Union Bank opens a branch at Laney College
March 2, 2022
Shiloh Johnston, Staff Writer
Tucked in a corner of Laney College’s Student Center, the recently opened Union Bank branch gives Peralta District students and alumni the chance to learn the ins and outs of the banking industry. The branch is the first of its kind: a fully functional bank staffed by students that is open to the public.
When you walk into the Union Bank branch at Laney College, the first thing you will notice is its layout. Situated next to the cafeteria in the student center, the bank successfully makes the most out of the little space it has to operate. Branch managers and student interns work in close proximity to each other, able to teach and learn in a dynamic environment.
The second thing you will notice is that the bank branch is tailored to serve its community. Along with providing a wide variety of services for Peralta’s students, faculty, and the public at large, its walls are decorated with a series of photographs portraying Oakland’s historically significant moments and landmarks. Hanging up behind the branch manager’s desk is the most important picture in the collection, a photograph that captures Shirley Chisolm, who made history in 1972 when she became the first Black woman to run for President of the United States, giving a campaign speech just outside the student center where the branch is located.
In its own way, the Union Bank branch at Laney College is also making history. It is a collaborative pilot program between Union Bank and the Peralta Community College District, with the intention of teaching and preparing students who are interested in careers in banking and finance.
“It is the first of its kind in the nation,” says Judith Vinluan Wright, the branch manager and Community Outreach Specialist for Union Bank.
The Laney branch is the only location of any bank that is staffed by college student interns. Wright explains that the goal of this program is to train the students to be “universal bankers”, giving them the “professional” and “presentation skills” necessary for anyone interested in a career in the banking industry. Wright adds that interns are trained on how to be a teller and are familiarized with “Union Bank products and how to open new accounts.”
Plans for this pilot program were first proposed by Union Bank in 2018. Union Bank senior executives met and worked with then Laney College President Tammeil Gilkerson and others including Kim Glosson, business department chair.
Wright explained that Union Bank’s motivation to facilitate this program comes from the bank’s belief in the importance of “corporate social responsibility” – serving the communities where its branches are located. The community college program is inspired by a program that Union Bank has been implementing in high schools for several years.
“Those branches aren’t open to the public,” Wright explained, pointing to one of the key differences between the high school branches and the one in the Laney Student Center.
The Laney branch has an ATM machine and offers all services that would be provided at a normal Union Bank branch.
Applicants who are interested in working for the bank can access the internship through the Occupational Work Experience (OWE) program in the business department, a series of classes intended to provide students with opportunities to develop skills in preparation for employment or advancement within a career. The classes associated with the bank branch are open to all.
In addition to being the branch manager, Wright also provides onsite support to the student interns, training them and answering any questions they might have. Another person who is vital to the program is Glosson, who was instrumental in creating the program in addition to playing an active role in developing and teaching the curriculum. The Citizen asked Glosson about the design of the curriculum and how it has been implemented.
“The students are hired as interns by Union Bank and then they also enroll in our work experience course,” Glosson explains, adding that the students “receive college credits while they are working at the branch.” These credits are transferable to the CSU system. Glosson points out that OWE classes work differently than conventional classes at a community college. “There’s no class session, there’s no textbook. The students enroll in the course and then they meet with their supervisor and their instructor and they have certain goals they have to achieve within that semester.” Students enrolled in the OWE class also receive a stipend for their time working at the branch. In preparation for their internships at the Laney branch, students received onsite training at the Union Bank branch on Franklin Street in Oakland.
“Originally the plan was to have ten to twelve interns,” Glosson explained, adding that the program will only have eight interns for this first semester. Wright proudly pointed to the fact that eighty percent of the bank’s interns are international students. The Citizen interviewed two of these students, who shared their experiences in the program.
Thu Nguyen, one of the eight interns, is originally from Vietnam. She believes that her experience at the branch has been positive.
“The more I learn, the more I enjoy,” Nguyen explained. She said that being an immigrant is both an advantage and a disadvantage.
“It is an advantage because I know the culture of Asian people and I am bilingual,” Nguyen added. She believes that this will aid her in helping Vietnamese people in Oakland who may not speak English as their first language. The disadvantage? Nguyen expressed that she wishes she knew more slang.
Ananya Tariku also works at the Laney branch. He moved to the United States from Ethiopia in the middle of the pandemic to study painting. He revealed that moving to this country during a period where everyone is separated and everything was online was difficult.
“I had never before thought about banking,” Tariku said.
He explained that he stumbled upon this opportunity “because of luck” and through the help of Raya Zion, a member of Laney Employment Services who Wright said helped spread the work about the new program. Tariku said that after working as an intern, he is now considering a career in banking, grateful that the program has given him the opportunity to socialize and be in contact with people.
“It can’t get any better than this,” Tariku concluded, adding that Laney “has been generous to take me in and help.”
In the coming months, the branch hopes to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Shirley Chisholm’s historic speech on the steps of the Student Center at Laney College. The student-staffed Union Bank branch is currently open to district students, staff, faculty, and the general public.