Covalent program seeks to give students experience, bolster diversity

Walker Post, alum from the University, is the founder and CEO of Covalent. The program will be partnering with the Hub for Brand Innovation and Advertising Technology in providing a fellowship experience over the summer.

Photo courtesy of Covalent Website

Walker Post, alum from the University, is the founder and CEO of Covalent. The program will be partnering with the Hub for Brand Innovation and Advertising Technology in providing a fellowship experience over the summer.

By Nandika Chatterjee, Staff Writer

When the world was in the midst of a pandemic in April 2020, Walker Post and Alex Littleton created the COVID-19 Business Fellowship. The program benefited the numerous college students who had lost highly competitive internships.

Since then, the COVID-19 Business Fellowship team rebranded as Covalent. The change wasn’t limited to just a rename — it also included a more integrative focus. It sought to help students develop fundraising and digital marketing skills by supporting Black-led nonprofits in the Chicagoland area. Covalent will be focusing only on students from the University as it works alongside the Hub for Brand Innovation and Advertising Technology within the College of Media.

The fellowship’s summer experience runs from June 13 to August 19. During the program, students will be given the opportunity to connect with their peers and their community, as well as grow as professionals under the guidance of a mentor.

“I wanted to offer my experience of breaking into the social impact sector and the nonprofit sector to students,” Post said. “We know (Gen Z) is more likely than ever to get involved in social causes and a lot of the times, we are seeing purpose over profit chosen in career paths.”

Post said he doesn’t see profit and purpose as mutually exclusive.

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“You can do work and get paid for it,” Post said. “We are trying to help students and young professionals get their foot through the door to make a viable career out working (in the sectors).”

Susan Muirhead is the visiting associate director for the Hub for Brand Innovation and Advertising Technology at the University. Muirhead said that through the fellowship, students would be exposed to important marketing training.

The topics covered include diversity, equity and inclusion, fundraising and email campaigns, graphic design, social media advertising, video marketing and personal branding.

“Second, (the fellowship) provides fundraising support to worthy Black and brown-led nonprofits in the Chicagoland area which could broaden their reach and may lead to additional financial support for their organizations,” Muirhead said.

Muirhead said the third reason the program was essential to students is how it gives students unique, hands-on exposure to working with the nonprofit sector. She said this consisted of up to 10% of the workforce.

Mike Yao, professor in the College of Media and head of the University’s Advertising Department, works with Post on the fellowship. Yao and Post first met about two years into the pandemic. At the time, they were in initial talks about how a mutually beneficial program could be constructed with a focus on advertising students.

“My vision is to develop a sustainable model of collaboration between the academic unit and nonprofits,” Yao said. “I believe a partnership between the Brand Hub (for innovation) and Covalent creates a perfect space for such collaborations.”

Chynnique Ross and Destinee Burrell are both graduates of the University of Illinois Chicago School of Law. They met Post after applying to the Impact Marketing and Fundraising Fellowship.

Ross serves as a securities clerk in Chicago at a boutique securities law firm and as co-founder of the Light Law INC. Burrell is a commercial litigation attorney from Kankakee at Husch Blackwell and co-founder of Light Law INC. Their nonprofit is one of several selected for the fellowship.

“It also gives students an early insight into working with Black-led nonprofits, allowing them to enter their careers with a more representative and culturally sensitive background,” Ross said. “It’s a great opportunity for Black-led nonprofits to gain the support they might not have access to.”

Post reflected on his position in society as a white man advocating for Black-led nonprofits. With Covalent’s focus on diversity, Post acknowledged that his point of reference is professional experience. He said his goal is to respectfully do good work that makes a difference.

“Help those nonprofits that really don’t have the time or the bandwidth to engage in digital marketing fundraising,” Post said. “Set them up for success for Black philanthropy month in August. All the work we are doing over the summer is going to lead up to a fundraising campaign. The hope is 10 nonprofits that we are actively recruiting for right now, it’s all pro bono to the nonprofits. We’ve estimated it to be 2,1000 hours of pro bono support.”


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