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Consortium’s Orientation Program: How it has evolved in 50 years

Alumni describe The Consortium’s Orientation Program as “intense,” “fast-paced” and “stressful”—but never a waste of time.

What is The Consortium’s Orientation Program like? Hear perspectives from alumni who have been through it. Does this reflect your experience?

It’s been an eight-week marathon. It’s been a three-day sprint. It’s moved from college dorm rooms to five-star hotels. Its agenda has featured everything from math classes to Disney’s Lion King. Yes, The Consortium’s Orientation Program—our pinnacle event of the year—has evolved mightily over the past half-decade.

Alumni describe the OP as “intense,” “fast-paced,” “stressful” and “unique to everyone.” But one thing they never call it is a waste of time.

As we head toward the 50th Orientation Program & Career Forum in St. Louis June 3-8, we thought a brief overview of its history would be in order.

The Early Years, 1967 to 1971

Leading the Challenge of Change, The Consortium's 50th anniversary commemorative history.
Click the book cover to learn how you can order “Leading the Challenge of Change,” The Consortium’s 50th anniversary commemorative history.

The first OP wasn’t actually called the “Orientation Program.” In July 1969, the first class of Consortium fellows arrived at Washington University in St. Louis for the “Pre-Graduate Summer Studies Program.” It was an eight-week, intensive diagnostic and training session designed to combat the “perception that African American students might be ill-prepared to compete in the MBA programs of the member universities,” according to our forthcoming book on the history of The Consortium, Leading the Challenge of Change.

Courses included math, study skills, writing skills and the “intensive orientation to business institutions.” Single students lived in WashU dorms; married students could rent short-term apartments near campus. From the beginning, attendance was mandatory, though four students received waivers.

The Consortium covered the bill for the ’67 and ’68 programs. The Luce Foundation funded the next three years. At that point, the eight-week model had run its course. There wasn’t money to sustain it.

The Model Takes Shape, 1972 to 1991

At this point, the program evolved from eight weeks to three days and got its enduring name: The Consortium’s Orientation Program.

“The purposes of this new program were to introduce new students to each other and to the MBA program in the graduate schools of business,” wrote Barbara Britton Jones, author of Leading the Challenge of Change. The program would “provide information to students regarding career paths and opportunities in corporations with special emphasis on minorities; provide the opportunity for exchanges of ideas among new fellows, corporate representatives, and alumni; make them aware of The Consortium’s objectives; and solicit their support of these objectives as students and alumni.

“Over the three-day period,” she wrote, “fellows were subjected to information overload, and their only job was to take it all in.”

Students were still housed in university dorms—mostly at Washington University. St. Louis was the site of OP all but six years during this period.

OP Goes Big, 1991 to 2011

The silver anniversary edition of The Consortium’s Orientation Program in 1991 came under the leadership of our third leader, Phyllis Scott Buford. A key change for this version of OP: It featured the first corporate sponsorship.

“In collaboration with members of the Corporate Advisory Board, (Buford) moved the OP from a Consortium expense to a revenue generator,” Jones wrote in the Consortium book. “She brought in nationally recognized speakers and provided outstanding entertainment such as a Broadway show in New York City and a Lion King extravaganza at Disney World.”

Meanwhile, students finally moved out of the dorms. Hotel accommodations were made available to fellows in 1992. By the 30th OP in 1996, second-year students were allowed to attend and The Consortium’s Orientation Program had expanded to four days.

The OP Today, 2012 to the present

The 45th OP in Minneapolis expanded The Consortium’s Orientation Program to four and a half days, where it remains today. CEO Peter Aranda and Janice Wells-White, vice president for program administration, implemented a career track system, exposing MBA prospects to a wider range of management functional areas before they embark on their business education.

“For 50 years, the Orientation Program has been the premiere event that has something for all constituents of The Consortium,” Jones writes in Leading the Challenge of Change. “It has provided incoming students with direction as they pursue their MBA studies, and introductions to corporate America as they look forward to their future careers. For corporate partners, it has served as a valuable source of diverse talent at a single event.”

Pictured above: A scene from “Rossi’s Jazz Room,” a social event from The Consortium’s Orientation Program in 2004. This year was the first OP for current Consortium CEO Peter Aranda.

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