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The Consortium, Born In A Turbulent Time, Marks 50 Years

Fred Harris. Courtesy photo

Fred Harris. Courtesy photo

HELPING STUDENTS BECOME SUCCESSFUL, IN CLASS AND IN LIFE

Harris had experience going from small programs to large ones. He attended the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluffs, a historically black university, for his undergraduate degree before matriculating to Wisconsin.

“It was an interesting experience because I’m from Arkansas and I came from this smaller school, and suddenly I arrive on the campus of this Big Ten school,” Harris says. But while he remembers it as “a terrific experience,” Harris also recalls struggling to adapt — and his professors and Consortium colleagues coming to his rescue.

“I wasn’t prepared to study in a graduate program when I came, so it was an adjustment for me, the school, the climate, the atmosphere and the study habits,” he says. “But they provided some great support, the Consortium did, through the professors — I remember them to this day, they provided great support in helping me and others to adjust and to become successful in life.”

PREJUDICE, IGNORED

Harris recalls only one occasion when race played a negative role in his experience at Wisconsin. A marketing professor had the reputation for being extra tough on black students, and Harris was warned not to take his class. “But I’m the type of person that doesn’t quit, so once I signed on for something, I was determined to finish it. This particular professor didn’t think that programs like the Consortium were well-founded, and no one had ever come out of there with a decent grade.

“I didn’t take the warning. I’ve never been a quitter, so I wasn’t going to be then. I did not drop the course, I finished it and it’s the only C I got in grad school, and I think there are some correlations there. That’s the only such incident that I can think of on that campus.”

On the contrary, he says, his experience through the Consortium — and later during his career with 3M — was free of the kind of prejudice that might be expected of the era.

“I get asked this question a lot,” Harris says. “I’m sure there probably was (some racism) but I just blew right by it. My attitude is that I am a little boy from the cotton fields of Arkansas, given all of this opportunity, and man, I am going to take it. Nothing is going to stop me unless there is a wall, and the wall better be more than six feet high.”

‘IT MAKES YOU PROUD AS A PERSON OF COLOR’

Harris, who is now retired, shakes his head at the longevity of the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management. “For a program to sustain itself for that long of a period of time, it had to adapt to changing times and changing complexities in our world, and adjust to what sponsors wanted and what was needed in the marketplace in the program. Fifty years is just remarkable!

“There were a lot of other programs at that time, but a lot of them are not around today. It speaks to the need and it speaks to the ability of the leadership of this program — along with the input from the sponsoring schools and corporations to adjust and adapt to the needs being met.

“It makes you proud as a person of color to be associated with people who really care and have passion for bringing about some change in the world.”

GOOD PROGRESS BUT ‘A LONG WAY TO GO’

Peter Aranda says for many, the appeal of the program lies in its network of more than 8,500 graduates. “Realistically, the value of the Consortium affiliation is the potential to connect and interact with people who share similar experiences from 18 schools around the country,” he says. “That is very, very powerful.

“It’s really a second network. Everyone is attending a great school — every one of our 18 schools has a fantastic alumni network. However, having a second network that is really focused on diversity and inclusion and includes a large class size, more than 8,500 people who have gone through the program before you, is an excellent opportunity to learn about careers in different industries, careers in specific companies, to ask some of the hard questions that you may not ask a majority recruiter but are interested in knowing: ‘What’s it like for a person of color to work at X,Y,Z company?’ etc., etc. So the power of that network is incredible.”

It’s a network that is constantly growing. The most recent school to join was Georgetown in 2013, and Aranda says other prospective member schools are regularly considered. “I receive calls at least once a month from schools that are interested in learning more about the Consortium and how they might become a member,” he says. Candidates are considered based on a variety of factors, not least whether they can further the Consortium’s mission to increase the ranks of under-represented minorities at member schools.

That mission will continue as long as minority representation at Consortium member schools’ MBA programs continues to lag behind the general population, Aranda says. “When you think of what the population of under-represented minority students looks like in MBA programs, here are some basic stats: Top 50 MBA programs around the United States, if we assume the average enrollment in the full-time program is about 200 students per class, we’re looking at a total population of 10,000 students and roughly 800 of them, or 8%, are under-represented minorities — and so more than half of those are affiliated with the Consortium.

“And so having the ability to add that population to our personal network is very powerful. But we still have a long way to go. When we can say that member schools have under-represented minorities close to 30%, matching the population demographics, then we’ll believe and feel that our mission has been accomplished. Our schools today are running around 12% on average — better than the national average in the top 50, but still a long ways away from 30%.”

DON’T MISS: GEORGETOWN JOINS ESTEEMED DIVERSITY NETWORK