Twenty-nine diverse students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business spent part of the spring semester participating in the annual PepsiCo Power of One: Diversity Leadership Development Program.
The program, which prepares young leaders for the complexities of managing a diverse workforce, is open to juniors and seniors with a GPA of 3.0 or higher. To qualify, students must write an essay demonstrating their desire to learn about diversity and inclusion, as well as submitting their resumes.
Humberto Velazquez, a senior studying supply chain management with a collateral in international business, hopes to pursue a management role in his career. The program, he says, teaches students valuable lessons about the human dynamics that develop in a workplace environment.
“Diversity is who we are and inclusion is how we behave,” Velazquez says, adding that he learned to place a premium on understanding and relating to team members. Issues that remain unacknowledged in a team environment can’t be solved, he says, and become more complicated. Upon graduation, Velazquez plans a move to Memphis, Tennessee, to work for International Paper as an account executive for the Latin American region.
Buddy Lewis, a senior executive in sales at PepsiCo, says the company sponsors the Diversity Leadership Development Program because it holds diversity as one of its core values. Lewis has taught classes in the program for eight years.
“I always walk away amazed at the quality of the students and their willingness to wrestle with these challenges of diversity, both personally and professionally,” he says. “This is a unique partnership that sets Haslam apart in its preparation of students for their entrance into the workforce.”
Crystal Brooks, a senior supply chain management major with a collateral in entrepreneurship, describes the program as an experience that was essential to her future plan of pursuing an MBA degree.
“To me, one of the most insightful discussions was on having a synergistic diverse team,” Brooks says. “Diversity is critical to the success of business because products are sold in diverse markets, and the sum of unique perspectives will result in a more powerful team.”
Tyvi Small, the college’s executive director for talent management, diversity, and community relations, says the students who come through the Diversity Leadership Development Program are talented, engaged and inquisitive.
“I know they will be the next generation of business leaders, and I’m excited about what they bring to the table,” Small says. The program, he notes, would not be the same without the support of PepsiCo and Lewis. “They are key strategic partners, and we have had a long-standing relationship with them.”