The business of helping people

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The Jordan Scholars program enables students like Tobe Okeke (featured above) to pursue their dreams.

Entrepreneurship and philanthropy are two values Robert Jordan takes to heart. After graduating from NAU with a finance degree in 1993, Jordan went on to create and sell companies in several different industries.

Now, he is using his success to support future entrepreneurs through the Jordan Scholars program.

Every year, three incoming African American freshmen who are majoring in business and demonstrate an interest in entrepreneurship are selected for the program. As Jordan Scholars, the students receive $3,000 per year, for up to four years.

Paying it forward

For Jordan Scholar Tobechukwu “Tobe” Okeke, ’18 marketing, the financial support she receives makes all the difference in the world.

“Because of scholarships like this one, I’m not paying anything out of pocket to go to school,” Okeke says. “All the money I’m earning from working can go toward my business when I’m ready to start it.”

Okeke has excellent role models to thank for her desire to start her own business: her parents. Both immigrants from Nigeria and registered nurses, her parents recently started their own healthcare business in which they and their employees visit sick, elderly patients in their homes.

Okeke’s parents taught her the value of caring for others, and the Jordan Scholars program has provided her the means to put her ambition into action—after graduating, she plans to start a non-profit, human development organization that empowers people to break out of labels and stereotypes and achieve their dreams.

“My business centers around helping others to develop confidence and building them up so they know that who they are is good enough,” she explains.  “I want to help people realize that regardless of their skin color, or where they are in life, or whether they’re rich or poor, they shouldn’t let that hold them back or restrict them."

Okeke acknowledges that non-profit work is not always the most lucrative career path, which is why she’s grateful for the financial assistance she’s receiving as a Jordan Scholar.

“I’m so thankful to Robert Jordan, and appreciate what he's done for me,” Okeke says. “He didn’t have to do anything, but he did, and it has helped my family so much. It’s allowing me to do what I want in life.”

Creating opportunity

The Jordan Scholars program is also intended to close the gap between African American and white self-employment. According to a 2010 study by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, whites were nearly two times as likely to be self-employed than African Americans, despite a University of Michigan study that showed African Americans indicate a stronger desire to be self-employed.

Through his program, Jordan hopes to encourage African American students to explore a wide variety of career options.

“I want to help the university expand its outreach, particularly for African American students,” he says. “I want them to consider opportunities that maybe they haven’t thought about before.”

Funding the future

Okeke’s entrepreneurial spirit is exactly what Jordan wants to encourage in students. He believes Northern Arizona University provided him the tools and real-world perspective he needed to be successful in his business ventures.

“The university gave me an opportunity, where maybe some schools wouldn’t have,” Jordan says. “There were a couple of classes that made me think about business through the lens of an employer. I walked away from those courses feeling as though I could build a company and follow my own path.”

When he decided to give to the university, he knew he wanted to provide students with similar opportunities.

“If other kids can receive the same type of experiences that I had, then who knows where that might take them,” he says. “I think it is about providing the tools and resources, which creates opportunity.”