Campus dignitaries dedicate Chou Hall, newest addition to campus

UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol T. Christ at the Chou Hall dedication.
UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol T. Christ at the Chou Hall dedication. All photos: Noah Berger

The Cal Band marched.  Dignitaries spoke. A beloved donor inspired a standing ovation.

It was all in honor of Chou Hall, the newest campus addition, which was dedicated last Friday in a standing-room-only ceremony.

“A lot of people have truly gone beyond themselves to make Chou Hall possible, and the culture of giving back has never been stronger,” said Haas Dean Rich Lyons, who was joined by UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol T. Christ and University of California President Janet Napolitano in Chou Hall’s Spieker Forum.

Chou Hall, which opened last August and was 10 years in the making, was funded entirely by $63 million raised from alumni and friends. The building, which is used solely as student classroom space, opens at a critical time. Over the past 20 years, enrollment at Berkeley Haas has nearly doubled.

“We knew that the building would allow us to not just draw more students and grow, but to grow strategically,” Lyons said. “But I don’t think we could have imagined launching (the new undergraduate) M.E.T. program.. and launching all these new wonderful programs, and that’s part of what we’re all doing here together.”

A call to give

Perhaps the event’s most heartfelt words came from Kevin Chou, BS 02, who with his wife, Dr. Connie Chen, gave a gift of up to $25 million. The building is named to honor the couple.

Left to right: Building donor Kevin Chou, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol T. Christ, Dean Rich Lyons, University of California President Janet Napolitano, building donor Ned Spieker, project manager Walter Hallanan.

Chou spoke of a love for Cal that’s deepened since he first stepped on campus as an undergrad. He reflected on how sharing a panel with entrepreneurship Prof. Toby Stuart in April 2015 at The Battery club in San Francisco kindled his philanthropic plan.

“It was that night that I learned about the need for the community to rally to make this project possible,” Chou said. “Toby’s love for teaching, research, and bringing students together with the technology community through Silicon Valley Immersion Week was a great reminder of love and inspired me to find out more about this project and how I could get involved.”

Chou, who introduced his wife and baby daughter, then gave a nod to “the love that Dean Lyons exudes through his leadership,”

“Dean Lyons, it is your leadership that this community of alumni love and believe in,” he said. “This space we are now in is a testament to your incredible work that has spanned over a decade.”

UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol T. Christ (second from right) and University of California President Janet Napolitano (right) celebrate Chou Hall.

Spieker Forum is named for building donor Ned Spieker, BS 66, who helped lead the funding effort by establishing a nonprofit entity to manage design and construction of the building. Lyons said Spieker’s efforts were “a fundamental part of what made this project go.”

Lyons also lauded building project manager Walter Hallanan, BS 72, as “the person who had to sweat every detail.”

“Walter and Ned made this work, while saving on time and cost,” Lyons said.

It takes a village

Napolitano said that Chou Hall embodies the Berkeley Haas Defining Leadership Principles: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always and Beyond Yourself. She added that the building is “an unprecedented testament to the generosity of the Berkeley Haas alumni.”

Chancellor Christ said that Haas students are “at the center of this building.”  She noted its natural beauty—the light pouring in from the windows, the sustainable materials used in construction, and the slick classroom technology that makes Chou Hall a state-of-the-art hub for student learning.

“It takes a village to build a building,” she said. “There are many, many partners who have joined together in making Chou Hall a reality.”

Sharifa Dunn, MBA 18 and the class president, expressed gratitude for the building and all that it’s done to enhance the learning experience at Haas for all students.

“I’ve had the unique experience of not having and having the building, so I know what it’s like to not have something as beautiful as this,” she said. “Up here…the view that this offers. This is why I moved to California!”

The Cal Band closes the Chou Hall dedication ceremony.
The Cal Band closes the Chou Hall dedication ceremony.

Chou Hall is the first academic building in the US designed to be both WELL and LEED Platinum certified, meaning it promotes the health and well-being of its occupants and is highly energy efficient and sustainably built. The building is also on track to become the first Zero-Waste building on campus by summer.

A plaque honoring Kevin Chou and Connie Chen hangs inside the building, inscribed with the following words: “We hope in this building students from all walks of life, experiences, and disciplines will come together to build a brighter future.”

After Chou read the words, the audience stood in applause. Then the Cal Band made a surprise appearance to close the ceremony, marching on stage in straw hats with cymbals and drums and singing the Cal fight song.

Families celebrate as Berkeley MBA for Executives toss caps

EMBA 2017 commencements
Dean Lyons with valedictorian John Illia and daughter, Nicole. All photos: Jim Block

The close-knit 2017 Berkeley MBA for Executives class came together for commencement last Saturday, celebrating their achievements and acknowledging the program’s life-changing impact.

About 400 people attended the ceremony for the 68 graduating students at UC Berkeley’s Hertz Hall.

“The way you have come together as a group, as a team, really, is nothing short of extraordinary,” said Dean Rich Lyons, in his welcoming remarks. “Your class is leaving its mark on our institution, and contributing to the experiences of those who come after you. You set the standard.”

