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Dr. Kimberly Underwood

University of Phoenix leadership featured on WorkingNation Overheard

By Sharla Hooper

At JFF Horizons, Dr. Kimberly Underwood discussed access to social capital for Black workers in the U.S.

Kimberly Underwood, Ph.D., MBA, chair, Center for Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Research (CWDIR) with the University of Phoenix College of Doctoral Studies, shared insights on social capital during an interview for WorkingNation Overheard, a video interview series listening in on conversations and discussions about employment and education taking place at major conferences around the country. The interview has received more than 25,000 views since June 8, 2022.

The interview was conducted during the annual Horizons conference held June 2022 by Jobs for the Future (JFF), a national nonprofit driving transformation in the American workforce and education systems. The JFF Horizons conference with this year’s theme, “See Beyond,” in New Orleans, LA., is an event for building community and collaboration for education and workplace systems to ultimately ensure equitable economic advancement for all. JFF and University of Phoenix Career Institute® earlier this year announced a partnership to support Black learners and workers in professional social capital to advance their careers.

In the interview, Underwood reflected on the findings of the resulting in-depth market scan report, “Building Professional Social Capital for Black Learners and Workers,” which identified five key action and engagement-centered strategies that the most innovative social capital development programs must incorporate to build professional social capital for Black learners and workers.  

“We're really looking at the value of social capital. And first and foremost, defining social capital and then the value of social capital for students of color – specifically, for Black students of color,” stated Underwood. “In thinking about social capital, what are those needs? What are those skills? What are those elements that help a person coming into higher education and making it into the workplace? What's needed besides content and besides the classes? What are those additional elements and those soft skills needed to be successful in the workplace and to get into the workplace?”

Professional social capital, which refers to the resources that arise from a person’s network of relationships that can help mobilize and advance education and career goals, is a crucial element in establishing racial economic equity in the workforce.

“Higher education institutions need to do a better job of giving students access to social capital,” stated Underwood. “Practitioner-based programming, like what we provide at University of Phoenix, is one way to provide students with access to social capital, as these programs are often taught by faculty with extensive, hands-on experience within the workforce. This report offers a fuller picture of all the opportunities education institutions and employers have in order to create and support building social capital.”

Underwood and Michael Collins, vice president, JFF, presented the findings of this collaborative project in a related Horizons conference panel discussion on the explicit, strategic, and comprehensive professional social capital building strategies that can be ingrained into all education and workplace settings—especially in those settings that strive to break down barriers and accelerate opportunities for Black learners and workers.

WorkingNation is a nonprofit news organization dedicated to creating and distributing powerful stories about the nation’s current and future state of work that educate, inspire and connect people, seeking to drive decision makers to scale solutions that can produce and sustain a thriving workforce. Interviews with Horizons conference participants are available here through WorkingNation Overheard.

About University of Phoenix

University of Phoenix is continually innovating to help working adults enhance their careers in a rapidly changing world. Flexible schedules, relevant courses, interactive learning, and Career Services for Life® help students more effectively pursue career and personal aspirations while balancing their busy lives. For more information, visit