By Lenore T. Adkins, Special to the AFRO

There’s no good reason why Howard University, an elite, academic powerhouse and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a powerful entity representing more than 3 million businesses, sitting just miles away from the Howard, haven’t been working together.

That relative isolation changed July 30 after the two institutions signed a memorandum of understanding that launched the Next-Gen Business Leaders partnership, a collaboration that exposes Howard students to the business world, public policy, government affairs and advocacy.

At the same time, it creates a diverse pipeline for the U.S. Chamber, member companies and trade associations to tap into when they’re looking to hire and groom the next generation of business leaders.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Senior Executive Vice President Suzanne Clark and Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick signing the memo of understanding that outlines the partnership (/Courtesy Photo/Howard University)

The partnership has four components.

The first is a paid student summer internship program that started in June with seven Howard students and placed them across various departments at the U.S. Chamber.

As well, an executive speaker series beginning in the fall will bring trade, chamber and business executives to the Howard campus for special lectures, forums and the like.

An initiative to promote innovation and entrepreneurship among Howard students — especially in the technology sector — is the third piece of the pie.

The final component is a faculty/administration research professional development program that exposes Howard staff to educational opportunities at the U.S. Chamber, trade associations and member companies, while teaching them lessons they can pass onto Howard students. Officials expect to implement those final two prongs next summer.

The goal is helping Howard students see what role they could play at the U.S. Chamber and in business, while developing and encouraging pathways for minority communities and businesses and create future jobs.

“This isn’t about one summer internship, this is about … what I hope will be a decades-long partnership between two important institutions that ultimately serve our country better,” said Suzanne Clark, the U.S. Chamber’s senior executive vice president. “And if you’re in business in America today … you better begin a diverse program and a diverse C-suite and a diverse workforce or you’re going to be missing out on the best talent and the best ideas and the best opportunities out there.”

Clark conceived of the idea last fall and soon after, she and Rick C. Wade, the U.S. Chamber’s vice president of strategic alliances and outreach, met with Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick about forging a partnership. She pointed out that while they both run institutions that are more than 100 years old, they weren’t doing enough together.

With Frederick on board, the group snapped into action to make the program a reality so that the opportunities are available to Howard students while they’re in school.

“I can’t have dreams that are fulfilled eight to 10 years down the road,” Frederick said.

The U.S. Chamber aims to extend the program to other Historically Black Colleges and Universities next summer, Wade said.

Meanwhile, the internships offer the students a comprehensive business education and experience in policy. The students conducted research, prepared briefings, sat in on strategy meetings, led special projects and interacted with corporate executives, policy makers.

Fatou Sow, a senior at Howard, works as an intern in the U.S.- Africa Business Center and the internship reinforced the need for her to think globally on the issues she handles.

“I feel like Howard University already taught me that, but to be able to apply that in an office, to be able to sit with ministers from South Africa, ambassadors from different countries on the continent, it’s an amazing experience,” Sow said. “And I feel like the Chamber of Commerce does a good job of pushing the U.S. and interns in all work to just think on a global level.”

Christian Hemans, a Congressional affairs intern and Howard senior, said the program is pushing him beyond his limits by exposing him to things he isn’t used to.

“I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t know what I was doing and everyone around me helped me see my full potential and anywhere I was … I always noticed that I’m smarter than I thought, I know more than I thought and I’m able to learn more than I thought,” Hemans said.

For Frederick though, Howard students’ abilities were never in doubt.

“We, in my opinion have some of the best and the brightest,” Frederick said. “The only hamper, hinderance that these students have is a lack of financial fortitude, the ability to pay for the university experience. But in any other category, they’re the best of the best.”