Saturday marked the beginning of the second semester of a new and innovative program at Johns Hopkins University
designed to give African-American business managers the necessary tools and confidence to break into the ranks of upper-level corporate America.
Offered to midcareer minority professionals, the university's Leadership Development Program is a nine-month, 15-credit course that Hopkins officials say is the nation's only postgraduate academic regimen that offers minority managers a chance to bolster their leadership and management skills as they pursue a Master of Administrative Science degree.
There are 22 people enrolled in the program, 10 men and 12 women, with most students having five to 10 years of business experience at major corporations such as UNISYS and IBM. There is one entrepreneur in the group.
Teachers and students agree that it is too early to gauge the effectiveness of the program, although some say the program is one of the more exciting educational experiences they've encountered.
Indeed, teachers are learning just as much as from their students about the current problems and breakthroughs for minorities in the corporate world, said LDP director Carole Lyles.
"Even when these students leave the program, we won't be finished with them and they won't be finished with us," Ms. Lyles
said. "There's going to be a lot of follow-up activity to see how they are progressing and to get feedback an how we can improve."
The first LDP class comprises Baltimore and Washington, D.C. area professionals, mainly ranging in age from their early to late 30s, whose companies, for the most part, have agreed to pick up the tuition cost of $3,900.
The program began in September. The class has already completed a course on organizational theory and career management and, in the spring, the class will conclude the first ++ year of the program with studies in project management and analytical decision making tools.
The month of January will be devoted to a course entitled "The Black Manager: Power, Influence and Change." Along with examining the unique role of black managers in American organizations, the course will also call on students to compare and contrast the typical experiences of black managers and explore the implications of their own ability to exercise power and influence organizational change.
A great deal of emphasis is placed on student self-assessment, said Ms. Lyles. Students learn to not only decide what their skills and talents are but how their peers perceive these attributes.
"More than anything, it makes you more sensitive to the workplace and the people in it," said Marie A. Mann, a vice president for community development at Crestar Bank in Washington. "You learn how to be more realistic about how to respond to certainsituations."
The program is also designed to help midlevel minority managers deal with the pressure of companies that sometimes set unrealistically high, or low, goals for them.
But perhaps more important than the studying these students will pursue in the Leadership Development Program is the support network that is created -- a system that allows black professionals to draw upon the experiences of one another as they attempt "to shatter the glass ceiling" in corporate America, as a Hopkins press release put it.
"Everyone in the class, fortunately or unfortunately, has their own horror stories to swap," said Sheila Lawson, an assistant vice president in commercial lending at
Harbor Bank. "And it's nice to know that you're not the only one out there. You get the theoretical background but you learn the practical side, too."
Unlike most other upper-level management training programs, LDP meets once a week, on Saturday, for a full-day session, instead of a couple of classes a week that last an hour or two.
"When you're together like that for a whole day, you get to know people better and feel more comfortable discussing different things," Ms. Lawson said.
Unlike a normal business day, the Saturday classes also afford the program a better chance to attract quality speakers, Ms. Lyles said.