Michael Rodriguez had never considered a future in sales. Now a senior at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business, he began his college career focused on management. Now, after receiving the E. & J. Gallo Scholarship for Diversity in Professional Sales in his junior year and working an internship for the winery, Rodriguez is poised to begin a management-track position with the company when he graduates in December.
In fall 2020, Tom Van Dorselaer, marketing lecturer at Haslam and executive director of the college’s Professional Sales Forum, encouraged Rodriguez to participate in Haslam’s professional sales competition, one of the nation’s largest intra-university sales contests. After competing, Rodriguez changed his major to marketing with a minor in international business and a concentration in sales.
“Sales is a blast,” Rodriguez says. “I was thrilled going into the sales call and making my pitch.”
Rodriguez now serves as student project manager for the forum and president of the Professional Sales Leadership Program. “I’ve only ever felt that type of thrill one other time in my life, and that was when I was reeling in a 100-pound cobia during a deep-sea fishing trip.”
Increasing representation and easing financial pressure
The scholarship from E. & J. Gallo is part of a larger scholarship program that Van Dorselaer devised to recruit students from racial and ethnic minorities into professional sales careers. In talking with representatives from the dozens of corporate partners that support the Professional Sales Forum, he realized that many students had not been exposed to the field and were not aware of the opportunities it offers.
From this realization, the scholarship program and its 10 by 5 Initiative were created, seeking 10 companies to give $5,000 each. Inaugural scholarship partners included E. & J. Gallo Winery, PepsiCo, Ryder, Enterprise, Dell Technologies and ALKU.
The scholarships are intended for ethnically and racially underrepresented students. Haslam’s Office of Diversity and Community Relations (ODCR) helped to establish evaluation criteria for applicants based on academic performance, leadership and community service experience, with each sponsor setting its own criteria as well. The office serves as part of the scholarship selection committee and assists with marketing and advertising the opportunity to students.
Clarence Vaughn, director of ODCR, says the scholarship program, now in its second year, allows students from diverse backgrounds to explore careers they might not have considered and to build professional relationships with industry leaders who come from backgrounds similar to theirs.
“Representation is essential in regard to showcasing diverse groups of business professionals and leaders,” he says. “Students are able to view themselves in leadership and management positions within leading organizations and companies that serve the global marketplace.”
The majority of students in the scholarship program are from Haslam, but the program is open to students from other UT colleges. Tasimba Jonga, a senior studying chemical engineering and economics who was named one of the university’s Torchbearers for 2022, has received diversity scholarships from E. & J. Gallo and Dell Technologies.
“I have always had an inclination for entrepreneurship, the bulk of which is selling, whether it’s your ideas or products or building relationships,” says Jonga, who serves as a student project manager for the forum and is a member of the leadership program. “The Professional Sales Forum really helped me hone those skills and develop into a better salesperson, and the scholarships have allowed me to focus on school without the financial constraints that come with being a student.”
The scholarship eased some financial worry for Rodriguez as well.
“It was awarded during COVID, which truly helped alleviate some financial pressure for my parents,” he says. “I am a first-generation college student from a family with four other siblings, one of which is also in college at the moment.”
Establishing the scholarship program earned Van Dorselaer Haslam’s 2021 Diversity and Inclusion Award. He calls the award one of the highlights of his career, but is quick to point out the team effort from ODCR, Professional Sales Forum program manager Brenda Carlisle, faculty advisor Dan Flint and Haslam marketing department head Alex Zablah, and to emphasize that he did not start the program to receive recognition for himself.
“It’s just the right thing to do,” he says.
For more information on applying to the scholarship program or becoming a sponsor, contact Brenda Carlisle.
Stacy Estep, writer/publicist, firstname.lastname@example.org