When Theodora Fonteneau Rutherford graduated from Columbia Business School in 1923, she made history as the school’s first Black student to matriculate. Now, the School’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Office is celebrating her century-long legacy with a new award aimed at students who have prioritized inclusivity in their academic journey, serving as a testament to Rutherford’s enduring legacy.

The Theodora Rutherford Inclusion Award will honor Rutherford’s momentous achievements. Born in Louisiana in 1904, Rutherford first graduated summa cum laude from Howard University before attending CBS, earning a master’s degree in accounting. Breaking barriers at a time when Black Americans faced systemic discrimination and segregation, Rutherford would eventually become a college professor and the first Black CPA in West Virginia. 

Four student recipients will be chosen for the award, which includes a $500 stipend and an exclusive dinner with a distinguished CBS alumnus. Applicants should demonstrate the following:

Diverse Experiences: From being immersed in different cultures to exploring unconventional pathways, diverse experiences are fundamental to shaping perspectives and supporting self-reflection. 

Professional Perseverance: Challenges are a part of every journey, particularly ones around careers. Pathways are never linear, and challenges often become catalysts for change. How individuals overcome challenges help define who they are as a person.

Leading Inclusively: There are many different ways to be an inclusive leader.  Such leaders use their voices to advocate for change and encourage their peers to support various initiatives that drive their organizations toward being a more inclusive space for all students.

The award application is open to second-year MBA students, second-year EMBA students, graduating MS students, and PhD students who have completed their first year. Interested students can submit their application here through March 15, 2024.  

In the century since her graduation, Rutherford’s legacy has inspired new generations of diverse business leaders at CBS and beyond. In 1973, exactly 50 years after her graduation, CBS’s Black Business Students Association was formed. In 2023, the organization launched its 100/50 Celebration, marking 100 years since Rutherford’s graduation and 50 years since the BBSA’s inception. 

“When institutions like Columbia University start to document these stories in powerful ways — stories like Theodora Rutherford’s — people who have been ignored can finally get the respect they deserve,” Michael Robinson ’01, assistant dean of engagement, told CBS in November.

“We have this really amazing history and this proud tradition at CBS that we haven’t celebrated enough. With celebrations like 100/50, we can engage young people in ways that build a sense of pride,” he added.

The campaign included a series of marquee events that showcased CBS’s vibrant diversity and the tremendous impact and contributions of the School’s Black students, alumni, faculty, staff, and friends over the past century. 

“Theodora built a distinguished career as an educator by leveraging her exceptional education and aptitude. She enjoyed immersing herself in different cultures and was an important mentor to individuals she met in her travels as well as her students,” said Adam Galinsky, vice dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion and the Paul Calello Professor of Leadership and Ethics at CBS.