IRTS: Developing Diverse Leaders Since 1964

By Advancing Diversity Archives
Cover image for  article: IRTS: Developing Diverse Leaders Since 1964

The Pentagon is a pivotal center of influence where our nation's top civilian defense and military leaders work hard for the American people every day. It is also the place where a young intern from Chicopee, Massachusetts saw first-hand the power of human connection and relationships as she accompanied foreign dignitaries to meetings with four-star General Colin Powell. That intern was Joyce Tudryn, who since 1994 has served as president and CEO of the IRTS (International Radio & Television Society Foundation). Tudryn continues to be motivated by the strong conviction that education not only transforms lives but creates virtuous cycles of economic empowerment for multiple generations. For underserved communities in our society, this can be life-transforming. This is personal for Tudryn, a graduate of Syracuse University's Newhouse School, who recognizes all too well the power of opportunity -- her parents did not complete high school and her grandmother was not an English-speaker but they always encouraged her to "follow her bliss," in the words of the great Joseph Campbell, and work in the service of others.

Without doubt, IRTS has been a pioneer in championing diversity in our industry. The Foundation represents the industry as a whole and includes the major global media conglomerates, media agencies, advertising technology firms, start-ups, and players across the ecosystem. The IRTS programs' laser focus on providing students with a Lumascape-type macro understanding of the industry, are specifically designed to better equip them to connect, learn and collaborate across sectors. The students are selected from leading private universities, major state universities, HBCUs and small, less well-known liberal arts colleges. The competitive selection process builds on the student's life and leadership journey that "showcases how they solve Problems, take Actions and drive Results -- using the P.A.R. model" says Tudryn.

There is one role model that Tudryn cites as a critical early champion who opened the industry's consciousness on the importance of diversity almost forty years ago. That person is Ralph Baruch, former Viacom chairman and Cable Hall of Famer.

Born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1923, Baruch experienced the pain of the Holocaust and his own name ended up on the Nazi most-wanted list. The Emergency Rescue Committee helped the family immigrate to NYC in 1940. He knew first-hand the importance of opportunity and second chances and worked passionately as the elected head of the IRTS Board to make diversity a reality. Tudryn recalls how "it was heartening for me to see his commitment to diversity so early in my career as I produced the first IRTS Multicultural Career Workshop back in 1984. Back then, I never would have imagined how long it would take for diversity to truly be front and center on the radar of companies throughout our industry. I believe we are now seeing a very authentic tipping point where diversity will extend into the highest ranks to a much greater degree, and we're excited about what the future will hold for our program graduates."

One of the organization's signature programs, the Summer Fellowship Program, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year (in-person celebration will be post-COVID), and is an intensely competitive national program that nurtures high-potential college students through a nine week paid internship that takes them from a week-long industry deep dive bootcamp to the front stage of Upfront presentations to meetings with CEOs. In addition, the students get a glimpse behind the curtains on how the industry is run, and according to one student "this experience is like being given a key that can open up any door."

When the Summer Fellowship Program was necessarily cancelled due to the pandemic, the IRTS swiftly created the inaugural Future Media Leader Accelerator Series as a 12-week in-depth 1800-hour program, where Tudryn emphasizes "we want the students to be engaged, be mentored and feel a greater sense of community with fellow students, alumni, our 90-member Board of Directors and community at large." What distinguishes IRTS is the organization's ability to not only conceive of industry-changing programs but to execute with supersonic speed and agility given its vast alumni resources, Board commitment, rapid decision-making and what Tudryn calls "the sacred trust" between the donors and the IRTS to ensure the students are direct beneficiaries of all its programs.

IRTS creates a close-knit community of mentors, students, and mentees, working together to support the students throughout their journey. Another impactful program is the Multicultural Career Workshop, which brings students together nationally for a one-day deep dive into the industry, followed by meetings with recruiters and key industry leaders. IRTS ensures that at least 60% of these leaders are IRTS graduates to empower the incoming students on leadership and origin stories to which they can relate and aspire.

To appreciate the caliber of the IRTS programs, Tudryn enthusiastically shares how four IRTS students were able to secure a spot in a hyper-competitive major corporate program that had a whopping 22,000 applicants. The stellar 90%+ industry retention rate of IRTS Fellows after five years is a testament to the rigorous industry understanding and in-depth mentorship platforms that provide the students with the insights, knowledge, and confidence to make good first job decisions.

Nothing is more meaningful than the impact of these programs on the lives of the students. 2020 IRTS Fellow Lucky Nguyen of the University of Texas at Austin captured it eloquently:

"With a pandemic and civil rights strife, IRTS Foundation pivoted with their newly created Future Media Leader Accelerator Series, which was, in my opinion, one the most conscious efforts towards diversity, equity and inclusion. They kept their class of majority BIPOC students and graduates connected to media industry leaders, and professional development, all while checking-in with us mentally. IRTS kept me moving forward and also acted as a source of healing. It helped me to get to this present where I feel and think so differently."

The heartfelt sentiment behind this quote underscores the transcendental force behind education and empowerment -- it has the power to go beyond personal development to influence deep personal fulfillment and in our fractured times, it can even reach the depths of personal healing.

This is the transformational work of Joyce Tudryn and her team at the IRTS.

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