When Lynita Taylor was charged last spring with recruiting students for PwC MPREP Scholars — the new cutting-edge Multicultural Professional Readiness Education Program in the Mike Ilitch School of Business — she expected the diversity effort to unfold slowly, with only a few participants trickling in to start.
Instead, Taylor has at times found herself inundated with students clamoring to be part of MPREP.
“The goal was to have 15 to 20 current Wayne State students to participate for the year,” said Taylor, diversity and inclusion manager for MPREP Scholars and its administrative cornerstone. “We expected that it would be a gradual progression, where we would end up with 20 students by the end of the school year as a whole.
“After only a month, we were at 18!”
And student interest in MPREP Scholars continues to rise.
That’s hardly surprising, however, considering that the program is the first of its kind and offers the potential for networking, mentorship and other opportunities that students of color too often feel themselves shut out of in many other places.
A collaborative measure between Wayne State and PricewaterhouseCoopers, or PwC, the MPREP learning community aims to prepare young professionals of color by enhancing their education beyond the classroom. The program pairs students with multiple mentors across respective business fields and provides a host of academic and professional support services. Taylor serves as the first point of contact for students, and beyond Wayne State’s campus, MPREP Scholars students are connected with both a mentor from PwC and one from the local community.
“My mentors may just be my mentors this year — but I definitely think they will continue to be my mentors and people I can go talk to years from now, so that helps a lot,” said Sydney Lockhart, an MPREP student majoring in global supply chain management.
Although MPREP Scholars is open to any student, the program is specifically geared to attract and retain talented students of color. Concerned about the lack of minority enrollment in the fields of accounting and finance, PwC officials told Ilitch School administrators that they were looking to make an investment in diversity that ran deeper than just monetary donations.
“They wanted to make a change in the fact that, with Wayne State being a school that is right in the heart of an urban location, the amount of multicultural students that they were getting, especially in accounting and finance, was extremely low,” said Taylor. “So they wanted to put their efforts and funds toward trying to increase that number.”
The financial pledge from PwC, in conjunction with the volunteer hours from their staff members, has led to a program that is already having measurable effects on students.
“I hope other schools begin to look at it because I think it’s very important that students of color begin to get involved with their community and get their voices heard in business,” said Lockhart.
And it’s Taylor who has been the driving force behind that involvement. Working out of her second-floor office in the District Detroit, she has shepherded MPREP since her arrival in March. She’s overseen everything from its programmatic development to the recruitment of MPREP’s inaugural cohort. In addition, Taylor is a part-time faculty member, teaching a mandatory freshman course focused on student success. (She’s also pursuing a doctorate in the College of Education.)
Lockhart credits Taylor with drawing her into the program, having met her in September at the first-ever Welcome Black Celebration, a gathering of organizations for WSU students of color. At the event, Taylor convinced Lockhart to apply to MPREP that same day. Since then, Lockhart said, Taylor has done everything from helping her find a lost wallet to providing invaluable networking tips.
“It’s important to know that there are people who look like you in positions that you desire to be in,” said Lockhart. “It’s not just non-African Americans who can get these jobs. I think it’s important to see that here in the city of Detroit, there are businessmen and women who have succeeded. It’s good to see that as an African American student — because it leads to you wanting to do more.”
If Taylor, PwC officials and others have their way, MPREP Scholars will be leading students at the Mike Ilitch School of Business for many years to come.