Tamrah McMullin – Calling to Development

“What does business mean?” The answer to this question is what Dr. James King and Marcus Cotton sought to teach unrepresented students in the Diversity in Business Bridge Program at the University of Alabama. (Bridging) Marcus Cotton, the director of diversity, equity, and inclusion on UA’s campus has always felt a calling to help young people, not only in a professional sense, but in all aspects of development. The DBBP for highschoolers and LMP (Leadership and Mentoring Program) for college students is one way he hopes to assist with youth development while working on campus.

According to Mr. Cotton’s recollection, the start of his journey in youth education was when he was playing with kindergarteners in middle school. Back then he didn’t really consider being a teacher himself despite both of his parents being educators. He went to college for biology but ended up graduating with a human development degree and began his career educating and assisting youth. After seven years of working with kids recreationally, he felt a calling towards career counseling. Eventually he desired to work at the University of Alabama and after 2 years working in Law School admissions, the position for Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion opened. He interviewed with Dr. James King (the Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion), who ended up working alongside him, and the committee. And in February 2020, Mr. Cotton was hired into the position and began developing the Diversity in Business Bridge Program.

The first session of the summer DBBP program took place the summer of 2021 from June 14th through June 21st during the Covid outbreak. Because of Covid, this session was hosted via zoom from 9am to 1pm on the scheduled week. I was a part of this program. I had an interest in going into business and my high school counselor at the time recommended that this could be a good start. When I first met Mr. Cotton, I could tell right away that he was a determined man. His voice was powerful and his joy at seeing the students was apparent in his smiling eyes. There were about 25 minority upcoming high school seniors in the program and the focus was to introduce them to business majors/career paths they can take. There were some lessons on professional development that were primarily given by guest speakers. When it came to Q&A time, when a student wouldn’t step up, Mr. Cotton would conjure up a question hoping that it would answer any silent uncertainty.

The next session of the DBBP program was hosted in the summer of 2022, but this time it was on campus. This program had two parts. For the first part, new upcoming high school seniors would come to campus and get the same training as the previous group. The second part was for upcoming freshman at the University of Alabama who participated in the program last summer. Out of the previous 25, only five people from the session returned for part two. I was one of them. Seeing Marcus Cotton, Dr. King, and the rest of my peers in person didn’t seem as strange, but rather familiar. I felt this way especially about Mr. Cotton. He was the same determined and boisterous man I met via zoom. His determination truly shined when he pushed the upcoming college freshman to be leaders to the upcoming high school seniors who were in part one of the program. Every chance he saw, he would walk up to one of the freshmen and asked them to take charge. Despite his desire to give others leadership experience, he was still in charge of fixing things when not everything fell in line with the schedule.

Often, time slots for events would run over into something else, and everyone would have to rush to get from there to the next location. This was a huge problem and Marcus tried to combat this. Since this program was still in development, he often asked participates for feedback on how it can improve. He asked me one time. I told him honestly that time management was an issue and he completely agreed. I could see how tired he was getting, but even still, his eyes still showed passion for this program

When I asked Mr. Cotton why he made this program specifically for minorities he responded with sincerity.

“There is a need there.” He said, “I work with all kinds of students . . . Unfortunately, in a lot of arenas, diverse students tend to get the least amount of attention and often diverse students have the most need.” (Cotton)

Cotton wants to give all students a chance at success no matter their background or skin color.  He hopes to achieve this by bringing attention to resources and helping develop skills that will help them in their professional journey.

The result of these programs has left him very proud despite it still being in its developing stages. One of the girls who attended the DBBP in the summer of 2022 went on to be crowned homecoming queen. Despite being chosen, she decided to give up her crown and crown a classmate with cerebral palsy. This story ended up on the news and Mr. Cotton was in awe.

“I almost cried.”, said Marcus Cotton recalling the first time he watched the video. (Cotton)

He then goes on to talk about how he is especially proud of the 2022 college freshman that participated in the summer programs. He watched all of them get jobs their first semester. Two of them got tech jobs that would look great on their resume, another who works at the student center, and another who got a job with one of the largest none profits in Tuscaloosa County, Tuscaloosa One Place, who has a boss who just won’t stop bragging to Mr. Cotton about how glad they are to have the student.

Seeing the success of the students he has come to know has warmed his heart. Marcus Cotton, a man who knows the value of being an opportunist, using resources, and growing as not only a professional, but as a person, wants nothing more than to teach young adults these same values. And as a student in the program, I am more than thankful for Mr. Cotton and the people who worked on building this program. Marcus Cotton is the best example I can give of a person fulfilling their calling.

“Bridging the Gap-Diversity in Business Bridge Program” Culverhouse College of Business. 27 September 2022. Bridging the Gap-Diversity in Business Bridge Program – The Culverhouse College of Business (ua.edu) Accessed 19 October 2022.

Cotton, Marcus. Personal Interview. 4 October 2022.

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