September 7, 2023
By Amma Agyemang-Duah, UNC Gillings Communications Fellow
In the spring of 2022, the Gillings School of Global Public Health launched a pilot mentorship program with a simple premise: Pair student entrepreneurs of color with UNC alumni and affiliate entrepreneurs of color who share similar lived experiences.
Anne Glauber, MPH, associate director of innovation at the Gillings School, spearheaded the project. Glauber consistently has worked to expand people’s understanding of entrepreneurship within public health spaces.
A few years ago, she and Siani Antoine, MPH (‘21, maternal, child and family health) — who was Glauber’s graduate research assistant at the time — discussed a discrepancy they had noticed.
“We just weren’t seeing students being connected to many entrepreneurs of color with their own businesses, but we knew those business owners were out there,” Glauber said. “We wanted to make some of these connections for our students, foster valuable learning opportunities and make it easier for students to see themselves taking on similar positions.”
Twelve students signed up to join the program in spring 2022. That number nearly quadrupled in spring 2023, with 44 students expressing interest.
In both rounds of the program, mentor-mentee pairings agreed to meet at least once per month for 12 weeks to discuss the students’ goals and next steps. Otherwise, the program intentionally was kept flexible to give students and mentors space to develop a routine that worked for them.
Gillings alum Crystal Richards, MHA (’03, health policy and management), and current student Lydia Harris comprised one of the mentor-mentee pairs.
Richards has been a mentor in the program since the pilot, and is a seasoned entrepreneur. She owns MindsparQ®️, a project management training company based in the Washington, D.C. area. Harris is currently a Master of Public Health (MPH) candidate in the Leadership in Practice concentration. Her entrepreneurial journey began when she set out to become a doula after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh. Harris is now the founder and CEO of Labor With Love, LLC, a doula company that supports parents through pregnancy and aims to promote birth equity, empowerment, and autonomy.
Both were drawn to the goals of the Entrepreneurs of Color program.
Harris appreciated the opportunity to try something new, stating, “I need to be applying for opportunities like this. Success starts with putting myself out there to meet new people.”
Richards also was excited by the potential of this budding community, but as a mentor, it went beyond that for her.
“I’m very aware that the magnifying glass is on me if I make a mistake, and that’s where it’s helpful to have affinity groups like this,” she said. “It can be hard for people of color to occupy traditionally white spaces. I appreciate this program because it invites honest and candid conversation about these pressures.”
The pair went into the program not knowing what to expect, and each received more than she thought she would.
“I didn’t expect to get so much out of the program in addition to advice about entrepreneurship,” said Harris. “I really feel like I have a connection that I can nurture for a lifetime.”
She felt so empowered by her experience, in fact, that she now wants to become a mentor in the future.
“How long do I have to wait before I can join this program from the other side?” she asked. “I want to give back in that way. I never saw myself as a mentor before, but now I realize that I have a ton of things to offer.”
Richards, meanwhile, has a message for her fellow Gillings alumni of color; “You’ve got to get involved. People need to see more leaders like us.”
The Entrepreneurs of Color program will return in spring 2024. Students will be able to apply starting in late October when the application is posted in the This Week @ Gillings newsletter. While the program is open to all Gillings students who wish to explore and expand their entrepreneurial skills and endeavors, the priority is pairing students of color with entrepreneurs of color.
Anyone who has questions or is interested in becoming a mentor can contact Anne Glauber at email@example.com.
Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communication team at firstname.lastname@example.org.