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HBCU partnership program is having its intended impact

This marks the fourth year of the university’s landmark partnership agreements with many of the country’s premier institutions of higher education.

Launched in 2020, the HBCU IMPACT Program initially began as a collaboration between the U and Howard University, but now includes other Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). IMPACT—Internships, Mentorship, Professional Development, Academic Achievement, Community Service, Talent Enrichment—is a program designed to provide talented undergraduate and graduate students from across the nation and various backgrounds the opportunity to experience life at the U and the Salt Lake City area.

Participants are selected for internships at top local employers where they can gain valuable professional workplace skills, receive mentorship, continue their academic activities and make connections in the Salt Lake City community.

HBCU IMPACT Program Manager Simone Lawrence is one of the people responsible for getting the project on track in its early development. As a former participant in 2020, she felt compelled to become involved in an initiative that gave her so much during her time in it.

“I believed in what the program has to offer. I saw myself grow in ways I did not think that I would ever grow,” she said, “The sense of self I got from being a HBCU alum, then being in this environment was a great opportunity to exercise those skills and I would love for other HBCU students to experience this as well.”

However, she did not want students to just have an internship.

Lawrence explained that she wanted it to be a holistic experience that provided more than just a “typical” internship might.

“When you walk away from it, I didn’t want the only skills to be you learned how to code or learned how to work in this particular environment,” she said. “I want them to be able to say ‘I’ve learned how to advocate myself in spaces where people told me I couldn’t be here. I learned that my talents aren’t only applicable on the East Coast. I can use them in any space I’m in.’”

As the program has developed, Lawrence said it strives to stay true to those principles to make sure the students get the kind of experience they can continue to build on for years to come. The program has matriculated 42 students since its inception, with several taking jobs with Utah companies.

“HBCU IMPACT interns work on a variety of real-world projects to build their resumes. These interns also have created tremendous value for our customers, the communities that we serve, and our colleagues,” said Jacob Newman, college recruiter for Zions Bancorporation. “We’ve had interns work with our DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion), cybersecurity, and operations teams. We look forward to continued collaboration with the IMPACT Program to attract diverse talent from HBCUs.”

For now, Lawrence is focused on fulfilling her duties as “matriarch” of her adopted IMPACT family.

“I joke that I’m a single mother over the summer. I have them with me all summer and the students see the love, compassion and care I have for them,” Lawrence said. “It makes it easier for them to navigate coming to Utah. They know they have someone who has their back, that they can relate to and with their experiences.”