By Matt Watson
When FirstBank opened its doors in 1963, it had 10 employees, including its founder. Today, the Lakewood-based bank employs nearly 2,700. To ensure that that workforce mirrors the diverse Colorado communities it serves, FirstBank is fortifying its longstanding partnership with the state’s open-access university.
This fall, FirstBank funded a unique graduate-assistant position that oversees equity programming for Metropolitan State University of Denver students and promotion of opportunities with the 57-year-old company. It’s one of four new positions housed in the University’s Center for Multicultural Engagement and Inclusion.
“FirstBank has made an investment in helping communities from different cultures and backgrounds,” said FirstBank Assistant Vice President of Human Resources Shea Clark. “We want to be stewards for financial services to the community, to be a resource and to help the community whether that’s one person at a time or through (their) businesses.”
It’s a win-win setup for the privately held bank, which is committed to building an employment pipeline for Coloradans of different backgrounds, and a University with the most diverse student population in the state, 48.4% of whom are students of color. It doesn’t hurt that MSU Denver recently launched a degree program in banking, which will produce its first graduate in the spring.
Diyonus Walls, a 22-year-old MBA student and goalkeeper on the women’s soccer team, was hired for the FirstBank-sponsored position in September. The MBA will be her third degree, following bachelor’s degrees in business administration and marketing from Alderson Broaddus University. As a Black woman who plans to own her own business and a standout on the soccer pitch, she’s the ideal mentor for other students of color looking to find their way.
“I hope to eventually open up a business. I have so many different ideas; I really don't know which one I want to do,” Walls said. “Hopefully, I can land a really good position at a company and work my way up, then open up a business of my own and have multiple streams of income.”
Walls is helping FirstBank recruit students for internships and other opportunities while also planning additional initiatives for the CMEI, such as the slate of Black History Month events in February, for which she’s the lead programmer. Her hope is that her work instills long-term traditions and support for Black students at the University she transferred to this year.
Thanh Nguyen, associate director of the CMEI, supervises Walls and three other grad assistants working to make sure MSU Denver students from all walks of life have more than just a sense of belonging at the University, especially amid the historic health crisis and racial-justice protests in Denver and beyond.
“Our graduate assistants work closely with us in CMEI to coordinate and evaluate a comprehensive equity-based programming for students at MSU Denver. At CMEI, we educate and challenge our student leaders to be effective and ethical leaders who serve as engaged citizens for our community. That is our greatest hope for our graduate assistants to walk away with, long after they are done serving in their roles,” Nguyen said.
FirstBank also hopes the MSU Denver partnership has long-term dividends. The Lakewood-based bank, which has previously supported the Urban Leadership Program at MSU Denver, invested $100,000 over five years to help the University provide wraparound support for diverse students and career opportunities with a local company.
It’s another step forward for the bank, which has partnerships with other universities, including historically Black colleges, and this past February opened a dedicated Multicultural Banking Center in Lakewood. There, customers can receive banking services in one of about 15 languages and with an understanding of their culture – creating financial-industry jobs for those who speak languages other than English in the process.
“We want to be able to help our community grow and succeed,” Clark said. “When the community succeeds, we succeed.”
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