses.
TMCF supports forty-seven public HBCUs, including six law schools and two medical schools. It also partners with organizations like 100Kin10, a collaborative of over 150 partners, which has the goal of training 100,000 STEM teachers by 2021.
OFC helps launch entrepreneurs
The nonprofit OFC focuses on developing future entrepreneurs by arranging financing and other support for innovative business ideas. “We want to create the type of environment where a college grad with a great idea can get help to identify funding, find mentors, and locate office space: all the elements that are required for a business to succeed,” says Taylor.
Entrepreneurs compete for funding
OFC holds an annual Innovation & Entrepreneurship business competition for students in HBCU graduate business schools. Teams of four or five students create business plans to pitch to venture capitalists for at least $500K in investment funds. The business has to be new, but students are encouraged to mine university technology with commercial potential. At least one of the team members must be an MBA student, but others can be from other disciplines, at both the graduate and undergraduate level. Teams are encouraged to draw from a variety of disciplines.
Taylor wants students at HBCUs to “develop their entrepreneurial talents and to think beyond their institutions to create innovative solutions for today’s marketplace.” He envisions teams that might include three students from an HBCU like North Carolina A&T (Greensboro, NC) partnering with two students from a private university like Duke University (Durham, NC).
The business plan competition teams form at the beginning of the academic year and submit a single-page description of their ideas by October 31. Teams compete at their schools to select a winner by March to compete nationally in Atlanta. At the national event, students make oral presentations of their written ten-page business plans to the judges. First prize is $15,000. All teams get feedback from the judges and the opportunity to share their ideas with other entrepreneurs.
“My dream is to identify a future Bill Gates,” Taylor says.
DoD helps students make the transition
One of TMCF’s leadership development projects focuses on supporting students after they graduate from their HBCUs into the corporate world. This yearlong program is being developed with a $3 million Department of Defense (DoD) grant. The program was developed after top HBCU grads starting at DoD research labs reported that it was sometimes challenging to figure out the cultural rules of engagement in their new workplaces.
“The schools do a good job of teaching them STEM,” Taylor says. “We’re helping them figure out those wrap-around tools.”
TQRP supports the STEM pipeline
TMCF’s Teacher Quality and Retention Program (TQRP) focuses on improving K-12 STEM education, especially in math and science. HBCUs are the main source of African American schoolteachers, Taylor notes. U.S. Department of Education statistics show that more than 35 percent of public school students, but fewer than 15 percent of teachers, are African American or Hispanic. Fewer than 2 percent of U.S. teachers are African American males.
TQRP participants attend intensive summer training sessions to prepare to teach in high-need schools in urban and rural communities. The program actively recruits African American males. Since it started in 2009, TQRP has developed 147 Fellows.
“We want to make sure we have opportunities for all our students who graduate,” Taylor says. “We don’t look at any challenge as a problem, just an opportunity.”
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