Here’s how Ohio corporations are partnering with HBCUs to advance racial equity

Erica Thompson
The Columbus Dispatch
Aaron Ervin, a 2021 graduate of Hampton University, poses for a photo outside of Nationwide Insurance. Ervin interned with Nationwide and now works full-time on the retirement solutions internal sales team.

To better understand why African Americans are underrepresented in the financial services industry, Nationwide engaged college students and professionals in a recent research study.

Nearly 90% of Black students perceived that they would have challenges based on their race. For Black advisors and others already in the industry, the rate was 87%.

“That’s heartbreaking,” said Kristi Martin Rodriguez, senior vice president of the Nationwide Retirement Institute. “It’s not smart for Nationwide to just contain this data, but how can we think of a way to change our industry?”

More:Black business leaders in Columbus see progress, want more inclusion in business sector

To that end, Nationwide partnered with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and financial services firms to form the Financial Alliance for Racial Equity, or FARE. The alliance focuses on recruiting African Americans for internships and jobs, as well as investing in their development to keep them in the industry.

Nationwide’s efforts are part of a larger trend of collaboration between Ohio corporations and HBCUs to tackle racial disparities in the workplace.

FARE schools currently include Hampton University, Virginia State University, Virginia Union University, Winston-Salem State University, Howard University and Lincoln University in Missouri. Other members of the alliance are Morgan Stanley, M Financial Group, Franklin Templeton Investments, NFP, Employee Benefit Research Institute, Miami Life / National Brokerage Atlantic and Huntington Bancshares. 

Aaron Ervin, a 2021 graduate of Hampton University, was hired at Nationwide after completing a virtual internship with the company last year.

“I was able to talk with several people and ask them not only what they did for their jobs, but what makes Nationwide so special,” said Ervin, 22, who has a degree in business management and works on Nationwide’s retirement solutions internal sales team. “(I saw) how diligent Nationwide was in responding to the pandemic and how they've done such a good job to not only get people of color into positions, but actually allow them to have a voice.”

As a FARE beneficiary, the New Albany resident has access to mentors and other training to prepare him for success in the field. Hoe hopes to purse an MBA at Ohio State University and give back to his community.

“I want to use the opportunity that I have being in the financial services industry to go and educate African Americans not just about job opportunities, but what all really can be done with finances, just because I believe that's something that isn't talked about enough within our community,” he said. “It’s just making sure that those doors are open because, for a long time, those opportunities haven't been open to African American people.”

FARE also is considering those larger issues of inequity, according to Martin Rodriguez, a Hampton grad and leader of the alliance.

“How are we thinking about changing the trajectory of these communities that have traditionally been underserved?” she said. “Are we designing products that are meeting the needs of the Black community, which has been unbanked or underbanked?”

Nationwide has partnered with HBCUs for over 30 years. Among other efforts, the company has contributed millions of dollars to the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association scholarship fund and sponsorships with the group.

Nationwide also announced scholarship investment for Winston-Salem and Central State University in Ohio over the next four years in support of their computer science programs.

In addition to being a member of FARE, Huntington Bancshares formed an internal HBCU Consortium in 2018. It includes Central State University, Wilberforce University, Howard University, Morgan State University, Hampton University, Kentucky State University, West Virginia State University and Virginia State University.

"It’s a mechanism for connecting with HBCUs to help them understand how they can plug into our internship program and early career opportunities," said Chief Diversity Officer Donald Dennis.

Along with Nationwide, Huntington is a key sponsor of the Classic for Columbus, a week of education programs and other events, including a football match between Central State University and Kentucky State University, which will be played at the Shoe on Aug. 28.

As part of its commitment to diversity and inclusion, the Classic for Columbus raises funds for scholarships and universities. 

More:Huntington Bancshares makes $40 billion commitment to underserved communities

Battelle has formed its own HBCU Consortium, and over the next two years, the company will invest $200,000 to provide externships to students from Bowie State University and Morgan State University.

“We wanted to diversify our future workforce,” said Wes Hall, vice president of education and philanthropy. “A lot of our philanthropic mission is centered around helping K-12 students get exposure in STEM. (But) we've got to do something to help get students into really successful programs in college that give them experiences to become Battelle employees in the future.”

Battelle plans to add more schools in the future and build partnerships with faculty for future research opportunities.

This is Battelle’s way of helping increase diverse representation in STEM careers, said Storm Woods, director of diversity, equity and inclusion.

“There are some robust programs for STEM education in these HBCUs and, frankly, it's an untapped resource,” she added. “We're gaining a lot of amazing insights from these intern populations around what it means to be a Black scientist (and) what we need to do as an employer to ensure that employees not just want to come to Battelle, but want to stay. We're not going to keep doing what we did yesterday, hoping that that's going to make things better tomorrow.”

One of those interns is Kim Newbie, a 2021 graduate of Bowie State University.

Kim Newbie, a Bowie State University graduate, is currently interning with Battelle.

“It's been an excellent experience,” said Newbie, 25, who has a degree in computer science. “It’s just been broadening my horizon in programming languages. And my supervisor is amazing. It’s feels cohesive here, like a family to me.”

Newbie hopes to lead her own team of software developers in the future. She praised the importance of Battelle’s partnership with HBCUs.

“It gives young Black women and men the opportunity to see us doing something with our degrees and doing something that we actually enjoy,” she said. “It's not just for other people. If you really want to do this, just set your mind to do it and accomplish it.”

To tackle disparities in the medical industry, Procter & Gamble’s Tampax brand launched the Flow it Forward Scholarship Program to support, in particular, Black women, who account for less than 3% of all U.S. doctors, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

A photo from Tampax's #LiveRadiant Campaign, which included visits to HBCU homecoming across the country to provide period resources and education to Black women. Tampax also has launched the Flow it Forward Scholarship Program for Black medical students.

Through a partnership with the United Negro College Fund, Tampax will contribute $200,000 each year for four years to Black students in medicine. Nine students in the within the Xavier University of Louisiana Medical School Prep Program have been selected for the first cohort of recipients.

The second cohort is open to all other partner HBCUs within UNCF network for students pursuing any degree in the healthcare field. The application deadline is Aug. 19. More information can be found at

P&G has partnered with UNCF for over 75 years and was given UNCF’s Keeper of the Flame Legacy Award in 2019. And Ohio students have had access to internship and employment opportunities at P&G through the HBCU Center of Excellence at Central State.  

The Flow it Forward Scholarship Program is an extension of Tampax’s work in the Black community, which included efforts to provide women with period resources and education about their bodies, said Stefani Valkonen, P&G global feminine care communications vice president.

“There is still much to be done to advance systemic change,” she said. “That’s why P&G and Tampax are committed to actively drive racial equality within our walls and beyond with ongoing support.”

Dispatch reporter Mark Ferenchik contributed to this story.