Recent Isenberg Graduate Makes Diverse Connections
October 15, 2019
When a coworker at the Boston-based marketing firm MullenLowe MediaHub introduced sport management graduate Jonathan Bekele ’18 to Isenberg marketing graduate Kelly Fredrickson ’88 at a company party, the two hit it off—their mutual appreciation for Isenberg was central to their newfound friendship. “I hadn’t met Kelly before,” Jonathan recalls. “When I asked her what she did at the company, she hesitated and then confessed, Well,I’m the president.”
Last month, when Kelly was invited to campus to give a presentation on her project, “My Year of Whittling”—she encourages participants to whittle away what doesn’t matter to focus on their most important priorities—she checked in with Jonathan to see if he’d come along with her to visit their shared alma mater. He agreed, and set up a meeting at Isenberg with the Advancement of Diversity in Business (ADB) club, a group that Jonathan had founded as a senior and stayed in touch with since graduating.
“Founding the club was critical because students of color needed a culturally comfortable space to make the most of career-focused skills and advice,” Jonathan says. In that setting, resume writing, interviewing, elevator pitching, networking, and business etiquette all benefit. Visits from successful alumni give club members a realistic view inside work industries and cultures.
Having both a recent and an experienced alum involved in the ADB event led to a wide-ranging conversation about experiences of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Jonathan discussed how he had taken his experience working toward inclusivity at Isenberg with him to his new career, and Kelly told students how she has tried to use her executive position to champion diversity initiatives in the advertising business.
Jonathan asked club members, “How many of you have walked into a class and been the only person of color?” He recalls that every hand went up. “I started the club because a lot of students just didn’t know where to go. I wanted to leave a legacy.”
Jonathan grew up surrounded by people of color in Boston’s South End and Lower Roxbury neighborhoods, and says his Ethiopian parents drove him to focus on his future. When he was a student, Jonathan first brought his idea for the ADB club to Nefertiti Walker, who now serves as both Isenberg’s associate dean for an inclusive organization and UMass Amherst’s interim associate chancellor for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Jonathan considers Walker his chief mentor at Isenberg. “Professor Walker was incredibly generous with her time and resources. She really helped us to get ADB off the ground,” he recalls.
Jonathan’s ADB experience influenced his subsequent job hunt and decision to accept the job at MullenLowe. “I wanted to make sure that wherever I went, I felt like I was in a good place,” he says.
MullenLowe’s focus on inclusion is a priority for Kelly Fredrickson. “Advertising is a predominantly white industry—only five percent of our people are people of color,” she says, adding that the industry needs to better reflect the customers it’s trying to reach. “As a leader, I feel it is my responsibility to make change.” She came away from her conversation with Isenberg’s ADB members inspired: “I was impressed with the caliber of the students that I met, especially their energy and intellect.”
Jonathan's experiences at the firm have been positive as well. “MullenLowe has made a huge name for itself in media marketing,” he says. “As a media planner, I’ve planned and allocated team projects on behalf of LL Bean, American Greetings, and other clients. At MullenLowe, I’ve become a better client manager. I’m a better listener and more up front in questioning clients and advocating realistic expectations.”
He has also had the opportunity to participate in groundbreaking diversity work, joining the new employee community Black@MullenLoweGroup shortly after he started working at the firm. The initiative’s activities have come to include weekly lunches, guest speakers, trips to conferences, and visiting historically black colleges and universities. “We also provide some consulting for coworkers,” Jonathan adds. “Account teams will reach out to us trying to get better insight into black culture.” The emphasis on visibility and outreach have made Black@MullenLoweGroup an integral part of the firm’s business strategy.
“I wanted to go into a company that seemed like they cared,” Jonathan says. “I made a great choice.”