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Carlson School Student Org Aims to Boost LGBTQ Presence in Workforce

Now in its third year, the Compass student group works to connect students, alumni, and area business leaders. Its flagship alumni reunion event will be held on Friday.

Carlson School Student Org Aims to Boost LGBTQ Presence in Workforce
Compass's LGBTQ+ Alumni Reunion event in 2018. (Photo from Compass's website).

An LGBTQ+ business group on the University of Minnesota campus is gaining clout.

Since it formed three years ago, Compass has established a presence among the state’s Fortune 500 companies, locked down partnerships and sponsorships, and attracted a growing number of students. Housed within the U’s Carlson School of Management, Compass aims to boost LGBTQ presence in the workforce by connecting students, alumni and area business leaders.

Compass even had the opportunity to pick someone to fill a full-time diversity and inclusion job at Carlson, says Michael Olson, a Carlson senior and the current director of marketing and strategy for Compass.

“We’re getting a lot more attention and help with funding and things like that,” he says. “We're proving ourselves. We’re getting good name sponsors. [Growth] comes with a few years of just proving yourself, and I think we're finally getting to that point.”

Olson credits the increased engagement within Carlson and the U in part to visibility of the group and to the group’s independent success.

On Friday, Compass will hold its annual LGBTQ+ Alumni Reunion at the McNamara Alumni Center. (Tickets and details are available here.)

The event, which debuted in fall 2017, gives LGBTQ+ students and alumni a chance to network and share their experiences.

Compass leaders aim to foster relationships that lead to careers for LGBTQ+ students, who often face challenges in getting hired and finding inclusive office environments, Olson says.

“The fact that [LGBTQ+ students] can really meet and interact with alumni that are in an industry they’re interested in is really valuable,” he says.

The alumni event has become a cornerstone for Compass, which was founded by Nick Alm in May 2016. (Alm also co-founded the LGBTQ+ workforce advocacy nonprofit Mossier.)

“The business world hasn’t always been so welcoming to diversity and inclusion in any space,” says Olson. “It’s really important for us to be a voice for people who haven’t always been included in things.”

Compass holds similar events throughout the year. The group also organizes site visits to corporate sponsors and partners, information sessions with companies, LGBTQ+ career fairs, and more. Among the organization’s recent achievements? Establishing a $6 million scholarship fund backed by Brian Gerhardson, a gay Carlson alum who is now a financial adviser with Ameriprise.

Compass also played a key role in bringing all-gender restrooms to Carlson.

Now, the group aims to attract more support from LGBTQ+ allies. But Olson says there’s often a stigma or confusion around niche groups. To help combat this, Compass leaders aim to clearly define how allies can help.

Meanwhile, Olson has high hopes for the Alumni Reunion. One day, he hopes to draw more than 500 attendees. As things stands right now, Compass expects more than 100 attendees this year, up from about 75 people the first year.  

Whatever the numbers are, though, Olson says alumni are encouraged by the group’s progress.

“They are so excited to give back and help because it’s something they wish they had when they were students,” says Olson. “ We all want to continue to be a part of this organization and help it grow and see that it still exists because we know it’s so important for the students.”  

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