Why Nordstrom’s partnership with Morehouse College is a smart move


Last month, American luxury department store Nordstrom announced a partnership with Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, to sponsor product management coursework and a mentorship program. The technology focused courses are designed to help improve career pathways for diverse communities.  Morehouse College, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) for men, will open the program up to other colleges within the Atlanta University Center Consortium and broader Atlanta Regional Coun

ouncil of Higher Education network of schools. Students who enrol in the product management courses will be taught and mentored by Nordstrom leaders and technologists. 

“We see an opportunity to increase diversity and representation in technology, and by partnering with Morehouse College, we hope that we can create more pathways for Black technologists and future leaders,” said Ian Heisser, senior director of engineering at Nordstrom. 

Commencing March 2023 in the spring semester, students can study a one-credit course  – Computing Career Exploration – to prepare them for a technology career within enterprise companies, or a three-credit course – Introduction to Tech Product Management – which provides an introduction to what products are, the role of product managers and options for career paths that exist in product management.

“Product management is one of the fastest growing roles in technology and is critical to enhancing our customers’ experience,” Heisser said. “It’s critical that our product managers reflect the diverse group of customers we serve.”

At first glance, it may seem an unlikely initiative for a traditional luxury department store to champion. However, technology continues to play a significant role within all aspects of retail and product management is considered a high-growth profession with great earning potential. This area of expertise involves technical and analytical skills, which can allow people to pursue various paths in technology, user experience and business.

“The partnership between Morehouse and Nordstrom is notable for two reasons. One, it will allow those underrepresented in technology to be exposed to different roles in the technology workforce. Two, fashion is a significant part of defining culture. Understanding the role technology plays in the success of a fashion retailer will help attract and retain technologists of color and will create new pathways for them to thrive in the technology workforce,” said Dr. Kinnis Gosha, executive director and chief research officer of the Morehouse Center for Broadening Participation in Computing at Morehouse College.

For the luxury department store, product management is critical to an agile approach to implementing technology, and assists in supporting several internal teams and driving digital-first projects. Nordstrom actively recruits budding technology graduates from HBCUs and employs hundreds of HBCU alumni across its corporate and store teams.

The partnership with Morehouse College is one of many education-to-industry led programs by Nordstrom. The retailer is committed to investing in Black talent and continuously participates in events such as the HBCU Battle of the Brains, a hackathon style event where students compete by developing a solution for the business challenge presented. Nordstrom employees coached students from Fisk University and Morehouse College to first and second place in 2022. 

From education to industry

Nordstrom’s ongoing commitment to engaging with education is a leading example of collaboration that benefits students, education providers and industry. Getting to this point can take years of working out best practice between education and industry.

It is sometimes perceived that for industry to collaborate with education, it means having to fit within a rigid academic mould. However, industry requires a consistent pool of talent with contemporary skills and knowledge. On the flip side, education needs the support of industry to ensure higher employability outcomes for its graduates and alumni, and to ensure that the courses being delivered have currency and relevance within the industry.  

To bridge the two, many universities in Australia have adopted Work Integrated Learning programs, which provide students with workplace-related placements and projects that are embedded within the curriculum. Connecting students to authentic workplace experiences and mentorship through the WIL framework prepares job-ready graduates. 

Additionally, there are other pathways industry is able to collaborate with colleges and universities and can be individualised to the industry partner. In turn, this fosters a long-term relationship along with multiple streams for collaborative projects. 

Supporting emerging skills and careers

Traditionally, the link between a retailer and education provider might have focused on roles and skills specific to retailing such as store management, buying and merchandising, operations, logistics and supply chain management. This approach has vastly shifted due to retailers becoming digital-first companies, requiring large teams of technologically skilled professionals. 

It’s imperative for retailers of all sizes to identify emerging growth areas in education they could potentially support and champion in local areas. This not only provides direct access to up and coming talent, but a broad opportunity to build brand awareness. 

In a report produced by the Australian Fashion Council, research found that the Australian fashion industry employs more people than mining and utilities, reflecting a huge opportunity for education providers and industry to work together. Globally, fashion is experiencing immense change and growth. Now would be the ideal time to reach out to your local colleges and universities to start a conversation about how you can get involved with the next generation of leaders, technologists, designers and strategic business professionals. 

Career opportunities are plentiful when education and industry work collaboratively together.


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