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Johnson & Johnson diversity officer calls focus of Penn State Smeal’s START Conference ‘important’

April 7, 2017

START essay winners
Charles H. Whiteman, John and Becky Surma Dean of Smeal, left, and Jamie Campbell, assistant dean for diversity enhancement programs, right, pose with the winners of the START Diversity Contest: senior marketing major John Gilbert (1st), junior marketing major Aaisha Bhuiyan (2nd), and junior finance major Raza Asghar (3rd).
Wanda Bryant Hope, the chief diversity officer of Johnson & Johnson, said recently it’s more important than ever that universities educate their students about diversity and inclusion. 

Hope, a 1987 Penn State Smeal College of Business marketing graduate, was the keynote speaker at Smeal’s START (Striving Toward Awareness and Respect for Tomorrow) Conference at the Nittany Lion Inn. 

“I think it’s really important that a business school talks about diversity and inclusion and helps students, whether they are part of the diverse population or part of the majority, understand the value of diversity and inclusion,” she said. 

“I think this is a great conference. The START Conference is one that I think helps students to think about their futures, their careers and the value that they can bring to potential employers.” 

In 1999, a group of students organized the START Conference, with help from Smeal’s Undergraduate Diversity Enhancement Programs Office. The students recognized the need for open dialogue with professional and corporate leaders in order to create a productive and respectful work environment. 

Hope said that corporations, too, are embracing diversity and inclusion. Properly trained students can positively position themselves in the work place. 

“As we think about the populations that businesses are trying to serve, we are serving diverse and multicultural people. Our diverse students need to understand that they can actually help businesses and corporations connect with multicultural and diverse populations that we’re trying to serve every day,” she said. 

“There’s a real value that they bring there in helping us to understand the needs of the market that we’re serving and, better yet, helping us understand solutions to serving those markets.” 

The conference kicked off with a networking breakfast with corporate recruiters, followed by a morning keynote address from Wilson Friend, the director of account information services at Altria Client Services. After the morning keynote, two sets of breakout sessions on varying topics followed. 

The day concluded with Hope’s address and the announcement of the START Diversity Award student presentations. Students were asked to submit a written expression (essay, poem, story, or song) to address the topic — Do you believe diversity is becoming a marketing tool? If so, what can companies do to create more constructive steps toward diversity and inclusion. 

The winners included:

  • 1st ($1,500) John Gilbert, senior, marketing major and sexuality and gender studies minor
  • 2nd ($750) Aaisha Bhuiyan, junior, marketing
  • 3rd ($500) Raza Asghar, junior, finance
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