Mentor, teacher, role model and visionary. For those who know him, these words perfectly describe Ernest Betts, affectionately known as “Doc.” Throughout his time at MSU, he’s pioneered programs and services rooted in diversity and inclusion to support student success in the Broad College.
“My 42-year tenure is directly related to the fun traveling with [students], academic advisement, developing their career skills, social/personal counseling, observing their maturation and of course the glimmer in their eyes of the first internship,” he said, recalling his fondest memories as assistant dean for Multicultural Business Programs.
Betts launched MBP in 1986 with a goal of offering services for all students, regardless of their ethnic or cultural and religious backgrounds. His efforts were truly groundbreaking, as emphasizing diversity and inclusion in the learning environment wasn’t being done anywhere else.
“There are few leaders like him. He anticipates the future and works to create it,” Ann Crain, programs coordinator and academic advisor for MBP, said. “[For example,] he created space for the Women in Business Students’ Association in MBP in the early ’90s. He saw the value women bring to corporate America and invested in their leadership and professional development before it was a trend.”
Staples of MBP’s offerings have included tutoring and advising services and numerous flagship events over the years. Under Betts’s leadership, MBP became home to four active student organizations: Multicultural Business Students, National Association of Black Accountants, Native American and Hispanic Business Students and Women in Business Students’ Association.
Prior to MBP, Betts worked for MSU’s Office of Supportive Services starting in 1978, advising students across campus and forging strong corporate relationships to assist with career placement and student engagement. In addition, Betts is a three-time Spartan graduate, earning a B.S. in Industrial Psychology, an M.A. in Rehabilitation Placement Counseling and a Ph.D. in University and College Administration.
Leaving a legacy that embraces student success
For countless Broad Spartans who have been part of MBP during their time at MSU, Betts played a role in their success and even their life path.
Darrell King, associate director for MBP, and Kevin Leonard, senior program coordinator and academic advisor, both of whom had Betts on their dissertation committees, have worked alongside Betts for over 20 years. Each shared their view of the legacy he’s leaving behind as he retires.
“His work will live on in the countless students he helped to graduate, find employment or earn advanced degrees,” King said. “His motto of ‘work hard, play hard’ embodies our mission of fostering a circle of support around our students. He taught us to always put student success first and focus on opportunities rather than barriers.”
Leonard added, “[Betts] has impacted the career trajectory of thousands of our alumni. His network is impressive and includes CEOs, vice presidents, entrepreneurs and many more who have gone on to have their own impacts on corporate American and higher education, so his impact is immense.
“Personally, I would not be where I am today without the mentorship and guidance of Dr. Betts.”
Leonard reflected on how MBP became his family on campus when he was a hospitality business student in the 1990s — a sentiment shared by many others.
Jennifer Wells-Sornig (B.A. Finance ’93, MBA ’97), global supply chain manager at General Motors and current member of the MBP advisory board, echoed Leonard’s comments, saying that the mentoring and counsel she received from Betts were paramount to her career.
“As a first-generation college student, there were many times that discussions with Dr. Betts gave me the confidence that I could do this,” she said. “Over the years, the opportunities to interact with corporate representatives, make visits to various corporate headquarters, and ongoing interaction with student programs like MBS helped me to understand there were resources available and they wanted to help me! Years later, when Dr. Betts asked me to serve on the board, I knew this was a great way to give back and jumped at the chance to help others in ways that I had benefited.”
Crain summed Betts’ impact up by adding, “He sees the potential in people and works to cultivate it.”
A look ahead for MBP and for Betts
To formally recognize Betts’s work and ensure that MBP remains a strong platform at MSU, the Dr. Ernest S. Betts Endowment for Multicultural Business Program was created in 2005. The endowment serves as a source of funding and investment to ensure the continued development, graduation and career placement of students from diverse backgrounds.
“Many of us benefitted from MBP and the leadership of Dr. Betts, and we wanted the program to live on in perpetuity, to honor his legacy and what he had helped to start,” Gil DeLasAlas (B.B.A. ’95, MBA ’97), chief HR officer at Uline and MBP advisory board member, said. Like fellow advisory board members, DeLasAlas was actively involved with MBP as a student, knowing firsthand the significance it holds for students.
Leonard is hoping the endowment will allow MBP to expand from its focus on student support to elevating its status as the diversity, equity and inclusion office for the entire college, overseeing and providing guidance on all DEI-related initiatives.
“Moving forward, we need to continue to view all that we do through a DEI lens, but also work with other departments within Broad to help them learn how to develop programs and policies through a DEI lens as well,” he said. “I believe the skill and expertise gained in the past 30 years positions MBP and our staff to help the college do the same in becoming equitable and anti-racist in the process.
“In short, becoming the multicultural/DEI hub for Broad where students, staff and faculty come to be supported and gain knowledge about creating a culture within Broad and at MSU that is equitable, inclusive and anti-racist.”
King added, “I see MBP leading the way toward dismantling policies and practices that hinder growth and creativity. We will be collaborating even more than we already do with departments and partners in the Broad College. We will need to expand our efforts to compete for the brightest young minds coming out of high schools and make sure the Broad College is their first choice.”
As for Betts, his work in this space isn’t stopping with his retirement from MSU. He’s eager to approach his work in new ways and stay engaged with Broad Spartans going forward.
“I have two exciting goals post retirement which I have been working on,” he said. “The first is my MBP Alumni Travel Excursions, where I will share my global network with alums and friends from various countries. Often, students were not able to take advantage of study abroad for various reasons; now, we can revisit their dreams to see those countries with high quality and reasonable cost.
“My second goal is continued facilitation in the creation of a special academic foundation that will assist students entering institutions of higher education in Michigan and nationally. This dream is made possible through the energies of the former MBP Advisory Board, who now are the Betts Advisory Board; we are very excited about the opportunities we will provide to support the achievements of high school students regardless of their school or university of choice.”