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Allstate Executive Cheryl Harris Announces $150,000 HBCU Scholarships

Growing up poor in the inner city of Chicago taught Cheryl Harris, Allstate’s senior vice president of procurement, just how invaluable a college scholarship is. With the scaling back of funding for programs such as Pell Grants, students are forced to work in addition to taking classes, or in the worst case, risk dropping out because they simply can’t afford higher education.

Harris, a graduate of Florida A&M University earned her degree in business administration and has 20 years of experience leading diverse, multinational procurement teams. Since joining Allstate in March 2011, she’s transformed it’s procurement division. “What we do all day every day is what I call professional shopping. We’re shopping to ensure Allstate spends what we call our sourceable spend about $8 billion with outside parties: marketing firms, travel agencies, furniture providers, you name it. If it needs to be purchased, my team negotiates those contracts. We’re not just focused on getting the lowest price but making sure we optimize the value proposition, mitigating risks and finding win-win solutions with our clients. I am also responsible for managing or leading and sponsoring Allstate’s supplier diversity program, where we ensure that we include minority women, diverse and other disadvantaged businesses in the opportunities to enter into partnerships, i.e., supplier relationship with us. I have a really exciting job. I have a team of about 80 people,” she says.

Allstate and the Tom Joyner Foundation have partnered to combat unfortunate financial situations for college students by raising up to $150,000 to support scholarships for students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The fourth-annual Quotes for Education initiative launched on Aug. 1 and will run through Dec. 31, 2012.

Read what Harris has to say about their commitment to Quotes for Education. –yvette caslin

Tell us about Allstate’s Quotes for Education Program and partnership with the Tom Joyner Foundation.
We launched the Quotes for Education program back in 2009 to support scholarship funds at Historically Black Colleges and Universities across the country. The way it works, for every person who receives an insurance quote between August 1 and December 31, 2012 and mentions “Quotes for Education,” Allstate will donate $10, up to a total donation up to $150,000 that will be specifically earmarked for scholarships. We will donate that money to the Tom Joyner Foundation. For the first time, since the creation of the program, after quoting, supporters will be asked to vote for the HBCU of their choice. The school with the most votes will receive $50,000. You don’t need to quote to vote but you want to maximize the $150,000 plus the additional $50,000 contribution. I am very hopeful that people will take the opportunity to quote and vote.

How has your HBCU education prepared you for your career?
I am often asked why did I decide to attend an HBCU? I will be candid. I grew up very poor and Florida A&M University offered me a scholarship to major in business. What I found when I arrived was not only a campus full of educators but a second family. That was particularly important because I was 16, a first-time college attendee in my family, and I was afraid to go but I found a warm and welcoming environment with my fellow students who’d come from across the country, the educators and the administrators.

My experience at FAMU taught me the importance of relationships, networking and the spirit of giving back. I saw so many of my professors and mentors so actively engaged on campus and in the community. It helped shaped me. I became a woman there and it was a great place to be.

Any last words …
According to a 2012 study by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, only four out of 37 HBCUs surveyed has a black student graduation rate of more than 50 percent within six years. The study also noted a declining trend in that graduation rate since 2006. We’re seeing the decline of the graduation rate primarily as a function of economic condition where our students have limited access to financial aid from public and private sources. This is a problem. A student like me would have needed a program like what we’re doing here at Allstate, having access to bridge the gaps that can’t be covered by financial aid, access to book scholarships to help provide books that are even more expensive. I couldn’t believe what it cost to buy books, a student told me that some books costs a couple of hundred bucks. It’s very important that we engage not just alum of HBCUs but families, friends, spouses, allies, existing Allstate customers, non-Allstate customers to help us rally the charge so we can donate the funds that are so desperately needed by our students.