On February 8th, Texas McCombs hosted its first ever Elevate: Diversity & Inclusion Conference. This event aimed to identity how companies and business leaders create effective strategies to transform their current culture into one where both diversity and inclusion become embedded into the organization’s core values. Texas McCombs students and staff have been participating in more D&I conversations within the program and with the outside business community in recent years with an understanding that MBA community strength and positive growth is fostered through these efforts.

Elevate Diversity & Inclusion Conference at Rowling Hall on February 8, 2019. Photo by Lauren Gerson DeLeon.

The First Conference of Its Kind

Elevate was first conceived by MBA students Ashley Fox and DeAndrea Staes. They identified the diversity and inclusion space as a big opportunity for growth and community outreach for the MBA program.

Through the conference, Ashley and DeAndrea targeted the recruitment of underrepresented minorities as a potential improvement area for MBA programs and created an Elevate Diversity Scholarship to provide support to underrepresented minority students accepted to the McCombs School of Business.

Ashley Fox and DeAndrea Staes at Elevate Diversity & Inclusion Conference. Photo by Lauren Gerson

“The most impactful part of the conference was seeing what started as a small vision, grow into something phenomenal. Over the course of two days, seeing our sponsors, speakers, students and community come together in a collaborative fashion for a common purpose truly sparked something great for the future of McCombs,” says DeAndrea. “I truly enjoyed seeing participants roll their sleeves up at the design thinking session hosted by IBM to address critical questions like, ‘How do you find acceptance inside a company’s culture?’ and ‘What happens financially when companies are not diverse and inclusive?’ This set the tone for an amazing conference with powerful conversations.”

Elevate Diversity & Inclusion Conference at Rowling Hall on February 8, 2019. Photo by Lauren Gerson DeLeon.

We created this event to evoke change in the McCombs community and create a sustainable, long-term solution that would provide a forum for the University of Texas and greater Austin community to engage and learn about diversity, inclusion, and culture,” says Ashley. “The feeling after the Elevate Conference ended was indescribable. After we gave our closing remarks, we knew that this conference would be a marquee event and change agent for the Texas McCombs and Austin community for years to come.”

Elevate Diversity & Inclusion Conference at Rowling Hall on February 8, 2019. Photo by Lauren Gerson DeLeon.

Elevate Diversity & Inclusion Conference at Rowling Hall on February 8, 2019. Photo by Lauren Gerson DeLeon.

“I am truly proud of what Ashley and I were able to accomplish and know that this is just the beginning,” says DeAndrea. “We are excited to see what the future holds for this dynamic, student-led, electrifying conference!”

The Keynote Speakers 

This year’s conference welcomed distinguished business leaders from national companies and entrepreneurial firms that are passionately involved in diversity initiatives. The speakers inspire innovation and create an inclusive and culturally competent modern workplace through powerful discussions about diversity and inclusion in the business world.

Elevate Diversity & Inclusion Conference at Rowling Hall on February 8, 2019. Photo by Lauren Gerson DeLeon.

Michele Thornton Ghee served as the Senior Vice President of Media Sales for Black Entertainment Network (BET).

Michele Thornton Ghee at Elevate Diversity & Inclusion Conference at Rowling Hall on February 8, 2019. Photo by Lauren Gerson DeLeon.

“Not only is Michele personal life goals for DeAndrea and me, but she also delivered an inspiring talk on the importance of diverse talent having a ‘seat at the table,'” says Ashley.

Ada-Renee Johnson is a Senior Director and HR Thought Leader/Strategist at Google with over 15 years experience in demonstrating success building thoughtful intention into employee and candidate advocacy programs and purpose into diversity and inclusion strategies.

Ada-Renee Johnson at Elevate Diversity & Inclusion Conference at Rowling Hall on February 8, 2019.         Photo by Lauren Gerson DeLeon.

Brian Reaves is an engineer and the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Dell, and works to advance diversity and inclusion within the tech industry. He is responsible for Dell’s global equality and inclusion initiatives.

Brian Reaves at Elevate Diversity & Inclusion Conference at Rowling Hall on February 8, 2019. Photo by Lauren Gerson DeLeon.

Carlina Huaranca is a Principal at Kapor Capital. She is passionate about ensuring people from all backgrounds know how to navigate and get access to capital and business advice.

Corey Weathers is a Developer Evangelist for Twilio and focuses on creating inclusive spaces where underrepresented communities are welcomed and included.

Corey Weathers at Elevate Diversity & Inclusion Conference at Rowling Hall on February 8, 2019. Photo by Lauren Gerson DeLeon.

Kendall Toarmina is a senior associate and management consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC). Her work emphasizes the human element through Human Resources transformation and operations. Her work also includes organizational design, diversity and inclusion, and employee experience.

Merary Simeon is the Vice President of Diversity and Engagement at PepsiCo North America.

Merary Simeon  Elevate Diversity & Inclusion Conference at Rowling Hall on February 8, 2019. Photo by Lauren Gerson DeLeon.

Roger Montgomery is an NBA sports agent for Roc Nation Sports in New York. He is one of the NBA’s leading veteran agents and has represented over 25 professional basketball clients in a span of 20 years in both the NBA and FIBA.

Roger Montgomery at Elevate Diversity & Inclusion Conference at Rowling Hall on February 8, 2019. Photo by Lauren Gerson DeLeon.

Tamara Fields is a Texas McCombs alum and the Office Managing Director at Accenture where she is involved with bringing innovation to clients, recruiting and retaining top talent, and strengthening the businesses’ relationship with the community.

Tamara Fields at Elevate Diversity & Inclusion Conference at Rowling Hall on February 8, 2019. Photo by Lauren Gerson DeLeon.

Summer Watson is the co-founder of Heir Apparent and has worked at TuneIn, Pocket Gems, and Playdom. She works in product, content, and marketing at top consumer tech startups.

Summer Watson at Elevate Diversity & Inclusion Conference at Rowling Hall on February 8, 2019. Photo by Lauren Gerson DeLeon.

Dr. Sara T. Brand is the founding General Partner of True Wealth Ventures, a venture capital fund investing in women-led companies in the sustainable consumer health markets. She is also the owner of (512) Brewing Company.

Dr. Sara T. Brand at Elevate Diversity & Inclusion Conference at Rowling Hall on February 8, 2019. Photo by Lauren Gerson DeLeon.


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