Coming full circle

First The BrandLab students enter careers, become mentors

Malcolm Gladwell defines a tipping point as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” When it comes to the marketing industry fully embracing and implementing a diverse workforce, we’re not there yet — and that’s the holy grail — but The BrandLab program itself has reached a tipping point in that our first program participants have started careers in the marketing industry, and many of them are maintaining a relationship with The BrandLab and current program participants. And that is a big deal because it gives our current students an even stronger pathway into the marketing industry.

Travon Sellers is one of these former students. He now works as a digital manager at Hamline University, and also does freelance graphic and web design work for small businesses in the community. Like many former The BrandLab participants, Travon sees it as a duty to give back to the program and it’s current students, or “BrandLabbers,” as he calls them.

“I take a lot of pride in being one of the first The BrandLab students,” he says. “It means I can keep the will going, guiding other students, applying insights I’ve learned throughout my career and passing the torch. Being an alumnus means keeping the circle going. The current students are the future of marketing.”

He now sees the real-world impact of how The BrandLab prepares students for careers.

“Being a student and graduating and now being in a career being in different boardrooms and spaces, diversity’s important,” says Travon. “The individuals that The BrandLab is introducing are vital and I’m starting to see the importance. The alumni need to be a part of it to be that model. That’s what drives me to participate in these students’ lives.”

Being an alumnus means keeping the circle going. The current students are the future of marketing.

- Travon Sellers, former The BrandLab student

Over the last year, our alumni programming has continued to grow, both involving alumni with current program participants, and also finding more ways to holistically support alumni from their internship to landing a full-time position in the industry. In addition to building on year two of the mentorship program, Connect officially launched DevelopU: a professional development workshop series, and the Connect Internship program: a more advanced internship program for alumni.


80 mentor/mentee matches made since summer 2016 through the Connect program


We’ve made strides to more formally integrate alumni in our operations. Our Connect program helps The BrandLab alumni engage with current program participants. In the past year, we’ve had 39 new mentor/mentee matches, for a total of 84 matches made since summer of 2016. Other stats include:


alumni completing the first year of DevelopU workshops


official Connect Interns, after last summer’s pilot program of four in summer 2016


college students invited to the Connect Program via the new invite-only pipeline


Sharing in the responsibility of change

Another former student of The BrandLab is Karis Pryor, who now works at Colle McVoy. She feels a sense of pride as the program becomes more known in the community.

Karis feels a sense of dual responsibility: first, she wants to help change the industry she’s now a part of. Second, she wants to give back to The BrandLab.

Urban communities aren’t given opportunities like The BrandLab every day. Helping them get as much as they can out of it is something I'm super passionate about.

-Karis Pryor, former The BrandLab student


“Anyone I meet in the Minneapolis ad world kind of knows about The BrandLab in one way or another. To be able to wear that badge of honor is really cool,” she says. “I’ve been able to see the process come full circle. I was that age, and it’s really hard to believe that kids can start out that young and be exposed to something that great.”

As for changing the industry, she says The BrandLab helped give her courage and confidence.

“It’s important to keep my personal views out of things, but to also be able to speak up when we’re not reaching audiences in the best way — to speak up in a room where not everyone looks like me.”

As for giving back, she knows she has a valuable perspective to offer.

“It’s a responsibility to all of us, not just those who dedicate their daily lives,” Karis says. “I intend on staying in contact and in touch as much as I can. Urban communities aren’t given opportunities like The BrandLab every day. Helping them get as much as they can out of it is something I’m super passionate about.”

As alumni participation grows, we look forward to watching it strengthen The BrandLab’s offerings.