Welcoming Equity-Deserving Students

Article Icon Article
Monday, December 12, 2022
By Sharon Shinn
Photo by iStock/SDI Productions
Smith School of Business at Queen’s University launches a program designed to prepare underserved populations for the job market.
  • Students who are marginalized due to age, race, disability, economic status, gender, and sexual orientation often face challenges as they seek employment.
  • Smith’s new program provides these students with job prep, mentorship, and access to internships with companies looking for diverse hires.
  • The program aligns with the business school’s other inclusivity initiatives, which include a summer camp for Indigenous youth and a specialized fund to support new initiatives designed to generate impact.

Data shows that students who experience meaningful work opportunities in their first few years of higher education have significantly better long-term career outcomes than students who do not. For instance, they’ll enjoy higher compensation and progress more quickly to management roles. However, students from historically underserved populations often face barriers in accessing these work experiences, which can put them at a disadvantage and affect their career trajectories.

In Canada, the term equity-deserving groups often is used to describe populations that are marginalized due to age, race, disability, economic status, gender, or sexual orientation. And when members of these groups are college students, it’s not unusual for them to face challenges as they seek jobs.

“Many undergraduate students find summer employment through their own networks—networks to which equity-deserving students don’t always have access,” notes Wanda Costen, dean of the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

That’s why, in April 2022, Smith launched a new Equity Diversity Inclusion Indigenization Internship Program (EDI3) aimed at first-, second-, and third-year students from underrepresented groups. The program is open to Smith Commerce students who are Indigenous, Black, racialized, female, first-generation, have a disability, or have financial need. Also eligible are those who are members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community. The 2S abbreviation stands for “Two-Spirit,” which is an identity held by some Indigenous people.

Offered by Smith’s Career Advancement Centre, EDI3 provides these students with mentorship, professional development, and internship opportunities. As students have meaningful work experiences, build social capital, and master key skills, they enhance their ability to achieve their career aspirations.

Prepping for the Job Market

To prepare for summer internships and future careers, students in the EDI3 program take eight career management foundations modules through the Career Advancement Centre. Before being accepted into the program, they must complete modules on personal branding, career exploration, and résumé writing; before they begin their internships, they complete modules on writing cover letters, using LinkedIn, interviewing, networking, and conducting job searches.

The program focuses on three primary areas:

Employment support. Students have their résumés reviewed, take part in interview prep, and spend time with coaches. Students also have access to an exclusive job board that includes summer internship postings from organizations seeking candidates from underrepresented groups. Depending on the industries they’re interested in and their level of preparedness, students generally spend between two and five hours on these activities.

As students have meaningful work experiences, build social capital, and master key skills, they enhance their ability to achieve their career aspirations.

Mentorship. Based on their career interests, students are matched with mentors from Smith’s alumni network who can share career advice, describe their lived experiences, and help students build professional networks. While this is an optional part of the program, many students participate. In 2022, Smith made 31 mentorship pairings, which provided 186 hours of mentoring over a six-month period.

Professional development. In future versions of the program, students will participate in a pre-internship orientation session where they hone their career skills and learn how to apply their new knowledge in the workplace. They also will be invited to attend a speaker series featuring industry partners who offer tips and strategies for career and work success.

Partnering for Internships

Once students complete their training, they are eligible to participate in four-month full-time work opportunities that run from May through August and span a range of industries across Canada. The pilot program, for example, included a marketing position within the healthcare industry, a finance opportunity in the investment management space, and an accounting position in municipal government. Sixty-two students took part in the 2022 program.

Participating companies are asked to provide a contact person who works with EDI3 students and provides them with information about the recruitment process, the work environment, and the typical work experience at their own organizations. These contacts might be part of the company’s talent acquisition team or employee resource groups—or they could simply be employees who are willing to support networking and job opportunities for equity-deserving students.

To find companies interested in providing internship opportunities for EDI3 students, the Smith School actively recruits them through its corporate partners, its alumni networks, and its advisory board. Mentors similarly are recruited through these channels. A total of 15 companies offered student internships in 2022, and the school anticipates even more interest for 2023.

Tweaking the Program

To launch the pilot program, the school sent an email to Smith Commerce students, asking them to reply by email if they were interested. In the future, the school will ask students to complete registration forms, provide up-to-date résumés, and submit cover letters detailing their interest.

After the pilot, the school gathered feedback from both students and employers, compiling suggestions that it will use to improve the program in coming years. For instance, staff and employers noted that it would be helpful to launch the program earlier in the academic year to align with the internship posting and recruitment cycle. Other respondents requested more professional development resources, and more promotional activity to inform students and companies about the program’s existence.

The EDI3 program is only part of Smith’s Equity, Diversity, Inclusion & Indigenization Strategy, which is aimed at making sure students have an accessible and inclusive experience.

Smith has already made changes to incorporate suggestions. For instance, this year’s program began in November, which will be the start date going forward. The school also has added a pre-internship orientation session and a speaker series, and it has created a formal website to support mentors and industry partners.

An Overall Strategy

The EDI3 program is only part of Smith’s Equity, Diversity, Inclusion & Indigenization Strategy, which is aimed at making sure students have an accessible and inclusive experience.

Smith launched another new initiative in July 2022 when it hosted a summer camp for high school students from a local Indigenous community. Ignite Your Future, a four-day immersive experience, brought nine students from the Mohawk territory of Akwesasne to campus to explore opportunities available at the business school and the university. The program was coordinated by the Smith Commerce program in conjunction with Smith’s Centre for Social Impact, the Queen’s Enrichment Studies Unit, and Akwesasne Career & Employment Support Services.

“Guided by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, this camp was designed to strengthen Smith’s relationships with local Indigenous communities and to show students the career opportunities available with an education in business and other fields of study,” says Ann Deer, former Indigenous Recruitment and Initiatives Coordinator. “Inspiring and increasing participation in postsecondary education is one way we can break down colonial barriers to successful careers in business for Indigenous people.”

During the four days, students stayed in residence halls, attended lectures, participated in a simulated business competition, and visited the Four Directions Indigenous Student Centre on campus. Several Queen’s faculties also came together to host a fair that provided students with information on the range of programs and support services available at Queen’s.

Says Deer, “This type of early outreach uplifts future Indigenous leaders by allowing them to see themselves at Queen’s and realize that their dreams can be realized through higher education.”

Investing in Change

Smith also maintains an Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Indigenization (EDII) Fund that focuses on initiatives designed to create impactful change. For instance, the EDII fund supports the Commerce Student Experience Fund, which helps students from any socioeconomic group pay for business attire, conference and case competition fees, and technology. The EDII fund also provides scholarships for Black and Indigenous students at the master’s level, and it has been used to make Smith’s facilities more welcoming environments for all students.

The Equity Diversity Inclusion Indigenization Internship Program has become a key part of the Smith School's goal to create an inclusive campus. On its website, the school states that goal clearly and describes its commitment to “cultivating a vibrant and diverse academic and work environment rooted in a culture of mutual respect so that all members of our community feel safe, possess a strong sense of belonging, and are empowered to thrive.”

Sharon Shinn
Editor, AACSB Insights
Subscribe to LINK, AACSB's weekly newsletter!
AACSB LINK—Leading Insights, News, and Knowledge—is an email newsletter that brings members and subscribers the newest, most relevant information in global business education.