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Drawing on Alumni to Research African American Career Success


The stack of transcripts is 120 pages deep, the fruits of Erich Wohl '18's summer research project. He interviewed 16 African American alumni about their experiences with race in the workplace for his project: “Analyzing African American Achievement in Fortune 500 Companies.”

Drawing from the interviews, Wohl intends to develop recommendations to help Hamilton’s African American students succeed when they launch their careers. He is a sociology and economics major who received research funding from Hamilton’s Levitt Center.

about Erich Wohl '18

Majors: Economics and Sociology

Hometown: New York City

High School: The Bronx High School of Science

Read More about Student Research

The idea for the project came to Wohl while he was studying sociology for a semester at University of York in England. He thought about about racial perceptions, implicit racism and career success in the United Kingdom compared to the U.S., and from there he wondered what related research he could accomplish over a summer back on the Hill. He was determined that any research he did would have to have practical application.

“I wanted to figure out solutions, what can actually be done, about these things,” he explains.

Wohl mined the Hamilton alumni database and LinkedIn to contact a sampling of successful African-American grads from the Class of 2000 or later. He identified about 50 alumni, heard back from about half of them and interviewed 16. He asked them about their experiences and then analyzed what they’ve done to get where they are.

Some of the themes that emerged were unexpected to Wohl. He hadn’t encountered them in his review of existing literature. One theme was the emotional toll some alums endured from working in unwelcoming spaces. Another was that many of the alumni have formal or informal support groups with other people of color to talk about workplace experiences. The support group is one of the solution-oriented findings Wohl will include in his final product.

Much of the literature he read during his research would state a problem, elaborate on it and leave it at that. Wohl wants to go further. “I wanted to make a point of saying yes, these are the issues, here are some ways that you can work around the issues,” he says.

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