The LINK Program – Connecting Businesses and Minority Students for 30 Years

Monday, July 29, 2019
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Prompted by corporate demand for a more diverse candidate pool for co-ops, internships, and full-time employment, Cleveland State University established an underrepresented scholars’ support system in the Career Services Department in 1988. Thirty years later, the LINK Program continues to adapt to meet the needs of students of color and the business community. The program now draws upon the resources and services available through CSU’s Division of University Engagement.

Ramona Lowery, deputy commissioner of the City of Cleveland’s Division of Water Pollution Control and a 1988 LINK alum, extolled the program’s success and its impact on her career.

“As a first-generation college graduate, I am 100% sure that I would not have graduated or been in the seat that I am in today without LINK,” Lowery said. “The tutoring, mentoring, and financial support provided for me through LINK allowed me to successfully finish college. As a result of the support that LINK has provided me, I have recruited at least 10 more students for the LINK Program, hired a student from the LINK Program who is doing well, and have mentored quite a few students enrolled in the program.” 

Over the course of three decades, the LINK Program has provided minority students, largely from Cleveland-area high schools, with internship and cooperative education opportunities. The end goal is to promote minority student participation in high-demand occupational fields and serve as a recruitment and retention tool for promising students. 

Recent graduate Alex Snyder appreciates the support and opportunities LINK provided.

“As a LINK scholar, I had access to resources, networking opportunities, and advisors that helped me jump start my professional career early on,” Snyder said. “Those connections put me in place to land my first internship in 2013, and my advisors and mentors kept pushing me through the next few rounds of internships until I graduated with four years of experience across three different companies in 2017 and eventually into the full-time position I have had since the winter of 2017. I owe my continued success to the LINK program.”

LINK has been successful largely because of its strong support from corporate and organizational employers and LINK alumni, as well as a mentoring program for students that has anchored the initiative. A recent redesign recognized these complementary objectives and builds on the program’s long-standing strengths while sharpening its scope to ensure high performance and sustainability. 

“The LINK Program provides a great avenue for students to be mentored and connected to Northeast Ohio employers,” said Diana Starks, vice president of human resources and the office of diversity and inclusion at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. “I am extremely glad to serve as a LINK mentor, and to see that my 2018 mentee, Isaiah Orr, was offered and accepted a full-time position with the bank!”

LINK alum Keiona Blackmon said she is honored to be connected to a program that has been successful for more than 30 years and continues to make an impact.

“The LINK Program has not only provided me with the skill sets needed in my academic career, but has also given me the skill sets in my professional career,” Blackmon said. “LINK has provided me with networking skills, academic and professional resources, lifelong friendships, and memories that will last a lifetime. It has been an honor to be a part of a program that has been around for over 30 years. I have met several LINK alumni, and many have provided me with advice and resources needed in both my academic and professional career. It is great seeing how this program continues to progress and help students in their professional, personal, and academic life.”

Program Scope

The LINK Scholars Program serves up to 45 full-time, undergraduate students of color each year. Students are eligible to apply for the program during the spring semester of their first year on campus. Although the program’s developmental structure is suited primarily for rising sophomores, students who transfer into the university with more than 30 credit hours are eligible for consideration. Students from all majors are eligible to apply.

Program Benefits

LINK Scholars receive a $2,000 scholarship during their first year of eligibility and renewal of the scholarships, based on the availability of funds, for up to two additional years. Students in the program have access to all services available through Career Services, including online assistance, and assistance from alumni, faculty, and staff. A program coordinator provides one-on-one assistance with mock interviews, co-ops, internships, and permanent employment, and monitors students’ consistent advancement. Each student has an employer champion, specifically recruited for the LINK Scholars Program, to provide mentorship and guidance. Students also receive access to special programming for LINK Scholars through luncheons that include panel presentations and corporate speakers, academic support, and programs offered by the Office of Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement, and connection to civic engagement activities through the Office of Civic Engagement.

Program Eligibility

For continued eligibility in the program, students are expected to:

  • Maintain a 2.5 GPA.
  • Obtain and successfully fulfill the requirements of a paid internship or co-op during the summer or academic year after their first full year of participation in the program, and each subsequent summer or academic year until graduation.
  • Participate in multicultural student success programs.
  • Participate in at least one civic engagement activity offered through the Office of Civic Engagement, the Department of Student Life, a student organization, or an employer.

“The LINK Program has provided our economic development nonprofit with finance and information technology interns who have been integral to the success of multiple audits and financial results and information technology support for nearly 10 years,” said Richard Jankura, senior partner, finance, with JumpStart. “The organization has benefitted from their work and we have watched these young adults blossom in their careers. LINK provides the opportunity and guidance, which helps these talented young people to learn and grow in a supported environment, preparing them for their careers in their chosen field.”

After thirty years, the LINK Program continues to create a diverse talent pipeline that is designed to positively impact the economic development of the northeast Ohio region.

Current Scholars on LINK:

"LINK is amazing! I am appreciative of being in the program of successful, aspiring individuals. Professor Jones is the GOAT (greatest of all time). She helped me get an internship that I enjoy! LINK is black excellence!" – Sharonda Smith

"The LINK Program has impacted my life, college career and professional career in so many ways. LINK has given me the tools to network, take on challenges, and explore new avenues. This unique experience allowed me to land a co-op by applying the tips I have learned through mock interviews and being paired with a professional mentor who works in my field of study. This program has also given me the opportunity to attend exclusive professional events and galas. I have developed my leadership skills by serving on The Link Student Association (LSA) executive board. Being a LINK Scholar brought more to my college experience. It taught me that college includes academic success as well as social engagement. This allowed me to connect with many students of color across campus and the community." – Alexis Smith

"LINK is so amazing. In the year I have been part of the program, I have learned so much and become part of a close-knit community of people who really look out for each other. My experience so far has been nothing short of awesome."  – Toni Kolawole