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Unique Bank of America program lends expertise

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Don Gordon, right, of Bank of America, has been working with Delaware State University Office of Career Services Director Terry Bankston, Internship Coordinator Ursula Harvey and administrative secretary Jacqueline Hendy for the last six months. | PHOTO COURTESY OF BANK OF AMERICA

Don Gordon had worked for Bank of America for more than two decades when his boss came to him with an opportunity last year: work full-time for a historically Black university for a year while retaining his job and benefits.

“It’s obviously very rare. I have a lot of acquaintances, in the financial industry in Delaware and elsewhere, and there’s nobody doing this today. So, it’s really groundbreaking,” said Gordon, who was taken aback at first. “To be able to have such an impact on the companies in Delaware, as well as the students here at Delaware State University (DSU), was just a phenomenal opportunity that I couldn’t say no to.”

Luis Santiago, right, of Bank of America, worked with Delaware IT Industry Council Executive Director Zakiyyah Ali, left, and Code Differently CEO Stephanie Eldridge on the 1,000-student coding program that provided high schoolers with software development training and internship opportunities. | PHOTO COURTESY OF BANK OF AMERICA

Gordon, who serves as senior vice president for collection and recovery at the bank, was one of the first placements in its new Leaders on Loan program. He was joined by Corporate Audit Department Vice President Luis Santiago, who has been working with the Delaware IT Industry Council.

Chip Rossi, the Delaware market leader for Bank of America, explained that the bank has long connected with nonprofits and institutions to help them with their missions, and the Leaders on Loan program was a new way to put its investment toward addressing issues important to the company: job creation and reaching underserved communities.

“What we realized is there’s talent that we have who could be supportive of their work too,” he said.

Bank of America pays the leader’s salary and benefits while donating his or her time to the nonprofit.

“This is not philanthropy work, it’s talent acquisition,” Gordon said, noting that his work with DSU’s Office of Career Services is helping students land internships and jobs after graduation, both at Bank of America and elsewhere.

Last spring, Gordon helped organize a career fair at DSU that featured more than 100 companies, with more than 600 students attending, interviewing with recruiters and occasionally getting offer letters before they had even graduated. He recalled meeting one young man who was hired by a Bank of America recruiter and was beaming about the offer.

“That’s what makes this work really rewarding for me, even just that one individual,” Gordon said.

Meanwhile, Santiago has helped the upstart Delaware ITIC hire its first executive director and apply for a $14 million federal Economic Development Administration grant that could take its training capabilities far into the future. The organization pulled together the input of more than three dozen organizations from the private sector, government and higher education for the application that could help produce hundreds of tech workers. The ITIC aims to make Delaware one of the most competitive tech hubs in America, building off an ecosystem that is already growing financial technology, or fintech, positions.

“We can lay down the foundation for my children to one day have the opportunity to get a career in technology,” Santiago said.

For both of the executives chosen for the unique Leaders on Loan program, the fact that two men of color were chosen for the opportunity wasn’t lost on them. They said it was indicative of the opportunities they had been given in their careers at the second largest U.S. bank.

“Representation matters. I’m proud of it, and honored and humbled by it,” Santiago said. “For me, it’s about making sure that I ultimately deliver great work. There’s no easy way of being a first.”

Both also said that they hoped the Leaders on Loan program became a permanent part of Bank of America’s offerings. Rossi agreed, saying, “This is fairly new for our company, but I think we’re seeing positive results here in Delaware.”

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