By Michelle Fletcher–“Anything is possible” were words of encouragement given to Lincoln University students as they applied to attend the 11th Annual Thurgood Marshall College Fund [TMCF] Leadership Institute.

More than 650 students from public historically black institutes across the country, ten from Lincoln University, sat among them.

‘Developing minds and Delivering Dreams’ was the theme of the conference and for one Lincoln student, a dream came true.

Chilima Chola, Junior, shared the stage with award winning actor Blair Underwood who donated 15 suits to student attendees from his new men’s collection, BU at the institute’s gala.

“I’ve always been a fan of Blair Underwood and I couldn’t believe I won one of his suits,” said Chola.  “This is one less thing I have to worry about for my internship this summer.”

Making the cut was no easy task.

“Each student was handpicked,” said Scott Lily, director of TMCF’s Talent Acquisition Program.  Lily along with three colleagues visited the 47 public HBCU’s across the nation and with the help of each campus’ student ambassador, selected the most qualified students.

Brandon Harris, Lincoln’s student ambassador and second year attendee says the selection process was anything short of easy.  Students had to undergo a behavioral interview, equivalent to quantum physics.

When selected students had to properly prepare for a through resume building with Ralph S. Simpson, Director of Career Services.

Upon selection, students were invited for a nearly all expense paid weekend, provided by TMCF, which only excluded the expense of dinner.

The leadership institute convened at the Sheraton Hotel on 53rd and 7th Avenues, just blocks from Times Square where some of America’s biggest and most famous names were up close and personal for the institute’s attendees.

TMCF President and CEO Johnny Taylor said cost a little over $3 million dollars, averaging almost $1600 dollars per student.

But students said the institute was a success.

The conference primary focus was to increase student’s financial literacy and to help prepare them for a career in globally competitive workforce. The institute provided mentorship from some of America’s leading professionals.

Michelle Horton is the founder and CEO of the marketing firm, YOUniversity Drive, where she does consulting and works with college students.

“We want our little sisters and brothers to know that we once sat in their seats and that aside from the board room, there is the rest of life and sometimes, we just need to keep it real,” Horton said.

Students were able to hear challenges and triumphs of African American professionals who have climbed the corporate latter during some of the conference’s sessions, named Sister to Sister and Brother to Brother.

On the star studded panels sat Mikki Taylor, editor at large of Essence Magazine as well as author and actor, Hill Harper.

“Normally the women get all emotional and the guys are just kind of dry but this year, I think our session took the cake,”said Ashford Perkins, graduate student of Grambling State University.  “We were able to come together about many issues that hurt as men and we cried.”

A typical day at the institute began at 8:30a.m. and on some nights, ran till 8 p.m. After a long day of networking and exchanging resumes, students were able to branch out in the Big Apple, to relax and have some fun.

Dallas BBQ was a hot spot for students where they had what appeared to be the world’s biggest chicken wings and lots of laughs.  Only blocks away from the hotel, students met up with their peers from other universities and even met with friends and family for the New York area.

“This is my first time in New York so I am having a blast.  But I keep mind why I am here,” said Brian Waters, student of Jackson State University who aspires to be SGA president.

But the culminating event of the conference was the institute’s career fair, which gave the student’s access to tons of employers of some of the country’s largest companies, like Google, ING, Target, Gallup, AARP, just to name a few.

For Lincoln Senior Monica McNeil, this meant sitting at the table with the Department of Defense, an agency she is interested in, for a small reception preceding the gala.

“I hope this leads to an interview,” says McNeil.  “I’ll be expecting that call for the rest of the semester.”

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