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Cornell MBA students collect clothes for #GivingTuesday

Paying it Forward: How Cornell MBAs Came Together to Support Aspiring Professionals

For Clementina Ojie and many of her Consortium peers, the road to business school was not without its obstacles but, fortunately, was lined with outstretched hands — people and organizations, like The Consortium, willing and eager to offer support.

“I think, for all of us, coming from underrepresented minority communities, we needed some help at some point,” says Ojie, an MBA student in the Consortium’s class of 2020 at Cornell University’s SC Johnson Graduate School of Management.

So when it came to selecting an organization to support for the 2019 Consortium #GivingTuesday project, The Learning Web was a no-brainer for the Johnson Consortium cohort as they felt compelled to pay forward the compassion others have shown them. The Ithaca-based nonprofit offers services and programs to area youth to help ensure their successful transition into adulthood — including finishing high school, pursuing higher education or gainful employment and contributing to the community.

“It’s really important to us because I think we can see ourselves in those [young people] — debating whether to go straight into the workforce or to school, not having the resources to be able to present ourselves well for employers or potential school interviewers, or even making the decision on how to proceed with our lives,” Ojie says. “I think The Learning Web [addresses all those] things. We really like the fact that [it] is focused on giving these young people practical skills, ways that they can start earning money or start interviewing and applying to colleges so that they can better themselves.”

Plus, with a relationship already established — Johnson’s Consortium class of 2019 had previously provided support for the organization, collecting more than $600 in 2018 — working with The Learning Web was a natural fit. “We were really happy to continue that partnership with them going into this year,” says Ojie.

She and the other Consortium liaisons decided one of the best ways they could help the organization and its participants was to hold a clothing drive to collect gently used professional attire that these young people could wear to interviews — something the previous class had done with great success. “We felt like it was sort of an easy win for us [as] our students have a lot of clothes they want to get rid of,” Ojie notes.

In marketing the event on campus, Consortium liaisons reached out to other diverse student organizations at Johnson in hopes of getting even more on board, and “Forté raised their hand to join us in the effort,” Ojie notes. “We wanted to get mass involvement — whether it was students giving clothes or spreading the word — so the Forté organization was one we reached out to because we could reach a lot of the ladies on campus; they have a large presence here. They were happy to join us in the effort and spread the news about the initiative.”

Through student-group meetings, online chatboxes and posters, Lindsay Barnes — another Johnson Consortium liaison — and other Consortium students worked to spread the word about the clothing drive in hopes of increasing its impact.

“It was really a multi-channel, if you will, marketing strategy … to reach all of the students we could — both first- and second-years,” Ojie says.

When #GivingTuesday rolled around, despite a snowstorm and the fact that students were just returning from Thanksgiving break, the turnout — both from a volunteer and donor perspective — was surprisingly high.

50 pounds of clothes collected by Cornell MBAs for The Learning Web
Johnson MBAs collected over 50 pounds of gently used professional clothes for The Learning Web.

“We had quite a good amount of our Consortium family show up to man the table; they showed up in shifts and were really present in helping us collect the clothes, spending their afternoon at the table in the cafeteria, talking to their classmates and encouraging them to bring their clothes,” says Ojie, noting that they ultimately collected over 50 pounds of clothing. “That was really powerful because, coming off of Thanksgiving break, it’s easy to forget. People might want to just focus on getting back into the swing of school, but we had a lot of members who showed up and gave their time, and that was really great for us to see.”

However, it wasn’t just Consortium students who showed up in a big way. Ojie also credits their classmates with supporting the effort and the mission of The Learning Web.

“Fifty pounds of clothing didn’t just come from The Consortium; it was really our classmates helping to collect and give to the initiative, and we really appreciated that,” she says. “Even though they’re not part of The Consortium, even though some may not fully understand the scope and impact of The Learning Web, they were there to support us in our initiative to give back, so that’s been really helpful and impactful for us.”

For Ojie and her Consortium peers, it’s important to them to engage in this type of community service to help carry on The Consortium’s mission, “to help those who are from underrepresented minority communities find their way in higher education and into business leadership positions,” says Ojie.

“We felt like The Learning Web was a way that we could do that within the Ithaca community,” she notes, “especially for children and young adults who are at a particular disadvantage socioeconomically.”

Although she and her classmates may not be able to give of their time to the extent they would like at this point in their lives, due to their MBA course load and responsibilities, Ojie anticipates deeper involvement in years to come.

“Hopefully, in future years, we’ll actually be able to be more hands on in working with some of these young people, instead of just donating,” she says. “And, perhaps our work with them will encourage them to consider business as their next role in life.”

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