Talent Development Creates Ability for INROADS Students to Succeed

Talent development gained from the nonprofit program prepares Black, Latino and American Indian interns for business leadership.

Talent development wasn't on Jessica Soetan's mind when she graduated from high school. "I didn't really know what I was doing or what I'd be doing when I got to college," says the INROADS alumna.

Now 23 years old, Soetan is a product manager with a large retail pharmacy chain in the Chicago area. She credits her current position to a multi-year business-management internship she received through INROADS.

"I stumbled upon it while looking for college scholarships on Fastweb online," she recalls. Soetan notes that it's pretty rare for a 16-year-old girl to find a paid internship, let alone one that provides such in-depth talent development.

Soetan started the internship during her first summer after high school and continued the program throughout her four years of college. After graduation, she was offered a full-time position with the company as an assistant manager.

"INROADS taught me how to network with the people I worked with, to dress for work and be professional so I could succeed in the real world," says Soetan. "The program fostered me a lot in career development and getting necessary tools for the program." These include both hard and soft business skills through training, networking opportunities, mock interviews, tutoring and mentoring.

A Mission in Talent Development

INROADS, founded by Frank C. Carr in Chicago in 1970, is a nonprofit organization that aims to develop talented underserved youth for success in business, providing them the necessary skills and opportunities to gain valuable internships, and eventually positions, with companies.

There is also an INROADS alumni network that provides current and former interns with an online and national community, offering a continued support system throughout their careers.

"It's a strong leadership and development program focused on growing the competencies of these young people with a rigorous coaching process," explains Maria Morris, executive vice president of global employee benefits for MetLife and chairman of the board for INROADS. MetLife is No. 50 in the 2012 DiversityInc Top 50 and has been a top 10 INROADS-sponsoring company since 2004.

Currently under the executive leadership of president and CEO Forest T. Harper, who had humble beginnings himself as the son of migrant farmers in Florida, INROADS offers high-potential Black, Latino and American Indian students the tools they need to aspire and achieve leadership roles that otherwise would be unobtainable. Read Talent Development: From Migrant Workers' Son to CEO for his story.

Talent Development Creates Opportunity

Cerileene Menendez Mendoza, who moved from her home in Puerto Rico to attend Assumption College, a small school in Massachusetts, says she never would have gotten her accounting internship at KPMG (No. 22) without INROADS. She says internships were typically reserved for students at much larger colleges.

"Specifically, INROADS prepared me for the interview and to develop cultural awareness and understanding for a corporate culture. They helped me become sure about myself and I was able to meet other students going through the same process," she says. "INROADS' network and peer-to-peer reviews provided really good feedback."

Thanks to INROADS, Mendoza's career took off after she graduated in 2011: After graduation, she was chosen as a Fulbright Scholar. Fulbright is a grant-based work-abroad exchange program from the Council for International Exchange of Scholars on behalf of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Mendoza is now is the director of platonic venture capitalists for Toniic Mexico at New Ventures Mexico.

She also was featured in an edition of CNN's Expansion, a business magazine targeting professionals in Mexico and Latin America, for her accomplishments when she was 22 years old, she says.

"INROADS helped me … to think about my skills," says Mendoza. "I was able to gain exposure culturally to other parts of the world and in the United States. They showed me new experiences and career options I never considered."

See also: Rutgers Future Scholars Enhances Talent Pipelines With Corporate-Student Outreach

Investing in Talent Development

The mission of INROADS is as relevant today as it ever was, according to INROADS alumnus Jeffrey S. Perry, whose initial internship with INROADS has come full circle.

Perry, who started as an intern for two years at an oil company and moved on to work at companies including Booz Allen Hamilton (No. 36) and another management consultancy, now serves as a board member for INROADS. In his current position as transaction integration practice leader for Ernst & Young (No. 6), Perry keeps the benefits of INROADS close at hand. There is a war for talent, and "INROADS helps us at Ernst & Young stay competitive," he says.

The company places heavy emphasis on diverse recruiting and has multiple partnerships with colleges and organizations. It also hosts its own Discover Ernst & Young events to generate interest in the accounting profession among students. Learn more about the company's recruiting strategies in Diversity Web Seminar on Recruitment: 5 Workforce-Diversity Strategies to Find, Engage & Retain Talent.

"It about developing very specific, targeted programs for the interns and leveraging INROADS access to alumni. It's so we can progress talent to that next level," says Perry.

For more information on INROADS and for a list of sponsoring companies, visit www.inroads.org.

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