Talented minority college students need access to great career-building opportunities, and California needs those students. That was the message University of California representatives, elected officials and African American community leaders delivered Tuesday (Jan. 24) as they unveiled a landmark partnership between UC and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

Led by California State Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, university, state and local leaders gathered in Pasadena to unveil a summer fellowship program that will bring top HBCU students to UC business schools for an intensive, career-building fellowship.

The expenses-paid fellowship will enable participating students to learn from world-class UC faculty, gain access to valuable opportunities for internships and graduate school, and meet one-on-one with influential business leaders.

Twenty-five first-year students will take part in the inaugural Summer Institute for Emerging Managers and Leaders this summer at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business. The program will rotate annually among UC's six business and management schools. It aims to build relationships with HBCUs that will increase interest and enrollment in UC business school programs and, ultimately, in other UC professional and graduate schools. Speakers hailed the program as representing that elusive goal business leaders strive for — the proverbial win-win.

"Innovation happens when different perspectives collide, and UC has been California's supercollider," said Rich Lyons, dean of UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business. "This is not going to be an immersion in basic business accounting. We want to bring these students to the richness of the UC system and the possibilities here in California. We want to excite them about the arc of their own future."

Robert Davidson, chair of the Morehouse College board of trustees, called the program "a dream for everyone involved." In order to train effective leaders, he said, California's business schools need a diverse student body, one that reflects the workforce and world in which we live. Meanwhile, UC holds several unique attractions for HBCU students, including its top-ranked business schools and its proximity to the nation's leading centers of entrepreneurship and business innovation.

And, as he observed to the crowd gathered for the event — at a memorial to Jackie and Mack Robinson — under crystal blue Pasadena skies: "It's 75 degrees in January."

The institute is one way of addressing a challenge not just at UC, but at business schools around the nation, with regard to the participation of underrepresented minorities. Of UC's 18,000 graduate and professional school students, 12 percent are from underrepresented minorities, with African Americans comprising less than 4 percent. UC's business schools have the least representation of underrepresented students of all the university's professional degree programs, both in percentages and in actual number of students.

The summer institute represents an opportunity to grow diversity while remaining within the constraints of Proposition 209, which prohibits using race as a factor in admissions.

Portantino said the program originated out of conversations about how to build on the rich graduate and professional school opportunities that California's public universities provide, to improve lives and opportunities for underrepresented minorities.

UC Provost Lawrence Pitts and the deans of UC's six business schools came together to craft the program, which is funded through sponsorships by California businesses. "It took about 30 seconds for me to say, ‘Why would we not do this?" said David DiCristofaro, senior vice president of Wells Fargo which, along with Anthem Blue Cross, is providing the funds for the pilot session.

"This isn't about the 25 students who will be participating this summer," said Robert Sullivan, dean of UC San Diego's Rady School of Management. Sullivan cited a recent statistic that less than 1 percent of Silicon Valley venture-backed companies came from underrepresented minorities. "It's about how this grows into something much bigger than that, so that next time they do the surveys of Silicon Valley business leaders, the numbers are 5 percent, and 10 percent — and the companies, and California, will be better off for it," Sullivan said.

"We have the opportunity to bring these students here, to immerse them in our companies and communities, to build enthusiasm for UC and California, and hopefully to inspire them for doing the impossible — for creating the company that's going to be the next Google."