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It’s a beautiful, sunny Monday morning outside the windows, and still Byron Spruell has managed to captivate a roomful of energetic students at Cornerstone Schools.

While Spruell’s job as vice chairman at Deloitte LLP and managing principal of the company’s Chicago office is impressive, that’s not what these Detroit kids want to hear about. They pepper Spruell with questions about his college football career at Notre Dame. At 6 foot, 5 inches, the executive still looks the part and exudes an athlete’s confidence.

But Spruell finds a way to tie his background in sports with his successful career.

“You have to be coachable,” Spruell tells the students. “I challenge you to think about your own journey. Find that thing that makes you passionate. Find that thing that you feel you have a purpose for.”

Their future journeys into the job market are why he visited the Detroit school this week. This spring, Deloitte’s Detroit office and Cornerstone formed a new program aimed at boosting the number of minorities in financial fields like accounting and marketing. Spruell, who is African-American, recognizes the need for more diversity in his global financial services company and others like it.

“We have to have more of ‘us’ in the profession,” Spruell tells the crowd. And he explains that getting exposure to different careers in middle and high school can make a big difference.

Spruell says blacks are underrepresented in a variety of professional careers. That’s definitely true in Michigan, where only 1 percent of the state’s 18,000 accountants are black. Mark Davidoff, Deloitte’s managing partner in Michigan, was struck by the company’s lack of diversity here and that’s why he chose to pursue the partnership with Cornerstone founder, Clark Durant.

The Deloitte Cornerstone Career Pathways collaboration is a pilot program that Deloitte would like to expand to cities around the country, if it succeeds in Detroit.

It’s off to a good start. Ten high school students currently participate in the internship program. The students take a full day a week to spend time at Deloitte’s Detroit office, where they have gotten to work in different departments and take part in business luncheons with community leaders.

And the idea going forward is to get more students involved in the program at an earlier age.

The company is fully behind it, says Spruell. He could see it working well in other urban areas, such as Houston, Los Angeles and Chicago.

“To see it in action is phenomenal,” he says. “It’s a great foundational model. We’ll take it wherever it can scale.”

Ernestine Sanders, president and CEO of Cornerstone, says the concept of having students experience different careers first hand is vital.

“That’s the education piece that’s missing, especially in urban education,” Sanders says. “You have to go beyond the walls of the schools, and once you go beyond the walls you get an expertise we wouldn’t necessarily be able to give them. We see that growth already.”

Detroit Cristo Rey High School incorporates a similar program for their students. At Cristo Rey, every high school student spends a day a week out of the classroom and in one of the internships available at 80 businesses throughout Metro Detroit. The Corporate Work Study Program offers hands on experience for students, and given the 100 percent college acceptance rate the school boasts, it’s getting results.

“There are so many connections and people you get to meet,” says Cornerstone senior Willie Murphy, 18. And even though he wants to become a journalist, he sees much value in his work at Deloitte — especially related to developing his communication and problem solving skills.

For Spruell, that’s what gives this program so much potential.

“That’s the beauty of this, right? They don’t have to at the end of the day go to college and come to Deloitte,” he says. “They can go to college and be extremely successful citizens in whatever field they choose and have a passion about. That’s what I love about this.”

ijacques@detroitnews.com

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