DSU Riverfront ushered in with new mentorship program
WILMINGTON — Delaware State University cut the ribbon on its Riverfront building Friday morning at the former Capital One building in downtown Wilmington, signaling perhaps a stronger workforce pipeline for rising Black professionals.
Capital One had donated the six-story building on 1 S. Orange St. to the state’s sole historically Black university as part of its multi-million dollar initiative to close the opportunity gap. Joe Wescott, Capital One Delaware market president, announced the bank would go one step further and launch an executive mentorship program with the entire DSU sophomore class.
“Today is a proud day for Capital One, and for me personally,” Wescott said. “I began my career here on the fifth floor. And I know that in the next chapter, this building will continue to grow the next generation of business and community leaders. I could not be more proud to stand here.”
The 35,000-square-foot building is valued at $4.7 million and has an open floor plan and five conference rooms. DSU Riverfront will be the future headquarters for the university’s 26 graduate, adult and continuing education programs. They are currently stationed out of DSU’s Kirkwood Highway office, but will be fully relocated in the fall.
In 2017, those programs had 300 students but by fall 2022, the university projects an enrollment of more than 1,000.
“We have a substantive workforce development opportunity here,” DSU President Tony Allen told the Delaware Business Times. “We have traditional graduate education and professional administrative programs in business and administration, and by bringing them here, we have a chance to create a continuum of economic opportunity.”
In addition, DSU will launch a workforce development center — complete with a Capital One recruiter — and a business incubation hub. DSU is in discussions with Code Differently; the Teen Warehouse, which features RISE, a 26-week paid skill training program; and other nonprofits about expanding their presence with the university.
Allen also said that DSU will create a Propel Center, essentially an arm of a “global HBCU headquarters” based on the Atlanta University Center Consortium. Propel Centers are designed to provide advanced technology, other resources to the Black community.
“They are looking to create more opportunities in HBCUs in Agtech, workforce development and other fields in a virtual platform. They want one of their hubs here, so we expect to be leasing an arrangement shortly,” Allen added.
DSU will continue to partner with Apple, and bring a program that offers recent or soon-to-be high school graduates additional educational opportunities on the second floor. The sixth floor, which features exposed brickwork and original ceiling beams and has a view of the river, will be for administrative staff.
“We’re excited to work from this beautiful space, it’s really like a dream come true,” DSU Graduate and Adult Studies Dean Patrice Gilliam-Johnson told the media on a tour of the building. “Open space is part of what we believe we will continue to work with, although we will put classroom space on one of the floors.”
While the building came fully furnished, DSU has installed minor artwork depicting the university as well as blueprint-esque images that show the structure’s long history. The building was first constructed in 1885 near the Christina River, first named the Kent Building, and served as a furniture warehouse.
It later became a leather processing facility in the 1920s and eventually turned back as a furniture warehouse. In the 1990s, it became a banking facility under ING Direct, which was later acquired by Capital One.
Capital One’s foundation also donated $270,000 in grants to DSU’s career services experiential learning program, which aims to aid students bridge the gap between classroom and careers.
Combined with the mentorship program, which will grant DSU access to Capital One’s new partnership with Braven — a nonprofit that offers professional development training to underrepresented students — Allen noted that the bank’s investment will help intervene at a critical point in a student’s life.
“When you get them as seniors and juniors, it’s just too late. A lot of our students are first-generation and first-generation corporate,” he said. “To understand what you want to do for a living, to really be your authentic self in those settings, you have to talk to people who’ve been there. That’s the secret sauce.”
At the bottom line, Delaware’s federal and state officials note that the DSU Riverfront was more of a symbol of hope for the next generation. DSU left Wilmington, Delaware’s largest city with a population that is majority Black, years ago. With its return, Gov. John Carney believed the tide will change for Delaware.
Earlier this month, the governor held a panel on Delaware’s racial history and Dr. Reba Hollingworth spoke about the struggles of attending a segregated school and her only option was attending DSU for college.
“But she also talked about inspiration from her parents and teachers. What strikes me about today is that inspiration is a big part of educational success … this here represents a big part of it. It’s something our children can look at and say, ‘I can do that.’ It opens a world of possibilities,” Carney said during his speech at the ribbon cutting ceremony.
U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester succinctly put it, “Don’t get it twisted. This isn’t just a building.”
“This is our today: upskilling, reskilling the workforce,” the congresswoman added. “It starts tomorrow. This isn’t just Delaware rising, it’s about America rising.”