June 28, 2004
Riordan Fellow Returns as Executive Director of Riordan Programs
Alex Lawrence seeks to expand job and scholarship opportunitiesLos Angeles — Alex Lawrence (’99) recently returned to UCLA Anderson as executive director of the Riordan Programs. Established in 1987, The Riordan Programs is a pioneering graduate professional school, career-based outreach model that motivates high school students, college students, and recent college graduates from diverse backgrounds and under-served communities to consider and prepare for careers in management through education, mentorship, job development, and college counseling. The programs help prepare students for admission to top universities as well as leadership positions by providing the training necessary to fulfill their career goals in management, law, and health administration. The Riordan Scholars program serves deserving high school students, while the Riordan Fellows are college graduates seeking to further their management experience.
Lawrence’s interest in the programs is more than just professional. Alex was a Riordan Fellow himself and has remained involved in the program as a mentor, a volunteer and as president of the Riordan Fellows Alumni Association. His interest is only matched by his dedication to the cause and he takes over the reigns with the dual goals of sustaining the high standards of this UCLA Anderson tradition while at the same time expanding the breadth and scope of the Riordan Programs.
Before his participation as a Riordan Fellow and subsequently earning an MBA from UCLA Anderson, Lawrence was a successful systems engineer. The Trenton, New Jersey native was working at 3M during his time as a Fellow. Alex recently described his experiences at UCLA Anderson and his vision for the future of the Riordan Scholars.
What impact did your days as a Riordan Fellow have on your decision to get an MBA?
It was huge. I had a lot of exposure to the faculty and the academic programs at UCLA Anderson. The program offered a broad based perspective on marketing and finance. Just as important was the interaction with students and my mentor, which provided a JD/MBA student’s perspective.
There was a glass ceiling for engineers at the Camarillo plant and I knew I needed an advanced management degree (Lawrence also has a master’s degree in engineering from Georgia Tech) to get through that ceiling.
Take us through some of your career stops after you received your MBA.
I went into management consulting. I worked at Ernst & Young on a variety of strategic operations projects. I worked with Nissan on a web project and with a web company called Autolink on their online marketing plan. Essentially, I spent 4-5 years working on consulting projects in telecommunications, medical devices, and automotive areas.
Like a lot of MBAs, I hit a wall at about five years and asked myself, “What do I want to do?” I decided I wanted a career change; I wanted more hands-on control. Also, I’m a people person – which is funny coming from an engineer – and I was looking for more group-oriented work, hopefully with an outreach or academic program. It was at about that time that this position opened up. I had kept in constant contact with the Riordan Programs as a volunteer and a speaker at many functions and was President of the Alumni Association. Through my contacts I heard about the position and decided to take on the challenge.
What are some of the new directions you’d like to see the Riordan Scholars head into?
The program is well-established in Southern California after nearly 20 years. The next step is to expand the opportunities offered by involving more local businesses and by expanding the portfolio of opportunities into even more tangible results. Until now, we've offered the participants exposure to different businesses and companies, now we want to improve upon the job and scholarship opportunities available today.
How much of your efforts involve fund raising?
We receive contributions from UCLA, but the large majority of our monies come through fund raising, so it’s definitely a high priority for me. We’re trying to involve the local business community even more than they have been both for monetary and non-monetary contributions. We’re looking for internship opportunities, for more involvement in our programs and for general donations.
What types of internships are valuable to the program?
Well, for example, there is a lot of interest in scholarships in the entertainment field. Instead of just a corporate visit to the Sony lot and a discussion of potential career opportunities, we’d like to offer academic or paid internships for participants.
Ideally, the internships would be project based work with some sort of deliverable or collateral as its goal. An internship making coffee or copies is not as valuable. It’s a good deal for the corporations involved as well. They get a chance to screen the students and perhaps train an employee for life, they become advocates and the students get real experiences. We’re not just seeking cut and paste solutions, we can tailor participation for each participant.
If there are any UCLA Anderson alumni interested in becoming more involved in the Riordan Scholars program I’d love to hear from them. I know we can make their involvement something that benefits not only the students, but their companies as well.
How about the Riordan Fellows program? What are your plans here?
The Fellows offer a different challenge. Here, we want to bring the business school experience into the classroom. We’ve always had great speakers, now we want to enrich the student experience with case studies and presentations in an MBA level environment. And at the same time, transform the participants into strong leaders within the community. The spirit of the Programs is giving back and helping improve the foundation from which many of us have started.