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INROADS looking to create pool of talented minority youth

Jackson — INROADS Inc. prides itself on being an internship program that offers a lot of extras. Its mission statement is straightforward — to develop and place talented minority youth in business and industry and prepare them for corporate and community leadership. To accomplish this, INROADS provides paid multi-summer internships as well as year-round coaching, tutorial services, community service and training workshops.

INROADS has been in existence for 35 years, and INROADS/Mississippi Inc. has been around for nine of those years. The corporate entity encompasses 52 affiliate cities, and also has chapters in Mexico, Canada and South Africa. Considering its long history and scope, the organization is something of a well-kept secret. But Keith Barnes, managing director of INROADS/Mississippi, is looking to change that.

“My mission is to get the word out that INROADS is in Mississippi,” said Barnes, a Madison native and former mathematics teacher, athletic director and head basketball coach at his hometown St. Joseph Catholic School. “When I came to INROADS/Mississippi, the number of interns had fallen from 45 to eight. We’re back up to 28 interns now, and with the industry coming Mississippi’s way, I look for our chapter to flourish.”

Creating partnerships

The late Father Frank C. Carr, who was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, formed St. Louis-based INROADS in 1970. Carr’s original concept was to teach survival skills to inner-city youth, but his vision eventually evolved into the current model of multi-year, salaried internships with training in leadership and business. Today, INROADS has more than 900 corporate clients, or sponsors, nearly 6,000 interns and more than 13,000 graduates.

The program starts with recruitment. The typical INROADS candidate is an 18-year-old minority youth (African American, Native American or Hispanic) with a grade point average of 3.0 or better and who expresses an interest in such fields as business, marketing, management and engineering. (Extracurricular activities are also considered.) These students may be pursuing a variety of majors, from biology to hospital administration to allied health.

All qualified students are invited into INROADS’ talent pool process. Initially, the process involves workshops covering résumé writing, interview skills and impressions management. Then, the pool of talent is assessed to see what qualities are present before matching them with INROADS’ corporate sponsors. INROADS also asks its interns to spend Saturdays with the organization addressing its seven leadership competencies — communication, management skills, business sophistication, self management, valuing diversity, academic/technical and community involvement and leadership. (Sponsors support the college component by providing a sponsorship fee to defray the costs of screening, training and coaching.)

Personnel of the corporate sponsor on a voluntary basis provide all of the business training, with INROADS furnishing the training module. Interns are paid for their work, which typically is an eight-to-five position.

“We view this as a partnership to produce talent, keep it in Mississippi and ensure that the interns continue to grow in Corporate America,” said Barnes, who holds baccalaureate and master’s degrees from Tougaloo College and Jackson State University and was introduced to INROADS in 1988 while living in Nashville. Barnes pointed to this “buying in” by the corporate sponsors as a key to INROADS’ successful track record. According to the organization, over the last three years an average of 64% of all graduates received immediate full-time offers from corporate sponsors, while only 25% of graduating interns in other programs are offered employment by their sponsors.

Win-win proposition

In Mississippi, 51% of INROADS graduates end up working for one of the program’s corporate sponsors. (INROADS/Mississippi graduates’ offer acceptance rate is 73%.) There are 17 Mississippi corporate sponsors, including such entities as Cintas, BankPlus, KPMG, Mississippi Power and Nissan North America Inc., and the board consists of such business leaders as Carolyn Shanks, president and CEO of Entergy Mississippi; James Coggins, president and CAO of SAKS Inc.; and Charles Doty, president and CEO of Lextron.

Sister Mary Dorothea Sondgeroth, president of Jackson-based St. Dominic Health Services, which is a Mississippi corporate sponsor of the program, serves as chairperson of the board of INROADS/Mississippi. She called her work at INROADS/Mississippi a “privilege,” and said that she and her fellow board members and the corporate sponsors “are part of the equation of success for these talented interns who are business leaders of tomorrow.”

“The rest of the equation is comprised of the dedicated staff, outstanding educators and supportive parents,” Sondgeroth added. “The INROADS internship process results in interns who are well-trained, well-informed and motivated to deliver exceptional results. I am proud to be part of this fine organization.”

The organization could be much larger in the near future. Barnes said his goal is to continue to increase the number of INROADS/Mississippi interns, especially by penetrating the Delta and Coast and growing the chapter’s presence in the metro Jackson area.

“I want to see us comparable to INROADS/Atlanta, which has 250 interns, or INROADS/New York, which has more than 350 interns,” he said. “With more and more businesses coming to Mississippi, I think this chapter could flourish and have 250-300 interns in the future.”

For more information on INROADS, visit http://www.INROADS.org/. The local chapter can be reached at (601) 960-6150, or via e-mail at kbarnes@INROADS.org/.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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