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Dwayne Ashley: Funding A Dream

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by Denver Louis
Black Voices

For many college students, entering this uncertain job market can often be a daunting and nerve racking experience. But with graduation around the corner for some and summer fast approaching for others, too many bypass one of the most critical stepping stones along the way… getting an internship.

Earlier this year, The Thurgood Marshall College Fund released the book, Dream Internships: It’s Not Who You Know, It’s What You Know, which teaches students the significance of landing internships as well as giving them a crash course in how to interview for one.

Recently, Black Voices had an opportunity to sit down with Dwayne Ashley, the Chief Executive Officer and President of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund as well as the author of the book.

Mr. Ashley, who has been named to Ebony magazine’s “100 Most Influential Black Americans” list for five consecutive years, shares some of his insights on the internship landscape as well as the importance of capitalizing on opportunities.Are internships something you feel that young people are not capitalizing on?

Yes I do. I think that a lot of times, first generation college students don’t know about internships and that’s just across the board. And I think that people really don’t know the fact that a lot of internships are unpaid, which most students don’t even think about. If you’re a first generation college student, you need to work during the summer, you need to make money. So they’re thinking about, “what can I do during the summer to make some additional dollars so that when I go to school, I’ll have some money around?” But the way to get your foot in the door is to be willing to take part of that summer and volunteer to do an unpaid internship. It gets your foot in the door and nobody’s turning down free labor at this time in the country.

Would you suggest a paid internship as an initial internship?

I think paid or unpaid. Any way that you can get your foot in the door with an area that you’re interested in pursuing a career, I think you have to use those opportunities. You’ve got to sell yourself and you’ve got to be willing to work for free if you have to. You have to be willing to market yourself that way and show people that you are willing and that through your efforts that you are worth being paid. A lot of times when kids go through an unpaid internship, the company will find a way to try to get them a stipend at the end of it or at end of it, the next summer they’ll come back and hire them and pay them to work the next summer, because they realize that this person is really good. Often it is just that first initial stage that you make it in that is often unpaid. Usually if you’re really good at what you do, that company is going to find a way to reward you.

Is there a science to getting that dream internship?

It’s not a science, but there are certain steps that you have to take. You’ve got to have a really good letter to introduce yourself. Your resume has got to be tight. If I’m coming in a freshman or sophomore, I don’t need to send a two-page resume. I haven’t had a career long enough to give me enough experience to have a two-page resume. So make sure your resume is short and simple and focuses on the key things. People don’t want to hear about every award you’ve gotten while you were in high school and college. Talk about the key leadership roles you’ve been in while you have been in college. Talk about those things that you’ve done where you’ve overcome obstacles and some program you’ve managed that allows you to use those tools desirable to the workplace. That’s what people really want to see.

How do things change depending on your experience and your time in college?

I think, if you don’t have work experience, whether you’re a freshman or sophomore, because this book is applicable to high school students too, you’ve got to talk about your community involvement and where you’ve had a leadership role and where you’ve guided a group of people, because that’s a transferable skill. If you’re the president or the vice president of your organization and you’re leading a group of people to accomplish a goal, that’s a situation with management and the workplace. So you can talk about how you inspire people and how you get people to line up behind a goal.

Why are companies not recruiting as heavily from HBCU’s as other colleges?

Well the first thing I want say is that, this book is not just for HBCU students. I think that companies have a recruiting budget and we did a study last year to look at how companies recruit. Most companies and government agencies look at ten universities annually. When they go to those universities, a lot of times those are universities where people in executive roles attended those schools, so of course they are going to want you to go back to they alma maters. Secondly, because of budget limitations, they are really trying to look at where they can get the greatest return on their investment. So if they’ve had a successful track record from going to four of five universities, and they’re able to meet their needs, they are going to go where that success is. The key to it is really getting them to open that door and be able to look at some new talent. And that’s the role that the fund plays, to really try and synergize that talent that comes from our 47 institutions with the needs that government agencies and corporations have for recruiting talent.

Is the fund strictly for African American students?

Well the fund is for students attending any HBCU, whether you’re black, white, Hispanic, American, Asian or whatever. It’s for students attending HBCU’s whether its undergrad grad or graduate. We don’t award our scholarships by race, we award them based on attending our institutions. We do have scholarships where the donor has said that they would like that the student be able to go to any school, but I would say that 80 percent of our scholarships are restricted to public black colleges.

Who are the best HBCU’s when it comes to establishing a business relationship with Wall Street?

I think all of them do a good job, but it really depends on where the school is located, what schools they have that appeal to those firms. I can’t identify one school over the other because I think all of our schools do a good job of placing students through the partnerships that they have. Now you have some schools that are in urban cities and of course they are going to be more accessible to corporations versus a school that is a rural area. Urban schools can do a better job of in terms of being able to have direct contact with those corporations in those big cities.

How diverse would you say the internship landscape is as far as minorities are concerned?

It’s not diverse enough. Corporations need to make a commitment to really bringing a diverse group of interns annually. Some corporations do it better than others because they really do have programs to fuel a pipeline of students that are diverse. Some of them work with corporations like the Thurgood Marshall Fund to really identify that kind of talent.


One Response

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  1. Some students can’t afford an unpaid intership, so they must work at MacDonald’s, Target, the local gas station etc. to pay for some of college. What do they do???????????????????

    Jeffrey Brown

    May 24, 2008 at 3:49 am

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