The MKE Fellows initiative was created in 2012 encouraging talented, young students from Milwaukee to pursue and complete their college education and serving as a vehicle to attract African American college graduates to return to the Greater Milwaukee area.
The idea was initially developed by a group of business people soliciting students, principally from Milwaukee schools, to attend Morehouse College. The then superintendent of schools for Milwaukee, Dr. Greg Thornton, was highly supportive of this initiative and it was launched with a lunch in Milwaukee with Henry and Billye Aaron. Mrs. Aaron is a trustee at Morehouse College. A group of civic leaders was convened and the goal was to raise enough to support the academic costs of students at about $25,000 per year. Approximately $900,000 was raised for the first cohort of ten students.
Dr. Robert Franklin, then president of Morehouse, was involved in the initial fundraising effort. That support continues with the present President of Morehouse – Dr. David A. Thomas. Shortly thereafter some additional dollars were raised for subsequent cohorts. Critical to the launch of this effort were three individuals who not only personally contributed but solicited others — Those included three business executives, Skip Poliner, Cory Nettles and Charles Harvey. Initially, the effort was focused on getting these talented students into a high performing environment on the assumption that it would expand their horizons — it has done just that.
It soon became clear that as part of this it was also important to add components because the students’ ability to perform is impacted by multiple matters. Therefore, a summer internship initiative was added in 2015 and 20 students participated in internships with companies. Those interns had remarkable performance and as a result of that, a number of things occurred (see year-end 2015 employer survey report of Greater Milwaukee Committee). Students outside of Morehouse wanted to have the benefit of this experience and so the number of schools was expanded to over twenty (20) colleges.
The goal was to increase the number of interns from 20 to 40 in 2016, and a collaboration was created with Quarles & Brady, The Greater Milwaukee Committee, ALIVE, Inc., and ReDonna Rodgers to pursue a more aggressive effort in light of the expanded program. This effort gained broad public support, including that of Wisconsin Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
In order for the process to be effective, it was concluded that the involvement of the students had to be broader, including an effort to promote their academic achievement, providing them with role models of minority professionals who have successfully entered and performed well in the workplace. MKE Fellows also developed a set of social activities to provide a positive view of the City of Milwaukee, and to ensure a better matching of their skills relative to possible internships.