Clinton School alum Patrick Banks currently works as a Talent Acquisition Diversity Recruiter for Caleres, Inc., an American footwear company that counts Famous Footwear and Dr. Scholl’s among its 17 brands.
Banks entered the Clinton School with an education background, having worked as a science teacher in St. Louis with Teach For America after earning his undergraduate degree at Wabash College.
“I absolutely loved teaching. It was an amazing experience,” Banks said. “I think the biggest challenge, and one of the reasons why I ended up going to the Clinton School, was because of the administrative turnover in public schools. I was motivated to go to the Clinton School to try to change that process in some way.”
Banks was introduced to the Clinton School on a summer trip with Cultural Leadership, a youth education and leadership nonprofit organization based in St. Louis. The trip across the country included stops in New York, Washington D.C., Alabama, and ended with a visit to the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock. It was there that he met Clinton School Dean Skip Rutherford.
“He’s telling me about the Clinton School and this idea of merging a public policy degree with a public administration degree,” Banks said. “And I think, ‘Wow, what a novel idea and what a novel approach to serve people and the greater good.’”
Banks’ time at the Clinton School included work on a Practicum project in Newport, Ark., conceptualizing an arts center for the region that eventually became the Blue Bridge Center for the Delta Arts. His International Public Service Project took him to Kenya to help a series of Kenyan schools redesign and revive their science curriculum.
“That was incredible,” Banks said of his IPSP experience in Kenya. “Let me think of every best practice I have from being an American science teacher. Let me slam it against your curriculum in Kenya and let’s see how we can better communicate these ideas and concepts to rural schools who have very limited resources.”
Banks transitioned into his current role after starting with Caleres – then Brown Shoe Company – as an Organizational Learning Specialist in November 2012. He was the Director of Alumni Affairs at Teach For America St. Louis from 2011-12. Additionally, Banks is a board member for St. Louis College Prep, a tuition-free, public charter school, which he calls his “continued connection to education.”
We have a small recruiting team that fills all corporate jobs for the company. There are tons of opportunities in areas like finance, accounting, IT, marketing, design, etc. Essentially, all of the jobs that contribute to the life cycle of a shoe – sourcing materials, building the shoe, selling it to consumers and businesses, etc.
Within that scale of filling any open jobs for our 17 brands, there is an enhanced need for diversity. Dr. Scholl’s sells shoes to the military, making Caleres an affirmative action company. This has generated a specific need for diversity recruiting. I work to ensure that we have diverse candidates in the pipeline for any open position. I also build community partnerships with CBOs – Community Based Organizations – consisting of affinity groups and organizations that represent many forms of diversity.
What was the path to your current position?
It’s been a really cool progression. Before I went to the Clinton School I had an education background. I was a classroom teacher through the Teach For America program. I went to the Clinton School intent on growing in education in some way. When I graduated I worked for Teach For America’s national office in St. Louis.
I was the Director of Alumni Affairs. My work revolved around keeping alumni of the program connected to the greater mission, helping them remain as education advocates in the political, private, and social arenas. I loved the job, but there was a huge focus on fundraising, and that wasn’t a passion of mine.
I reached out to a mentor and said, “Hey, I’m really struggling with this, can you help me be a better fundraiser?” And he asked, “Why would you want to be better at something you’re passionate about?” He connected me with a corporate trainer here at Caleres, which at the time was called Brown Shoe Company.
During out initial conversation she said, “You have an education background, you know how to develop curricula, and you obviously don’t have a problem connecting with strangers. I think you should come and work on our corporate training team.”
On a whim, I decided to give it a shot. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
That initial trip to Little Rock with the Cultural Leadership program introduced me to the school. Cultural Leadership was founded by Karen Kalish. She’s this powerful, driven activist, and sort of a nonprofit startup guru, in St. Louis.
Karen is Jewish, and she believes that Jewish people and African-American people experience many similar hardships in life, and often times we don’t realize it. The premise of Cultural Leadership is identifying African-American students and Jewish students and allowing them to get to know one another and learn from each other’s lifestyles.
The program would draw students from the two communities and encourage them to explore each other’s’ lives. They would go to each other’s schools. They would go to class together. They would eat meals at each other’s homes. They would go to each other’s religious services. For an entire year, they would do these programmatic meetings on a regular basis.
The program culminated with this trip across the country. We started in St. Louis, jumped on a plane and flew to Washington D.C. While we were there, we studied civil rights movements for African-Americans and Jewish people. Then we went from D.C. to New York and we learned even more about the two cultures. From New York we travelled to Alabama and, starting in Alabama, we got on this bus that mimicked the Freedom Riders. We would go from location to location just talking about civil rights, the impact different activists have had, and about the unique contributions of the Jewish and African-American communities.
The last stop on the trip was the Clinton School. We came from the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, and Karen felt like that stop was very important because of all of President Clinton’s contributions. We’re coming off this really emotional journey, and we’re exhausted, but we’re determined to tour this library. And that’s when I meet Dean Rutherford. He’s telling me about the Clinton School and this idea of merging a public policy degree with a public administration degree. And I think, “Wow, what a novel idea and what a novel approach to serve people and to serve the greater good.”
From there, I did a ton of research. I always have to talk to people; I always have to hear it from their perspective. I probably talked to a total of about a dozen Clinton School Alumni, and I did a ton of reading about the curriculum.
What else is going on in your life?
I recently got accepted into an executive leadership program in St. Louis that I feel is an extension of some of the things we learned at the Clinton School. It’s called the St. Louis Business Diversity Initiative. The idea is to empower potential and current minority leaders in the St. Louis Metropolitan Area by taking us through monthly workshops that challenge our ideas about leadership, management, and problem-solving. The program provides us with a variety of strategies and tools to help us be more effective in our current jobs, and more aggressive about pursuing our passions.
I sit through these sessions and I bond with my cohort mates and it reminds me so much of the Clinton School. The program lasts one year, and its’ goal is to provide us with knowledge and skills that we can take back to our respective companies to then empower other potential minority leaders. It’s this idea that, you’re going to learn this ‘stuff,’ but you’re also required to pass the knowledge along.
We started the program in September, but the sessions already feel transformative. In addition to being fulfilled personally it’s been amazing to witness the impact of sharing this knowledge with my coworkers. I believe my cohort mates are saying that, too.