When 18-year-old Lynette Braxton graduated high school in 1995, she was ready to enjoy an effortless summer break before beginning her studies at the University of Delaware. Little did she know, the Fortune 2000 program that she had signed up for at UD’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics included an on-campus academic “boot camp” over the summer. This was an integral part of the comprehensive support program for students from racial minority groups, and it began in July, long before Braxton had thought she’d be heading to campus.
“My 18-year-old self was not thrilled, if my memory serves me correctly,” Braxton joked. For the next five weeks, Braxton said, she and her fellow students were up each day for a 7:30 a.m. breakfast and multiple college courses.
Fortunately, Braxton said, her college-aged self soon realized that earning this college credit in advance gave her the “huge benefit” of a head start on her college plans. Further, she added, the program instilled strong academic habits so that: “We took our academic careers very seriously.”
Today, Braxton considers the program “the best experience that I could have had starting in college,” and said that it gave her the opportunity to know “lifelong friends.” And for her, the program’s benefits didn’t stop there.
In addition to the resources that Fortune 2000 provided, including the summer program and weekend and career building sessions throughout students’ college careers, the program’s leader, Terry Whittaker (who also served as assistant dean of the Lerner College and UD assistant provost of student diversity and success), brought other programs to UD. One such program, the INROADS program, supports minority youth in business. It was through INROADS that Braxton had her first internship with Kraft Foods, which helped set the tone for the rest of her career.
After graduating in the Class of 1999 with a major in marketing, Braxton went on to spend 14 years in the sales department of Kraft and seven years as a manager and director for another food company, Mondelēz International. Today, she serves as the trade marketing director for consumer goods company Reckitt Benckiser (RB).
“It absolutely would not have been possible for me to start at Kraft without the Fortune 2000 program and Dr. Whitaker bringing in the INROADS program as another stair step for me to start my career,” Braxton said.
The Fortune 2000 program, Braxton continued, “was an experience where I was able to step outside of my comfort zone and network with individuals who were not from my area of Baltimore, Maryland, my hometown… It really helped me broaden my perspective and appreciate different cultures and the world and the opportunities that were provided to me beyond the Maryland border.”
Fellow Fortune 2000 participant Tisa Silver Canady also shared her experiences with the program, which she joined in 1996. Canady had switched to the finance major from engineering after being inspired by her mother, who was a CPA.
“My favorite thing [about the Fortune 2000 program] by far was the advice,” Canady said. “Sometimes, it was formally offered but at other times it was just a piece of wisdom shared bumping into Dean Whittaker, staff or administrators in the halls of Purnell or Trabant.”
Canady recalled receiving some of this advice from one of the program’s coordinators, Joyce Hart, when Canady was having a tough time on campus. Canady was struggling a bit with the large classes and adapting to life as a student of color at a predominately white institution like UD. She was even considering leaving the University.
“Ms. Hart brought me into her office, listened to and acknowledged my feelings, then met me with some facts,” Canady said. “I decided to stay at UD after that conversation. Not only did I stay, I returned for the MBA program and upon completion, accepted a teaching position in the finance department.”
After six years as a UD finance instructor, during which time she earned the Student Choice Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award, Canady served in administrative roles at the University of Maryland, which allowed her to channel her passion for financial education into helping graduate students achieve financial wellness.
“Since 2012, I have personally advised students and their families on the repayment of more than $50 million in student loan debt,” Canady said. “In 2018, I left to start a higher education research and consulting firm, Silver Canady & Associates.”
Canady’s future goals include helping improve postsecondary and financial outcomes for Black students and encouraging inclusion and equity in postsecondary education. She has created a book series, Melanin, Money, & Matriculation, as well as a forthcoming consumer education initiative to help Black students be strategic in working with student loans.
Like Braxton, Canady spoke fondly of Fortune 2000 as a place where her career goals began to formulate and take shape. Also, like Braxton, Canady said that the relationships with other students were a key part of this.
“There was a camaraderie among the program’s participants,” Canady said. “It was an invaluable experience. We were able to get a head start on getting to know our classmates and learning the campus and the surrounding community.
“If I missed class, people checked on me and shared notes,” she continued. “At exam time, we often arrived early trying to encourage each other… The memories are so random at times but still meaningful, and many of the relationships have continued to this day.”
Some of Canady’s friends who participated in the program also shared comments about their experiences.
“I loved my experience with Fortune 2000,” said Tari Mitchell, a Class of 1999 business alumna who now serves as a business relationship officer for Suncoast Credit Union. “Getting familiar with the campus and college life ahead of time was crucial. I made connections there that last ‘til this day, and it showed me what success would take and looks like at the next level.”
Aliya Constant, a Class of 1998 hospitality alumna who today is the director of sales for Hospitality Asset Management Company, said that she “loved the early arrival experience back in 1994. I made friendships that will last a lifetime. It brings a smile to my face just remembering how we all came in from high school at 17 or 18 years young, not knowing how college life was going to be, and when it was all said and done, we knew the campus, had our groups established and felt that comfort level all throughout our years.”
Today, UD and the Lerner College still offer a number of the same services to racial minority students that Fortune 2000 did. Lerner does this through the Lerner Diversity Council and through UDREAM (U Develop Resources for Excellence in Academic Management) program, which provides students with academic coaches and peer mentors.
“The LDC is seeking new partners to expand programming to high school students in our region and build our pipeline,” said Jennifer Joe, who is the chair of the LDC and the Lerner College’s Whitney Family Endowed Chair of Accounting, Cohen Family Lerner Director of Diversity and Chief Diversity Advocate. “We want to provide students with even more experiences like the ones Lynette and Tisa had. In order to do that, we need involvement from the community in terms of both time and financial resources.”
Those who would like to help support the LDC in these goals should contact Jalen Randolph, the Lerner College’s associate director of development. Randolph, who is also a Lerner MBA alumnus and who works closely with the LDC, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For students who have the opportunity to participate in programs like UDREAM, Braxton and Canady offer similar advice: Go for it.
“Take the chance and participate, Canady said. “If you do not participate, then you are certain to gain nothing.
“Also, as you seek the benefits of the program be prepared to contribute, too,” she continued. “Your voice is important and contributing your voice and experiences to the conversation may introduce your classmates to something they have never encountered.”
Braxton agreed, saying, “It’s all about your network, and this is a great way to start building that network. You have to start somewhere, and so I would definitely say: Just take the leap… It can be a truly rewarding experience if you just give it your all.”