During summer 2020, the murder of George Floyd and others at the hands of the police sparked a desire among EMBA students at the University of Maryland Smith School of Business to act.
“Our class started the program in January 2020,” says Latrice Wilson, PharmD. “We had some classes together before the pandemic hit, which helped us form a bond. After the summer, we were affected by the murders of unarmed people of color at the hands of the police, and we really felt we needed to do something.”
Students participated in a town hall to talk about the events, their impact, and the cohort’s potential contributions to helping advance DEI in the program and in business.
“We wanted to talk to our cohort to get a general pulse,” says Wilson. “We wanted to make sure it was more than just a conversation that we were having. How can we build opportunities and have an impact? We started that conversation.”
As cohort representatives, Wilson and Randy Marsh met with the EMBA academic director and the college diversity officer to share the cohort’s interest in moving forward. With their support, the students formed their own DEI committee, wrote a charter, and established two subcommittees—one to look at the curriculum and one to enhance the pipeline for diverse students to access Smith’s programs.
Students in the curriculum subcommittee started by talking with one professor, who opened the diversity discussion in class. They also partnered with professors to assemble a panel with diverse EMBA alumni.
The pipeline committee worked to complement Smith’s recruiting efforts, including helping with the recruitment pitch and organizing a panel for high school students at a local school.
“We wanted our school and our program to reflect our community,” says Wilson. “We wanted to connect with youth to empower them so they can think about becoming future EMBA candidates.”
While the original committee members graduated, their legacy inspires others. The class of 2021 continued the work that the inaugural committee began. Wilson and Marsh remain available to help the students carry on the initiative.
“Involving students is important,” says Marsh, vice president of operations for Children’s Defense Fund. “If you are going to talk DEI, you must talk to students.”
The changing nature of the workplace makes DEI a necessity for business programs, such as EMBA, with the aim of developing leaders for the increasingly diverse workforce.
“Our work is becoming more diverse, so it is imperative to understand diversity,” says Wilson, now an entrepreneur and founder of NVRALWYS, a vintage retail operation. “The program strengthened my confidence to lead a group of diverse and skilled people.”