Hennessy pours money into graduate fellowship program

Hennessy Fellowship Program Coordinator, Dana Brown (left), facilitated a discussion between Kimberly Blackwell (right), CEO of PMM Agency and students during an informational meeting. Photo courtesy TMCF Instagram

Dana Brown is emphatic. The program director for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, Brown welcomes the support provided by Hennessy.

“Hennessy is putting their money where their heart is,” Brown said, referring to the

Hennessy Fellowship program, a collaborative effort between Hennessy and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

The program hosted an informational meeting Wednesday night on Florida A&M’s campus. It marked the start of the search for the next cohort of Hennessy Fellows.

The Hennessy Fellowship program, which began in 2018, stems from a $10 million initiative to get under represented HBCU scholars into the corporate suite, according to the TMCF website. Students selected to participate receive scholarships, annual stipends, one-on-one mentoring, access to online training, bootcamps and other networking events. 

Those in attendance got to hear from current FAMU Hennessy fellows and  Kimberly Blackwell, CEO of PMM Agency. Blackwell, who started her company in 600-square-foot, one bedroom apartment, shared her story and answered questions students had  on a variety of subjects.

The Syracuse alumna touched on topics such as networking, “Developing the art of poker face” and “relationship currency vs. performance currency.” 

Kadisha Culpepper found the meeting both inspiring and intimidating. The chemical engineering major was one of the only non-MBA candidates in the room. Culpepper indicated that it also lets her know her competition.

“I was intimidated by all the MBA candidates in the room, but at the same time I felt like I bring something different to the table,” the FAMU graduate student said.

The fellowship program requires that students who apply have at least four semesters left, be at least 21 and have at least a 3.25 GPA. While this allows students to get a full year of mentoring it also limits the number who are able to apply, leaving several groups of graduate students ineligible to participate.

Brown indicated that while the TMCF does not have a program for students who have less than four semesters before they ear their degree, the company is looking at possible solutions to this issue.

Brown explained that she has had several students who face this dilemma. Students see tremendous value in the program and have even asked that TMCF allow people to pay to attend the bootcamp workshops. 

community project pitch.

Florida A&M University had three of its students selected to be part of the program’s inaugural class composed of 10 students form various HBCUs. Jonathan Jones, Brianna Collins and Jonas Laboo, all of whom are School of Business & Industry graduate students, competed for community related project grants. The students won a total of $28,000 in grant funds, which will be used to fund each fellows’ community-related project, according to FAMU Info. 

Program Director, Dana Brown, with Hennessy fellow, Johnathan Jones, after winning a $10,000 check for his community project pitch. Photo courtesy FAMU Info.

Collins won $8,000 for her project, which focuses on the FAMU student population that is homeless, in foster care or was prior to attending college and those who are unable to go home during the holidays.

Jones won $10,000 for his project, whose goal is to attack homelessness through mental health reform. Jonas explained during Wednesday’s session that there are about 553,000 homeless people in America each day. The MBA student’s project, called “Just One Day,” aims to reduce this number. 

Laboo also won $10,000 for his project. Its goal is focused on closing the wealth gap in the black community. Laboo will be partnering with the Black Venture Capital Consortium and Hennessy to invest in black owned business in the Tallahassee area. 

Some students who attended the meeting were able to submit an application and receive an on campus interview on Thursday. The online application closes on Dec. 31. The new class of Hennessy fellows will be notified in January 2020.