Learning from failure

Commencement keynote speaker Karesha McGee, BCEMBA 12, and head of global corporate communications at Slack, reminded the students that graduation, while an extraordinary achievement, is just a beginning.

Commencement keynote speaker Karesha McGee, BCEMBA 12
Commencement keynote speaker Karesha McGee, BCEMBA 12

McGee shared a story of how being laid off from a job within her first year of graduating from her MBA program taught her to learn from the failure and choose a path of continuous growth.

“By looking inward and reflecting on all of the challenges, but also the strengths that I sharpened here in school, I recognized that my stalk—and that’s S-T-A-L-K—and my roots, my vine, was so much stronger than I had ever imagined,” McGee said.

During the 19-month program the students, who are often well along in their careers, engaged in five field immersions in locations that range from Silicon Valley to Washington, D.C. to Singapore.

Students noted that a classmate’s tragedy brought the group closer together during the program. Members of the EMBA Class of 2017 established the Sanaya Shah Memorial Fund after the passing of Sanaya Shah, the daughter of their fellow classmate Sumit Shah and his wife, Astha Shah. Sanaya was born prematurely and passed away after just 52 days due to complications from prematurity and a rare heart condition.

With 100 percent participation by the class, the record $145,000 raised for the fund will provide seed grants to underrepresented minority students at Haas, or for students starting companies with social impact.

“For 19 months we have struggled together, we have overcome together,” said class president Eli Andrews. “To all of you who have helped shape who we are, to all of you who have taught us, to all of you who have cared so deeply for our development, thank you for helping us to develop the unique value that we have to bring to this world.”

Watch the EMBA commencement video

From ‘they do that’ to ‘I do that”

Class valedictorian John Illia reflected on the diversity of the class, and shared his experience of bonding with classmates who at first seemed to have little more in common than a desire for a master’s degree. “This is a group of people focused on collaboration, not competition,” Illia said. “During this program, I witnessed 68 individuals who approach the world and each other with respect, compassion and empathy. I could not be more proud to be part of this family.”

Maura O'Neill, Cheit Award winner
Distinguished Teaching Fellow and Cheit Award winner Maura O’Neill

Dean Lyons spoke of the transformation students undergo while in the program. “You came in thinking ‘They do that’ and you walk out of this place thinking ‘I do that,’ ” Lyons said. “These transformations are possible because of how and what you’ve learned here about leadership. In short, you’ve become Berkeley Leaders.”

And the awards go to…..

The day’s awards included the Earl F. Cheit Award for excellence in teaching, which Distinguished Teaching Fellow Maura O’Neill received for the third year in a row. O’Neill, the former Chief Innovation Officer for the U.S. Agency for International Development, has organized and led the Washington DC Immersion Week for EMBA students for the past two years.

“She does more than connect people, she invests and takes pride in them,” said Jay Stowsky, Senior Assistant Dean for Instruction.

Jenny Petersen, Tansy Brook, Chijioke Emenike
(L-R) Jenny Petersen, Tansy Brook, & Chijioke Emenike, EMBA 17s

The award for Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) was given to Veselina Dinova for her support in Financial Accounting, one of the first classes the EMBA students take.

The Defining Principles Awards: (presented by Jamie Breen, Assistant Dean of MBA Programs for Working Professionals, and Emma Hayes-Daftary, Director of Academics and Student Experience)

Question the Status Quo and Confidence without Attitude: Tansy Brook.

Students Always: Chien-Hsin Lee.

Beyond Yourself: Sonali Patel.

Fifth Principle Award: Hallie Higbee and valedictorian John Illia.Teddy bears were handout out at the reception

After the ceremony, students celebrated at a reception held at Haas. Dean Lyons capped off the evening with an acoustic guitar performance, and O’Neill toasted the group.

Graduates acknowledged the sacrifice that their partners and, in some cases, their children made during the program, and presented the children with teddy bears and the adults with long stemmed red roses.

MBA seminar builds skills to talk about race and racism

When Anne Kramer, MBA 18, attended the first session of a new seminar called “Dialogues on Race,” she was surprised to learn she’d spend the initial two weeks in a group with other white students. They were asked to discuss the first time they realized they were white, past experiences talking about race, and hopes and concerns for the class—before coming back together with the diverse class group.

“It felt weird and uncomfortable (for students to be divided up by race), but it made it very real,” Kramer said. “We were there not to ignore differences, but to understand differences and then have a dialogue about them.”

The Dialogues on Race Course teaches students how to talk about race
Kenny D’Evelyn, left, listens and Erin Gums (center) shares her perspective in a Dialogues on Race session. (Photo by Caron Creighton)

Reflecting on identity and power

Bringing that discomfort into the open was exactly the point of the student-led independent study seminar, launched this fall in the Full-time MBA Program. A survey led by MBA students in the Race Inclusion Initiative last year found that while 90 percent of their classmates believe that understanding racial dynamics is a key component of effective leadership, less than half say they are comfortable talking about race.

