Program links students to firms

VALUING MINORITY TALENT

November 02, 1992|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Staff Writer

When Dwight L. Lassiter tries to persuade a company to take on a minority student for a summer internship, he doesn't make a big appeal to the company's social conscience. Instead, he appeals to its wallet.

"I don't think we can continue to lean on this whole social-conscience theme," Mr. Lassiter said. "We need to show the business community what these young people bring to the table to improve the bottom line."

Mr. Lassiter is director of Baltimore Inroads Inc., the local affiliate of the Inroads Inc., a non-profit group based in St. Louis that recruits talented black, Hispanic and American Indian high school and college students and then links them with major corporations for summer internships.

Inroads' goal is to help create the diverse corporate officials of the next century. "We are really building the Baltimore work force for the year 2000," Mr. Lassiter said. "We are preparing a trained work force of prospective minority managers."

Started in Chicago in 1970 with 25 college student interns and 17 companies, Inroads has grown to include 39 affiliated groups across the country that work with about 5,600 high school and college students and more than 700 sponsoring organizations.

Inroads sets high standards for participating students and then requires them to maintain those standards while they are enrolled in the program. Students must have a combined Scholastic Aptitude Test score of more than 800, and preference is given to students with a grade-point-average of at least 3.0, Mr. Lassiter said.

Once in the program, the students must maintain their B average and attend all Inroads summer seminars, which amount to 30 to 32 hours of classroom time. Students must also check in at Inroads during the school year to ensure that they are maintaining their academic standing.

NB The Inroads operations are organized as separate firms in each

city where they are located. Funding comes from the $2,750 fee that the participating organizations pay for each student each year. The companies also pay the salaries of the students during their internships. Wages range from $6 to $13.50 a hour.

The students pay a $100 activity fee, Mr. Lassiter said, although the companies are picking up that tab for now.

Inroads came to Baltimore in 1986 and started with 29 students. Now there are 75 students who work for 37 companies. There have been 37 graduates of the Baltimore Inroads program, of which 22 are working for the companies where they interned or for another Inroads sponsoring company, he said.

Companies participating in the local program include such well-known firms as Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., Black & Decker Corp., Maryland National Bank, PHH Corp., Legg Mason and the Rouse Co.

Mr. Lassiter, 44, joined Inroads two years ago after a career as an administrator at Morgan State University and a five-year stint in sales and marketing for MCI. His mixture of educational and marketing experience has been useful in selling the program to prospective companies and in dealing with the educational needs of the students.

Working through the private and public schools and colleges, Baltimore Inroads recruits students from Baltimore, Baltimore County, Anne Arundel County, Harford County, Howard County and Carroll County. The students include high school graduates who are going on to college and college freshmen and sophomores.

With no income restrictions and with appeals made in private schools, the program is not intended to rescue marginal students from a low-income family, Mr. Lassiter concedes. In fact, he said, most of the students in the program would probably be successful without the help of Inroads.

Rather, the goal is to find the "best and the brightest" of minority students and prepare them for corporate life. "Even the best and the brightest kids need training," he said. "Many of the youngsters need to know how to be team players."

But Inroads does best in reaching out to students in what Mr. Lassiter called "challenging home situations." But the operation is limited by its four-person staff in Baltimore. "Our staff were lean and mean long before the term became popular," he said.

Mr. Lassiter says the number of students in the program could increase to 90, or perhaps 100. But the number depends on how many more companies he can recruit. Mr. Lassiter has 35 more companies lined up, and he hopes to snag at least half of those.

"I think the business community here can support 100 young people," he said.

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