A UofL student has created a nonprofit organization to help Black students advance their career aspirations. Ethan Volk, a sophomore from Bowling Green double majoring in Business Economics and Philosophy, co-founded the Eckford Virtual Mentorship Program to keep the door open for Black students to the job market.
Volk said he and his co-founders were moved to action as they discussed how to contribute to the advancement of minorities after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
“We identified gaps in Black achievement and Black professional success and saw that Black students often lacked personal and family connections in industry to help give job referrals and expose them to the type of professional opportunities that lead to the best careers. We wanted to cut the degrees of separation between the Black community,” Volk said.
The Eckford Program is trying to connect Black students to competitive jobs and internships through mentoring. By doing so, the organization hopes to give Black professionals the ability to directly diversify their industry and give students the industry connections they need to become more competitive for opportunities, Volk said.
The program is named for Elizabeth Eckford. In 1957, she opened the door for a new generation of black students as part of the Little Rock 9, a group of black students who enrolled at a previously all-white high school in Arkansas. Volk is working with some former classmates on the project including Andre Battle at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Elvin Irisamye at IU-Bloomington, and Anas Gondal at Duke University.
Already, the program has generated a digital presence with a website, Instagram page and LinkedIn account.
“Currently our focus is on increasing awareness about our organization, and our members have been reaching out to potential mentors and campus organizations around the country who would be able to assist us making students aware of our organization and the opportunities we seek to provide,” Volk said.
And Volk said they have met with some initial success.
“We’ve had the amazing opportunity to connect with more than a few universities and engage their Black communities, most notably here at UofL and at Indiana University. In addition, we’ve garnered industry support in a wide range of places and aim to gain a few more partners in equity here in Louisville,” he said.
Volk said the program focused on virtual communication because of the coronavirus pandemic. In so doing, it provides an added benefit, he said, by allowing students to connect with professionals they may have not had access to previously because of location.
“The Black student community hasn’t had the same luxury in having easy access connections in the professional world. We aim to cut degrees of separation so that a first-gen Louisville Black business student can gain a world-class Black professional mentor working in New York or Chicago. This has all become possible because of technology, and specifically developments in telecommunication from this period of coronavirus lockdown,” Volk said.
Volk came to UofL initially planning pre-med studies and a career helping others. While he has changed his major, his longer-term plan to benefit the community remains.
“I hope to utilize my education to help uplift others in any way possible, and I think that the Eckford Program will help give me hands on experience in learning to use the strength of community to empower people to fundamentally change inequities in existing structures,” he said.
Story written by Stuart Esrock, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Communication, and faculty-in-residence at the University Career Center.