Inspired by a class called “Diversity in the Workplace,” Liz Koenig, MBA 18, drafted a plan to push classroom discussions on race even further. That became “Dialogues on Race,” a ten-week seminar aimed at creating a safe space for students to develop better skills for engaging in these conversations in their careers and lives.

“The ability to reflect on identity and power is a core competency, certainly for being a leader of any kind, or a manager of human beings,” said Koenig.

Pete Johnson, Assistant Dean for the Full-time MBA Program & Admissions, said the seminar builds on elective MBA courses such as “Diversity in the Workplace,” “Groups and Teams,” and “Business Case for Investing in Women,” which all explore ways to understand diversity and help students to develop management skills. Berkeley MBA students can develop student-initiated or independent study courses under the guidance of a faculty advisor.

“I’m thrilled that our students are using the independent study option to further enhance their ability to lead diverse teams and organizations,” Johnson said.

Gabriela Belo Soares (center) shares her perspective as Ejede Okogbo and other MBA classmates listen. (Photo by Caron Creighton)

Balancing the class

Koenig and co-facilitator Om Chitale, also MBA 18, actively recruited a broad cross-section of students, and chose the class times based on when the most representative groups were able to enroll. There was so much interest that they added a second section, facilitated by Atim Okorn, MBA 18, and alum Patrick Ford, MBA 17, who had co-led the Manbassadors male ally program as a student. Asst. Prof. Drew Jacoby-Senghor acted as faculty sponsor.

In the end, the classes included about 60 percent white students and 40 percent students of color—a ratio similar to the racial and ethnic breakdown of the US population. Aside from two students with scheduling conflicts, all 28 students who applied were able to enroll.

“We didn’t want to end up in a situation where there was anyone who felt like they had to speak for a group,” said Koenig.

Erin Gums, MBA 18, said she enrolled because she realized she had a part to play in the conversation. Growing up identifying as both black and Pacific Islander, and working for years in education, she had thought about and talked about race her entire life—but was not having those conversations with her white peers, she said. This was a group she trusted enough to open the conversation.

“This experience was something I will always remember as a very important part of my time here at Haas,” said Gums, who also serves as VP of Diversity for the MBA Association. “I have chosen to be in the business world and be a business leader, and I have chosen to play a role in pushing for a less racist society. This course helped me put words to some ideas that I’d never articulated clearly, and to practice skills to have these sensitive conversations with people in less comfortable environments in the future.”

Burning questions

According to Chitale, the class took on a life of its own. As students provided feedback from week to week, the facilitators adjusted the course content and structure—for instance, by replacing one of the final sessions with an open two-hour discussion of “burning questions.”

“One thing that was interesting was how the goals of the class evolved,” said Adrian Williams, MBA 18. “At first it was giving people practical, tactical tools on how to attack issues of diversity and inclusion outside of the classroom. Over time, we realized some of the issues were a lot more nuanced than we thought. It also became apparent that I had some blind spots that required me to think through some of my arguments.”

Talking about race
Facilitator Liz Koenig leads students in a reflection. (Photo by Caron Creighton)

For Kramer, this class was the first opportunity she’d had to engage in deliberate conversations on race. “The concept of race in the US was something that I didn’t see in my everyday life growing up,” said Kramer, who spent much of her childhood in London and Hong Kong. “Conversations that I might have shied away from before, or uncomfortable things that people might have said before, now I’m willing to actually ask: ‘What makes you think that?’”

Kim Ayers, MBA 18, said it was eye-opening to learn that her classmates of color were dealing with hurtful interactions related to their race on a regular basis. “The fact that I was largely blind to that until we directly engaged in this conversation was really powerful to me,” said Ayers.

Awkward and intense moments

Gums said there were some awkward and intense moments—which she believes are inevitable for change to occur. “My fluency with these topics is going to be greater than that of people who have just started thinking about these issues for the first time in their lives, and that’s okay,” she said. “We need to recognize that people will mess up and say the wrong thing, but that shouldn’t prevent you from continuing to have these difficult conversations.”

Ultimately, “issues of race and racism are so complex and messy—there’s no one approach or one good way to solve it. If it were that simple we would have figured it out by now,” Gums said. “There are many roles we need people to play to address systemic issues.”

The course is one of several student-led initiatives aimed at helping students develop more fluency in addressing racial dynamics. Students in the Race Inclusion Initiative—a research-based MBA student effort to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in the program and make the climate welcoming for all—organized “Dialogues over Dinner” this month, where students were asked to read an article or watch a short video on a race-related topic and then discuss it over small group dinners. All ten of the dinners were facilitated by students from “Dialogues on Race” eager to put their learning into practice.

Koenig and her co-facilitators are planning to lead “Dialogues on Race” again in the spring. It garnered rave reviews, and they’ve received over 47 applications for the spring section. “My hope is that we get to a place where this is considered core to the fabric of any MBA program,” she said.

“Businesses have power and influence in society,” said Chitale, the co-facilitator. “If we can get business leaders to be open and vulnerable on ideas of identity and power and privilege, I truly believe that’s going to have an impact on society.”

Read the latest campus information on coronavirus (COVID-19) here →