Hiring Rising Stars from Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Deere employee, Rhonda Johnson, named a Top 20 Partner in Diversity

Xylan Grant
Xylan Grant

For Xylan Grant it was life changing. In 2015, he attended his first Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) Leadership Institute event as a student at South Carolina State University.

The event gave him a chance to meet other students from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and get in front of recruiters from some of the top companies in the U.S.

“Having the privilege of being in Washington D.C. with some of the top HBCU students in the country, and top companies in the country, and being able to tell my story in a room like that is nothing less than amazing and an honor to be a part of,” Grant said as he recalled the experience.

Grant, an internal auditor for John Deere in Olathe, Kansas, is one of 41 people who have come to work for the company as an employee or intern through the annual TMCF Leadership Institute event, which is taking place this week, albeit virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At this week’s event, Rhonda Johnson, manager of Diversity Recruiting at John Deere, was named to TMCF's inaugural class of its Top 20 Partners in Diversity, which recognizes "20 rising stars who advocate for and provide meaningful professional and leadership development for HBCU talent," TMCF said. Johnson, a regular attendee of the Leadership Institute event, said the recognition will allow her to collaborate with others in the Top 20 to address challenges HBCU students face.

"I have a passion for recruiting diverse talent in all forms and for making sure that for people of color who are disadvantaged we are giving them an opportunity to compete and benefit in a world where things are not always equal," Johnson said.

Johnson credited John Deere and its leadership for being committed to promoting diversity within the company and pursuing diverse talent.

"It helps to have a company like John Deere behind me saying 'go get these people because we know this is a great place to source top notch diverse candidates,'" Johnson said. “And I have great John Deere team members who partner with me to make this relationship the success it is.”

Aaron Wetzel, vice president of production systems at John Deere and the company’s executive sponsor of its relationship with TMCF, said Johnson is highly deserving of the honor and a great representative for the company.

“I think Rhonda is one of those individuals that exemplifies the values of John Deere,” Wetzel said. “She has a passion for diversity and for the company. We’ve been able to really blossom our presence at the Leadership Institute event thanks to Rhonda.”

Collis Jones, a member of the TMCF board of director and John Deere’s vice president U.S. Policy & Strategy, said there is a lot of competition to recruit top graduates at the Leadership Institute event, but the effort has been well worth it.

“It’s a great investment for Deere, it’s a great opportunity to bring talent to our organization,” Jones said. “The students bring a new dynamic, and they’re as qualified as you’re going to find anywhere.”