Diverse and first-generation college students at the University of Colorado (CU) Boulder’s Leeds School of Business can be sure of something: The school has their backs.

The Office of Diversity Affairs at Leeds spares no effort to help prepare underserved student populations – incoming and current alike – for college and careers. And right there offering critical support is KeyBank.

Future Business Leaders Welcome

The Leeds School of Business’ Office of Diversity Affairs recently recognized Key Equipment Finance, KeyBank’s Colorado market and the KeyBank Foundation for their support of two programs designed to assist the business leaders of tomorrow.

The KeyBank Business Leadership Program (BLP) is one of the business school’s premier pre-college outreach efforts. And the KeyBank Summer Bridge Program for Excellence in Education and Leadership (EXCEL) Scholars is an innovative residential experience.

“Through the KeyBank Business Leadership Program, I was able to realize that I not only have a place in corporate America, but also have great potential to become a leader,” said Delina Gebrekidan, who is studying accounting and information management. A junior at the time, she was speaking in a video about the support programs that Key produced last year.

“My ideas have value and they are worth bringing to the table,” Gebrekidan said. “And I think through this program, it gave me a sense of confidence I would not have had otherwise coming into college.”

“Each year I am more impressed by the curiosity, drive and perseverance the students at CU demonstrate, and I think the Key Equipment Finance team members who work with these students gain just as much from the experience as the students themselves.” – Adam Warner, Key Equipment Finance President

Inspiration to Go Around

Headquartered in Superior, Colorado, just eight miles from the CU Boulder campus, Key Equipment Finance has hosted Summer Bridge students at its offices to expose them to a business environment and educate them on different career paths in the financial industry, business etiquette, networking skills and elevator pitches.

“One of the things I value most about being a part of an institution like Key is the opportunity we have to invest in our community,” said Adam Warner, president of Key Equipment Finance and member of the Leeds School of Business Advisory Board.

“Each year I am more impressed by the curiosity, drive and perseverance the students at CU demonstrate,” Warner continued, “and I think the Key Equipment Finance team members who work with these students gain just as much from the experience as the students themselves.”

Support from Key has created opportunities for the Office of Diversity Affairs to develop programming in two key areas: pre-college business outreach and student development.

KeyBank Business Leadership Program for Pre-College Students

The KeyBank Business Leadership Program brings together 35-40 high school juniors and seniors who are first-generation, low-income, underrepresented students of color, and/or women from across the state. They come to CU for a one-week, on-campus, business-intensive experience during the summer.

BLP participants receive instruction from Leeds business faculty and engage in activities to improve analytical reasoning and strategic skills, while being mentored by current Leeds students. Participants are grouped into teams to provide opportunities for academic, social and personal development within a business education environment.

Many past participants of the program have demonstrated the academic capability and grit to succeed at Leeds, yet may not have had exposure to a top-tier business school. This program is provided free of cost to participants who apply through a competitive process.

Financial contributions from Key have funded two teams of five students and paid for housing, meals, transportation, off-campus corporate site visits and student engagement activities – eliminating the financial barriers that would otherwise prevent students from participating.

KeyBank Summer Bridge Program for EXCEL Scholars

The KeyBank Summer Bridge Program for EXCEL Scholars focuses on business math readiness, improving writing and critical thinking skills through the World of Business course, and introducing students to the rigor of business coursework. The last happens through exposure to microeconomics.

An innovative three-week, residential, business-intensive experience, the program brings together 50-60 incoming EXCEL Scholars. It prepares students from underrepresented, first-generation and low-income backgrounds – and who may not meet the ACT/SAT and/or GPA requirements set by the school – to be successful.

How? By creating academic, professional and social programming during those intensive three weeks.

Leeds EXCEL Scholars are afforded an opportunity to develop meaningful relationships – with faculty, staff and peers – that will support their long-term success and ultimate graduation from the Leeds School of Business.

All of this comes at no cost to them. The program is free to students due in large part to the support of Key and the Leeds School of Business.

“Our partnership with the University of Colorado has helped prepare first-generation college students for fulfilling careers for years,” said Debbie Trujillo, Regional Corporate Responsibility Officer for KeyBank in Colorado, Utah and Idaho.

She continued, “Our programs with the Leeds School of Business are some of our most rewarding and impactful community programs because of the growth and passion we see in the young people who participate. It is a joy to partner with the University of Colorado and have an opportunity to work with these students.”

Graduation Rates Tell the Story

Most importantly, both programs have aided the Office of Diversity Affairs in attracting and retaining top talent to the Leeds School of Business. For example, with the support students receive once they are at CU, many of the program participants are graduating within five years and finding gainful employment or entering graduate school after graduation.

Since the EXCEL Scholars program began – with a pilot cohort in 2014 – and continuing through the years of KeyBank support, the retention rate for those students has been at or near 100%, and never lower than 93%. That compares to a retention rate that ranged from 82-84% for all CU minority and first-generation students during the same span.

Elizabeth Gurney, Director of Philanthropy and Civic Engagement for KeyBank, summed up the relationship between the financial and academic institutions: “The partnership between Key and the University of Colorado is one of the longest-running and most impactful partnerships in our KeyBank western region. Giving back to community partners that help prepare young people for thriving futures is one of our core values.

“It’s clear the University of Colorado is setting a high bar when it comes to giving underserved student populations the tools they need to succeed in business, and it is a privilege to be able to partner with them in this important endeavor.”