How O4U sustains itself
The conference has been run, from its inception, by volunteers who are overwhelmingly O4U alumni. According to Feore, leadership positions are also often short-term, as they are constantly handed down to other program alumni who return to help out.
Feore, an O4U alum herself, is on her second year as the executive director. She attended the business conference while an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. She said she heard about the conference though the Wharton Alliance, an LGBT undergrad business group which was founded by attendees of the first O4U Business Conference. She then continued to attend the conference each year. “My senior year, a company that I found at the career fair ended up being the company I got a job with—so that really worked out for me,” she says. “So, I started work, and I started volunteering for Out for Undergrad. It’s basically all former students who are really excited about the program and who just want to give back. I just worked on it for a few years until I was selected as executive director.”
Feore said that directors often spend about 20 hours a week on O4U, which is a sizable volunteer commitment to hold on top of her work as a developer at Yeti, a San Francisco-based design and development firm. “It’s difficult,” she says. “I’m lucky to have had flexible jobs since I graduated. But it’s a lot of work, and it’s definitely something that people do because they’re passionate about it.”
The application process
Feore estimates that around 600 students applied for the 400 conference seats last year, and the number of applicants has been consistently rising. Each year, the program becomes more selective and more diverse, not only in terms of students’ demographics but also in terms of the schools they come from. Though once mainly composed of students from UPenn, Harvard, and Duke, the conferences now host students from over 80 schools.
The admissions process is fairly holistic, taking into account academic performance, leadership experience, a personal essay, and demographic information. “We do have lower numbers of underrepresented minorities and women and other gender-diverse people, and as a result we do select for those traits,” Feore says. “We are looking to round out our class, which is also why we ask questions about students’ need and if they’re first-generation college students.”
Feore believes that most people find O4U online or through word-of-mouth, but says they advertise a lot through social media. They also have a Campus Ambassador Program through which student volunteers spread the word on their respective campuses.
Feore believes that O4U’s most valuable component is, by far, the networks students form—both peer networks and networks with sponsors or mentors. She also added that while some students have lots of connections and recruiting events at their schools, O4U may be the only chance for students who don’t come from target institutions to get their feet in the door. The O4U Business Conference’s sponsors include many top banks and accounting firms, and Feore said that those companies find the conference valuable as well, seeing it a way to get top quality students. “When Out for Undergrad was founded, there just weren’t a lot of out people in executive positions in business, and I would say that there still aren’t a ton,” Feores says. “So that’s one of the things that we wanted to work on for long-term change. But also in the short-term, we’re making sure that just because these students don’t have some senior figure looking out for them, they’re still able to be successful and their still able to find jobs and be successful in their careers.”