How two universities are supporting Black students

Mar 30, 2022 | Diversity

St Mary’s University and The University of Westminster explain how they are taking steps to support the careers of Black students.

The following cases studies and more can be found inside ISE’s Black Careers Matter report.

St Mary’s University

Be SMART is an initiative developed by St Mary’s University to provide opportunities for students from ethnic minority backgrounds to acquire the ‘graduate capital’ essential for successful career development, alongside empowering them to recognise and promote the value in their difference to support them to thrive in the professional world.

The Employability Services team collaborated closely with BAME students, academics and allies to promote the scheme. This included working closely with the Afro-Caribbean Student Society to develop and share marketing messages and materials.

The team worked with the BAME Student and BAME Staff Networks at St Mary’s to disseminate details and encourage students to apply, and also directly approached students in their own spaces to tell them about the scheme (including the Refectory and students commuting to and from the nearby train station).

As well as building strong relationships with the BAME community within the university, the programme also draws on the strong relationships that exist between the university and a range of student employers.

Employers were engaged in Be SMART to provide mentors for students’ professional development and to offer flexible 30-hour paid internships that fit around students’ studies and part-time work.

The scheme has also provided opportunities to engage in dialogue to challenge some organisations’ current inclusion policies and to encourage best practice.

The mentoring and work-related learning is supported by a leadership and professionalism workshop programme, led by BAME facilitators, which addresses topics such as ‘leveraging your difference’, ‘the resilient leader’ and ‘building your branding and professionalism’.

This programme challenges stereotypes around what students needed to be effective leaders and illustrates how their lived experience as BAME students prepared them for success at work.

Evaluation of the programme showed a number of benefits. Students reported enhancements in self-management and professionalism, career management (including developing their professional networks) and communication skills.

A significant proportion (73%) reported increased confidence levels and this translated to an increased likelihood of engaging with the careers service with 77% likely or very likely to engage.

A clear ‘sense of belonging’ and being valued and accepted by the university and the careers service was also evident amongst the participants. As was the importance of being able to connect with their BAME peers and their own self-identities positively as well as the identities and experiences of BAME staff and mentors involved in the programme.

The University of Westminster

The University of Westminster has been working to improve, developing the career opportunities of students of Black heritage both through its Employability Strategy and a newly developed Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity (EDI) strategy which has been partially inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.

Within the School of Management and Marketing EDI initiatives have been brought together with employability initiatives to create an increased focus on employability for people of Black heritage and other students of colour.

This provides the strategic impulse to embed new provision in the curriculum and undertake a programme of staff development with academics to develop increased awareness and understanding of issues affecting students from Black heritage backgrounds. The School has also secured funding to employ a Black student partner for 10 hours a week at the school to aid in EDI initiatives as well as provide valuable work experience to the student.

These programmes will be robustly evaluated by the school and the University’s Centre for Teaching Innovation.

The key initiatives that have taken place are:

Launching Young Leaders: This is a workshop developed and delivered by The Tavistock Institute which allows students to reflect on their approach and develop as leaders. The workshop is embedded onto a core module on leadership in the second year of the students’ undergraduate study and aims to support students of Black heritage and students of colour ready to take up leadership roles.

Future Forwarding Mentoring: This is targeted at Black students and other students of colour in their final year of undergraduate study. Students receive three group mentoring sessions over one semester from Black mentors.

Future Leader: This is 6-week online programme helps students of Black heritage to develop their ability to compete in the job market. Targeted at final year undergraduate students, it is embedded into the core employability module on Practice and Leadership. It includes engaging with a range of employers to help students to increase their professional networks. Students are also supported to have an increased awareness of the recruitment process and how to be successful professionally.

Virtual Internship: All students take part in a 6-week virtual internship programme during the second year of their undergraduate programmes. This includes engaging with large corporations to gain insights into the world of work. There are currently plans for the EDI lead in the School to discuss issues of racism in these large corporations and how these may affect Black students who may become prospective employees.

This is an excerpt from ISE’s Black Careers Matter report

Read more Black Careers Matter data, advice and case studies


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