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University Innovation Alliance grant will support Generation Next program

An initiative at the University of Utah dedicated to better preparing Black students for post-graduation success recently received a $25,000 grant.

Through the Black Cultural Center, the U has created Generation Next—a program that focuses on centering Blackness at the heart of post-graduation initiatives and post-graduation success.

“We are really looking at how do we support career development so that students are making connections while they are undergraduates with industry and preparing them with skills so that when they apply for jobs, they can be the best candidate,” said Daniel K. Cairo, the assistant vice president for equity, diversity and inclusion.

Last year, the U joined the University Innovation Alliance (UIA), a national coalition of public research universities working to increase the number and diversity of college graduates in the United States. The alliance is a campus-wide initiative coordinated through the Office of Undergraduate Studies. Through the UIA’s Black Student Success Initiative, the U received a $25,000 grant to support the Generation Next program. The grant from UIA was funded by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and will be matched by the university infusing a total of $50,000 into Generation Next.

“This is a significant investment in this program and in these students,” Cairo said.

Currently, just over one-third, or 35%, of U students graduate within four years, with 65% graduating within six years. Black students have a four-year graduation rate of 33% and a six-year graduation rate of 62%. Generation Next seeks not only to contribute to closing this equity gap for Black students but to help those students thrive after graduation.

“We know that we need to look at not just graduation rates, but where students are going after college,” Cairo said. “We are finding that students need more support and connection to succeed after they graduate. Helping students just get a degree is no longer enough.”

Generation Next started with a soft launch in 2022. The program hosts events like “Not Your Average Professional Mixer,” where students participate in speed networking, mock interviews and tours of Utah businesses. They also have their headshots taken.

“We show them every realm of entrepreneurship, every realm of working a corporate job or working for a nonprofit or the public sector,” said Meligha Garfield, the director of the Black Cultural Center.

The goal is to help students imagine a wide range of possibilities for themselves and prepare to adapt to an ever-changing work landscape so they can build long-term careers and financial stability.

Now that the grant is secured, the program is ready to be fully launched this fall.

“I’m extremely excited to see this program expanding,” Garfield said. “I am hoping to see some integrated partnerships here on campus for the program, such as building our relationship with the Career Success Center as well as the Office of Undergraduate Studies. I am excited that we can build this program.”