Since its founding, the University of Utah’s Black Cultural Center (BCC) has made part of its mission to develop programs aimed at cultivating and fostering excellence in the individuals who participate in those initiatives. Among them is Operation S.U.C.C.E.S.S. (Students United to Create Cultural and Educational Success Stories)—a competitive, application-based program with a focus on nurturing future leaders and empowering effective problem-solving skills at the University of Utah and the greater Salt Lake community.
The program is sustained financially by the George Floyd Memorial Fund, established to provide resources that prepare leaders who are equipped to change organizations and institutions that maintain the status quo in ways that offer equity and no longer fail Black people the way they failed Mr. Floyd.
Leaders in the program learn organizational design from the top and how to change it. The program aims to develop leaders that are ethical and justice-oriented. Upon completion, Operation S.U.C.C.E.S.S. fellows attain expertise that helps them become the next generation of great community leaders. They also become Black Cultural Center ambassadors who explore a sense of belonging at a Predominantly White Institution (PWI) while gaining leadership skills through a yearlong academic bootcamp.
Participants learn to identify the key components of program development; formulate and design a program that addresses a problem; estimate and cost the human and physical resources required to carry out a program; communicate effectively through written reports, oral presentations, and discussion; understand different leadership frameworks and how to apply them; demonstrate an understanding of the basic professional and ethical responsibilities of leadership; utilize the techniques, skills, and modern tools learned in skill building sessions for everyday practice in organizations; demonstrate responsibility, organization, cultural competency, and time management through working at the BCC.
The program seeks to measure the impact of leadership development by examining leadership styles and indicators such as emotional intelligence, ethics, organizational knowledge, and self-efficacy—helping to build the students’ confidence in knowledge application.
This year, three fellows are being highlighted: Nia Brooks, Isabel Cossa, and Nnenna Eke-Ukoh.
Brooks developed “It Takes a Village”— an online database and social media site with forum capabilities that allows the Black community to navigate their career post-graduate through mentorship, collaboration, and networking among Black accredited professionals. Cossa created “SafeSista”—a self-defense training program to empower, support, and provide tools to Black women to increase their safety in the modern world. Eke-Ukoh formed “Ubuntu Foundation”— a nonprofit that provides a high school course centering Black and African racial/ethnic identities, which supports students who are enrolled academically and develops leadership, social awareness, and advocacy skills that prepares them for a successful life after high school graduation whether they go on to college or into the workforce.
While admittedly challenging, Operation S.U.C.C.E.S.S. fellows Eke-Ukoh and Cossa expressed gratitude for the opportunity to learn new skills and make connections through the program that will be useful for the rest of their lives.
“Along with being around other intelligent and talented Black individuals, I gained confidence and developed leadership skills that will serve me greatly in the years ahead. Having a passion for (equity, diversity, and inclusion) work in K-12 education, I think it is critical to have great leadership skills, too,” said Eke-Ukoh.
“Programs like Operation S.U.C.C.E.S.S. are incredibly important to students at the University of Utah,” Cossa said. “They connect students to people with similar values and experiences and provide them with opportunities that aren’t found elsewhere.”