Prudential has been working with Historically Black Colleges and Universities for more than two decades. Its most recent efforts come in the wake of $3 million in grants, but financial contributions are not where the Newark-based company draws the line. Building on its history of support, Prudential is embarking on a multi-faceted approach to its work with HBCUs to foster economic and educational opportunities in the Black community.
Part of that work goes through the HBCU Immersion Program, where Prudential and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund help HBCU students find better internships, leading to better jobs and ultimately better preparing them to enter the finance industry.
In March, 24 students will come together as part of the initiative for the opportunity to meet with Prudential executives and to learn more about career opportunities.
“The HBCU immersion program is one part of our multipronged strategy … and it’s really about advancing economic and educational opportunities,” explained Prudential Vice President of Inclusive Solutions Sarah Keh. “And we know that HBCUs have an outsized impact for the Black community, so this is our effort to really make sure that we’re helping to improve and increase access to these types of opportunities, and ultimately, hopefully see a larger pipeline of talent coming through at Prudential, too.”
Prudential’s Inclusive Solutions department oversees all social responsibility, culture, inclusion and diversity work. Keh leads strategic philanthropy and employee engagement programs for Prudential, which fall under the company’s social responsibility team.
This is the second year that Prudential is hosting the immersion program, but the first that it’s working with a partner: The Thurgood Marshall College Fund. The pairing provides Prudential with access to a larger network of students attending HBCUs and with TMCF giving assistance with marketing to prospective participants.
“They are a huge intermediary organization for HBCUs,” Keh said. “They have a wide reach in terms of who they can tap, and so we really wanted to make sure that we weren’t just exclusively going to the networks of people who were coming to Prudential, but really making sure that all students have access to it.”
According to TMCF, the organization represents 300,000 students across its 47 member-schools, with an average graduation rate of 97% for its scholarship recipients. To date, TMCF says it has awarded more than $300 million in assistance to students and its member-schools.
While the goal of the HBCU immersion program is to bring participants together, next month’s three-day event will take place virtually – as it did last year – in light of the pandemic.
The program will include panel discussions, one-on-one meetings and breakout sessions. According to Keh, raising awareness about the different career opportunities, the culture, and work environment at Prudential is part of the programming, as is providing access to senior executives who can relay their own career journeys.
Each student receives a small stipend for taking part in the immersion program to support their studies. And they are matched with a Prudential mentor for a six-month period – beginning in March and lasting through the summer – which serves as a first step in exposing students to the company’s internship program.
“And our Prudential employees – it’s not that we’re looking at one specific business group, but it’s across the enterprise,” Keh says, adding that demand from employees wanting to take part in the program exceeds the roles the company currently has to fill.
Both mentors and participating students hail from across the country. The immersion program offers a chance for students to spend time with their advisors, but it also allows the students to get to know each other.
“We want to make sure that the students get to know each other as well, because they come from all the different HBCUs,” Keh said.
“This will be the only time that the students themselves will be together as a group, so we hope that we can help build some of those connections and networks,” she added. “But as we continue to do this longer, we want to make sure that we’re keeping track of all the students … to make sure that they feel like they’re part of a network as well.”
This year’s immersion program participants would be applying for internships for next summer, in 2023. That’s why the immersion-mentorship program runs six months, Keh explained.
“So that they, the mentors, can help … provide them tips and advice as they go through the interview process,” she said. Interviews for 2023 internships will take place in July and August.
The internship program has been virtual for the past two years but Keh is hopeful that it will return to in-person this summer. She said the majority of interns are based in Newark, but that “we do have some that end up going to other locations.” The internship program is bookended by meetups in the Brick City, regard-less of where the participants are based.
Prudential’s approach builds upon the work it’s been doing these past 40-odd years. “[E]verything that has happened over the last two years with the social unrest and the pandemic,” prompted thinking around “how do we advance Black economic empowerment that builds on the work that we have historically done,” Keh said.
According to TMFC, more than 75% of students at HBCUs rely on Pell Grants, with nearly 14% needing PLUS loans to meet higher education expenses.
The other HBCU-partnership-prongs include providing students with financial support and education – like through the launch of the Handling Everyday Life Problems for Students (HELPS) Program, a three-year pilot that will support nine HBCUs in the spring – and helping to solidify the schools as drivers of economic and civic health in their communities. “It’s really thinking about HBCUs as anchor institutions in their community,” Keh said – like Prudential is in Newark.
In addition to TMCF, she said other partners in the company’s HBCU program include UNCF, Hampton University, Student Freedom Initiative and More-house College. Keh says Prudential has hopes to eventually expand the kinds of existing partnerships it has currently to other schools, while making sure to build up and keep the framing of that multipronged approach.
“Obviously we know that HBCUs have been advancing Black economic empowerment for over 150 years. So in and of itself, we know there’s high-quality talent that’s coming out of HBCUs and we want to come further into that,” she said.
Building a diverse workforce so that Prudential represents the spaces it operates in is important, but Keh says that alone isn’t enough. “[W]e also have to drive progress in society, too,” she said. “And I think one of the things that has come out of the COVID-19 pandemic overall is that business can’t operate in silos, and can’t just focus on our own innerworkings. But society as a whole is fragile when things like a disaster or pandemic occur, and so you have to think about how do you raise all boats.”