Diversity

Black History Month career-networking events brainchild of international student

As an intern in the Center for Career and Calling, junior Danielle Widjaya does everything from setting up display tables to helping with campus “mega meet-ups” and accompanying students on career treks to Boeing, Costco, and the like.

But as she worked over the past year, she noticed many fellow ethnically diverse students didn’t attend CCC events. She suspected it was because they didn’t relate to the majority of guests, participants, and speakers.

“People of color face common barriers in the workplace,” she said. “Talking to successful business professionals about how they navigated and overcame these barriers is important for our students of color.”

Widjaya, who is from Jakarta, Indonesia, has personally experienced some of those barriers, and her course “Race and Ethnicity” confirmed, and explained, the difficulty she’d experienced while hunting for a summer job.

“Research shows that black men with education have less opportunity in the workplace compared to white men without an education,” said the sociology major. “Research also shows that people with ethnic-sounding names have less chances of getting hired.”

“Research shows that black men with education have less opportunity in the workplace compared to white men without an education.”

So Widjaya talked to her fellow students of color, taking their feedback on what they’d like to see at CCC events and her observations to her supervisor Lori Brown, associate director of the Center for Career and Calling. Students, she told Brown, would be interested in hearing from ethnically diverse business owners and professionals who have overcome barriers. Brown immediately encouraged her to use the skills she was learning as a CCC intern to develop an event. Widjaya jumped into action.

With Brown’s help, they created the Black History Month Speaker Series, bringing black business professionals to special meet-ups throughout February. Using LinkedIn and The Puget Sound Business Journal, Widjaya made a few connections and soon professionals were reaching out to her. In fact, so many black professionals wanted to talk to SPU students, she said, that the Center was able to develop more connections for future events.

By the time the 2019 Black History Month Speaker Series was set, the professionals meeting with students included Mara Cardenas ’05, acting diversity and inclusion manager of King County government; Lewis Rudd, CEO of Ezell’s Chicken; Alex Brooks, founder of Entreprov; and Chris Bailey, owner of MindSeekers LLC.

“Danielle had a great idea, and I wanted to encourage her as much as possible,” said Brown. “She put all the pieces together, coordinated with the speakers, and even surveyed the students who attended to see how to improve the events for next year, when we’ll do it even bigger and better.”

Said Widjaya, “I want to remind students that anything is possible and your dreams are achievable no matter your skin color.”

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