Zhan Li, dean of the School of Economics and Business Administration at Saint Mary's College, thinks the timing is perfect to establish new diversity scholarships for the school's MBA programs.
Li said changing demographics coupled with an ailing economy make it imperative businesses leaders come from diverse backgrounds.
In that spirit, there are the two new scholarships at the Moraga college -- the Raul and Shari Deju Hispanic Scholarship and the Lighthouse Scholarship for Diversity. Starting this fall, the Deju scholarship will give $8,000 to one student, and the Lighthouse scholarship will give $5,000 to one student. Li said the school is very close to announcing a third scholarship, that one to help African American students.
Li said having diverse students in the graduate programs at Saint Mary's will help all their students learn different perspectives -- what he cited as a necessity in the global economy.
He said that helping minority students rise in the business world also fits the Catholic mission of the college, run by the La Sallean Brothers.
The La Sallean Brothers also taught Raul Deju, 65, when he was growing up in Cuba. He moved to the U.S. when he was 14 as part of a large exodus known as Operation Peter Pan.
"I am well ingrained with their philosophy of giving," Deju said.
That spirit of giving drove Deju, whose son Michael attends Saint Mary's, to reach out to the college with the idea. He donated a large portion of the scholarship fund, and enticed others to contribute as well.
"I have a degree, a Ph.D., and a successful career," said Deju. "A lot of people helped me that didn't have to when I came to the U.S. It's payback time."
Deju now spends most of his time helping young people achieve their dreams. He teaches at John F. Kennedy University, and has taught at UC Davis and Saint Mary's.
"I think I was the only person teaching in the business school there (at Saint Mary's) that didn't have a business degree. But I was also the only one that has taken a company worth north of $30 billion into the New York Stock Exchange."
Deju, who lives in Moraga, also works with students who want to start their own businesses. He started the Institute of Entrepreneurial Leadership at John F. Kennedy University. He is still an executive with Energy Solutions.
The Lighthouse scholarship was started by Song Woo, founder of Lighthouse Management Group, a financial executive placement firm. Woo came to the U.S. from South Korea when he was 4 years old, and his family worked in the carnation fields around Salinas. His father died when he was 12, and his mother encouraged him to attend college, despite money being tight. He got a degree from San Francisco State and joined a major staffing firm.
Woo started Lighthouse Management Group after receiving an MBA from Saint Mary's. He said he started thinking about starting his own firm while going through the MBA program.
"The business philosophies and ethics I was learning at Saint Mary's weren't meshing with where I was working," Woo said. "I was beginning to see a disconnect."
So, with his wife encouraging him to take a risk and start his own firm, he struck out on his own, calling the company the same name of his collaboration group in the MBA program.
"The MBA program equipped me with the tools I needed to successfully launch my startup business with confidence," he says."(As time) went by in the MBA program, I just felt stronger and stronger as a business person. So starting up a business did not seem so risky anymore.
He decided to give back after his company achieved major success. Lighthouse was honored in the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal as the fastest growing private company in Silicon Valley in 2009. Woo said he also started an internship program at Lighthouse for Saint Mary's undergrad students.
"Diversity is a huge part of my business," Woo said, explaining why he decided to fund the Lighthouse Scholarship for Diversity, designed to attract Asian-Americans to the graduate business programs. At Lighthouse, he said, "the team is a melting pot, and I've always been a promoter of diversity."
"Diversity enhances any education program in my opinion," Woo said.
Li said having successful minority students come out of Saint Mary's will have a tremendous impact on their communities.
"Many of these students go back to establish businesses in their own communities. They hire people from a diverse economy."
This domino effect of offering knowledge and confidence to minority students, Li says, is just one good way to achieve their social mission as a Catholic university.