• Drew Helterbran, West Texas A&M University

A Life-Changing Experience



The National Millennial and Gen Z trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, manifested very quickly. I was offered the opportunity ten days before the trip by one of my professors at Texas A&M University. After two emails, my flight to Charlotte was booked, and although this experience came together at the drop of a hat, I would not trade the memories, experiences, and friends I made on this trip for the world.

Visiting various businesses throughout Charlotte, I would say the most surprising thing about each meeting we had was how genuinely nice all of the executives were. As a news junkie, I keep up with all the various labor disputes, such as Amazon drivers being forced to urinate in bottles to keep up with company quotas and other similar stories that are prevalent across America. Due to my preconceived notions, I did not expect the executives to engage in meaningful dialogue with the community.

One of the most notable examples was our visit to Wells Fargo. During our conversation, they spoke about how they loved their company culture, how they were being treated fairly as individuals, etc. As representatives of our community, we were told to hold nothing back and give our utmost honest opinions. This helped prompt me to ask somewhat controversial questions, such as how the company culture had changed from the Wells Fargo scandal of 2016 and what proof they could offer that they were putting their employees first.

The scandal involved many fraudulent savings and checking accounts created in the name of Wells Fargo clients without their consent or knowledge. Furthermore, the client accounts were being used for cross-selling and charging the account owners fees to boost the company's reputation. The result was the resignation of their CEO and over $2.5 billion spent in criminal and civil suits.

The responses I received gave me hope for Wells Fargo's reformation. Although the executives we spoke to were not bankers themselves, they said that the creation of numerous diversity programs, paid days off to volunteer, and other reforms made them feel that they were personally making improvements for the better.

In addition, they asked us questions about what our generation valued in a company in terms of diversity initiatives, compensation, benefits, etc. In my opinion, the fact that Wells Fargo was asking these types of questions showed us that they are still in the process of reforming their company. However, their response and willingness to listen to us indicated that the company was on the right track and is truly committed to improving the company.

Later that evening, we were treated to dinner, and our special guest, Fields Jackson, Founder of the online magazine Racing Towards Diversity, joined us. I appreciated Field's willingness to connect us with people who could lead to potential employment opportunities. Although I did not carry the same cynicism as with Wells Fargo, I was again taken aback and impressed at how willing and devoted he was to help us.

When we were not engaging in discourse with executives and leading professionals, we had the chance to bond with one another, most notably at the Whitewater Rafting Center. We engaged our teamwork skills to make our way across the river and, more importantly, not fall off the raft. I even took a friendly bet with one of the community members to see who would last the longest afloat, which I eventually lost.

As an introvert, connecting and networking with everyone on this trip was amazing! Whether through the meals we shared at the Charlotte Airport or the card game that kept us talking until 3 a.m., I could learn about the lives of different community members and foster some incredible friendships.




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