Don Manning: Skin Deep
Many on campus are familiar with the sight of Don Manning (Business Administration/Human Resources and Management) making his rounds, head held high, feet in a blur. He may be gathering signatures for a contract as part of his duties as the Multicultural Center’s contracts and procurement coordinator. He may be on his way to an Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) meeting, where he serves as the upper division representative. He may be about to participate in an activity with Espiritu Nuestro de Futuro (Spirit of Our Future).
Or, sometimes, he may just be on the way to class.
“Although I am focusing on my classes, I am very connected with the organizations I’ve been a part of,” he says. “It’s a passion that I have, to help students become aware of what’s going on.”
Perhaps the most striking fact about Manning’s involvement on campus is that he volunteers and leads in some unlikely places. The Korean-born senior was adopted by Caucasian parents and grew up in Riverside, CA, without any tangible connections to his Asian heritage. Despite this, he is proof that ethnicity and culture are sometimes only skin deep.
“A lot of people say to me, ‘You’re an honorary Latino,’” he laughs. “It just happens to be that their organizations here are in line with my goals, my aspirations, my philosophy. I have connected with some of the Latino organizations, because of what they stand for and what they believe in: Helping and empowering other students.”
Espiritu’s focus is on the support of immigrant students, especially in matters of financial aid and immigration.
“We help students who are excluded from financial aid, grants, or any form of tuition assistance that this campus offers,” says Manning. “I have the opportunity to get grants and aid, so it’s my way of trying to make it better for them to get that same accessibility and affordability.”
His service in ASI is also, by Manning’s admission, “another avenue where I can help students who need someone to be their advocate, to be on their side, and make sure things happen for them.” He finds himself attempting – and often succeeding – to bridge the gap between students and the administration.
“Both groups have to work together in order to make things go forward,” he says. “I see where administrators are coming from, and they’re trying their best. We, as students, have to realize that they are trying. It’s a slow process and it’s a process that doesn’t get instant results. Students like more instant results. Unfortunately, without the politics and procedures, things just aren’t going to happen. The Cal State system is the largest state university system in the nation, with more than 400,000 students. The future effects of any decision making always have to be under consideration.”
Manning has made efforts to make the administration more accessible to students, including an open forum with Academic Affairs last fall, where Provost Allen Mori, deans, and campus administrators gathered to hear students’ concerns. He emphasizes the importance of students’ persistence and unity while bringing their issues to the University administration.
“[Administrators] will hear a concern once, and may not think it’s an issue,” he notes. “But, if they hear about it from a group of students who are all on the same page, then they know it’s an issue that needs to be taken care of.”
The retention issue is one that Manning has partnered with the administration on, by creating the Adopt-a-Freshman program, with junior Ifeanyi Ebigbo, ASI’s lower division representative and newly elected president, and Edd Whetmore, acting dean of undergraduate studies. Forty incoming freshmen will be matched with ten mentors for guidance and support, academic and otherwise. As the students transition to their sophomore year, the students will be eligible to become mentors themselves to the next incoming class. The program, which will begin this fall, is expected to stem the tide of first-year dropouts.
“It’s ASI’s approach to student retention, with students helping students,” he enthuses. “Studies have shown that peer-to-peer interaction is crucial in the beginning stages of your college years. The goal is to help students become successful, to get them involved, to know that the University is a great resource, and to make the most of the experience.”
Manning is also a member of the Latino Business Student Association; the Human Resource Management Association; Professionals in Human Resource Management; the Society of Human Resource Management; and the Alcohol Awareness Coordinating Team of Student Affairs. He is also a founding vice president of REACH (Reaffirming Ethnic Awareness through Community Harmony), a multicultural student organization slated to launch in the fall.
While continuing his involvement on the Dominguez Hills campus, Manning will be working toward his educational and career goals. As an employee of Macy’s Home Store in Torrance, he has participated in the company’s management internship program, and will do so again this summer. In 20 to 25 years, he hopes to become CEO of Macy’s or its parent company, Federated Department Stores. He has his sights on graduate school after participating in the Riordan Fellows Program, which was founded by former L.A. mayor Richard Riordan, to recruit talented and competitive college graduates who have demonstrated leadership skills and are considering graduate studies in business management. Approximately 80 percent of selected graduates are first generation college students.
“This program helps students to have that competitive edge to prepare them for high-end M.B.A. programs like the Wharton School of Business, Southwestern, even Harvard and Stanford,” he says. “Their acceptance rate to those universities is about 95 percent. It’s a very intense program, and you have to have the grades.”
Although he had considered running for ASI president this year, Manning took a step back and decided to possibly continue his work there as a student-at-large representative, in favor of maintaining his GPA.
“My number-one bit of advice to students is do get involved, but realize that your academics come first,” he says. “You have to take care of yourself before you can help others.”