Collage of images of CEO Network students interacting

A Profound Impact

The CEO Network, a hallmark of the college's diversity initiatives, is changing lives in a profound and measurable way.

Exclusive to the Lundquist College of Business, graduates of our Building Business Leaders (BBL) program join a network that connects minority students to peers, mentors, services, and each other. The engaging and inclusive experience helps nudge doors open to networking opportunities for professional success.

And it's working. This fall the Lundquist College of Business kicked off the year with record high enrollment of minority students pursuing business and accounting degrees. Some 250 students have taken BBL course over seven years, and an additional 68 are signed up for 2016-2017 academic year. Of those 250, 84 percent have stayed with University of Oregon to complete their degrees, with 74 percent of students graduating in five years or less. In other words, BBL students are persisting and graduating at the same rates as the majority of University of Oregon.

But it wasn't always this way. In 2009 the college identified an opportunity to supply a diverse applicant pool from which employers could recruit. A task force was assembled to investigate the cause for the lack of enrollment of African American, Hispanic/Latino, and Native American students pursuing a business major.

After examining enrollment statistics, it was discovered that the target group of students was present in the college's “gateway" classes, but only one in ten made it through the two-year, competitive process to become business majors.

By the end of academic year 2009-2010, Tayah Butler, then a Lundquist academic advisor and task-force member, presented an idea inspired by the book Whistling Vivaldi by Claude M. Steele. Steele defines “stereotype threat" as a psychological phenomena, when a person in a minority experience underperforms due to the stress of living up to a negative stereotype connected with their identity.

“As an academic advisor I witnessed ‘stereotype threat" in my daily work," she said. “Top new entering minority students would start out strong. But after three terms here on campus, they would be getting by on a C+ average and slowly withdrawing until I didn't see them around anymore."

The plan Butler designed created a peer group with a culture of high performance based on leadership, mentorship, and community support for the target students specifically during their first year at UO. Part of the plan included a weekly class that would attack the stereotype threat head on. The coursework was codified into the program Building Business Leaders.

As the program developed, staff identified three keys to BBL student success:

  • They must see other people like them experiencing success. Business professionals who are also in the same target groups to share the unwritten rules of college and business. This helps the students develop social capital starting day one, which most people of privilege overlook as a key to their success.
  • They must find their internal compass. By exploring their values, their personal brand and the reasons to succeed they find ways to grow inside and outside of the classroom.
  • They must feel like this is their second family. Students are challenged to work together in all of their classes, to look after each other outside of class, and to hold each other accountable for reaching their goals.

“If I hadn't joined Building Business Leaders, I would not know of the resources provided to me, and I would not have had the friendships and connections I have now. In short, it would be like my first day of college all over again—alone and lost," said Yessenia Carlos, who is on track to graduate this spring.

Students like Carlos are seeing success, landing internships and paid college roles at top companies recruiting from the Lundquist College. Businesses are seeking out CEO Network members at recruiting events.

“Moss Adams was so excited to make the connection with Lundquist College leadership and the CEO Network over the past year," said Stefanie Langfeldt, regional recruiting senior manager for Moss Adams. “We recognize the importance and benefits of inclusion and diversity in our workplace, and the invaluable impact it has on the organization and our people. The CEO Network allows Moss Adams to partner with and hire top talent at UO that will enhance the future success of our firm."

What is next for the program? The Lundquist College of Business hopes to maintain the number of students in Building Business Leaders at 60 per year, with hopes that even more of those students will continue as business and accounting majors. In December, Damien Pitts was hired as Academic Advisor and Diversity Initiatives Specialist for undergraduate programs. He is currently teaching the Building Business Leaders course.

After a generous donation of $100,000 in 2012 by East Coast executive Lawrence Jackson, the program was able to evolve from a dedicated group of students, faculty, and staff to a branded, easily identifiable community. Citing belief in the program and its leadership, Jackson followed up with a $100,000 gift in 2016.

“Gifts like this allow us to plan for the future and set appropriate goals," said Pitts. “We are grateful for Mr. Jackson's support."

This academic year, Jackson's gift made it possible to add paid student staff who aid in the development of curriculum, provide mentorship, and supervise other students. Along with helping to shape the program with their insights, students also gain valuable managerial and supervisory experience that many employers seek.

Jackson also recently joined the Lundquist College's Board of Advisors, where he will have an even greater opportunity to leverage his wide network of business contacts to open doors for all students at the college.

Said Rachel Buckley "14, “Before Building Business Leaders, I was a supporter. Now I am a leader."

To give to student programs like this, visit the University of Oregon Foundation.

For more information about the programs, contact Damien Pitts at or 541-346-9271, or stop by 145A Lillis.

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