1st Thrive Fellows complete Latinx MBA pipeline program

Group of students under a thrive fellows sign at Haas
The first Thrive Fellows cohort gathered to celebrate finishing the program on June 8 at Spieker Forum. Photo: Jim Block.

A new Berkeley Haas program that’s helping Latinx students navigate acceptance into top-tier MBA programs celebrated its first cohort of graduates last weekend.

The June 8 ceremony capped the inaugural year of the Haas Thrive Fellows MBA pipeline program, which brought together Latinx students and professionals for a year-long deep dive into the intense MBA admissions process—everything from prepping for entrance exams to mapping a career trajectory to developing a personal narrative to applying for financial aid to bolstering interviewing skills.

“I have nothing but good things to say about Thrive,” said Amy Camacho Mayorga, BS 24, who as a 2024 Thrive Fellow recently applied to the full-time MBA program at Haas under Accelerated Access, a program that allows a two- to five-year deferment period for professional experience. “I felt like I was being seen and everything was so empowering.”

Mayorga was among a cohort of seven undergraduate seniors, like herself, and 20 working professionals who completed the program, which included free GMAT test preparation and test sitting, along with an application fee waiver for Haas graduate programs.

man wearing a suit and woman, who is holding a certificate on stage
Anthony Whitten, director of Diversity Admission at Berkeley Haas, founded the Thrive Fellows Program to encourage more Latinx students and professionals to apply to MBA programs. Photo: Jim Block

Tackling application hurdles

The program’s goal is to encourage more Latinx candidates to apply to MBA programs at a time when fewer students from underrepresented racial groups are applying nationwide. This year, less than 8% of Berkeley Haas MBA students identified as Hispanic or Latino.

 “Applying to a top tier business school has its challenges, but is a manageable process with support,” said Anthony Whitten, director of Diversity Admissions at Berkeley Haas, who launched Thrive Fellows last fall with the help of a seed donation from Adrien Lopez Lanusse, MBA 99, and two successful rounds of crowdfunding. “From test prep to interviewing to essay writing and recommendation letter gathering, there are a lot of boxes to check.” 

The benefits of earning an MBA from a top-ranked business school are profound, Whitten said. An MBA program allows students to explore new industries or functions, accelerate their career paths, increase their life-long earning potential, and expand and diversify their networks. 

Former Haas Dean Rich Lyons on a zoom screen
UC Berkeley Chancellor-Elect Rich Lyons, former dean of Haas, called Berkeley an “astonishing social mobility engine.”

UC Berkeley Chancellor-Elect Rich Lyons, former Berkeley Haas Dean, congratulated the students in a video played at the ceremony in Spieker Forum. Lyons emphasized the role an MBA plays in changing a person’s life and identity, something he said that students don’t understand before they earn the degree. While neither of his parents held a four-year degree, Lyons noted that he graduated from UC Berkeley and went on to earn a PhD. “Many of you, not all, are (part of a) first-gen advanced degree group,” he said, noting how UC Berkeley opened possibilities for him and that the school is an “astonishing social mobility engine.” 

A growing program

For Gina R. Garcia, senior associate director with the Berkeley Haas Career Management Group who helped develop the Thrive Fellows program, graduation provided a moment to reflect on the program’s growth over the past year. “It’s wonderful to think that I was a part of this important moment for our founding fellows,” said Garcia, who is also first-gen in her family to go to college and earn an advanced degree, and serves as the chair for the UC Berkeley Cal Women’s Network (CWN). “It’s a huge deal and I couldn’t be more proud.”

Jorge Rodriguez, a first-generation college graduate with eight years of career experience in public policy, said he found applying to an MBA program daunting before becoming a fellow.

“I didn’t know what it took, in terms of the year-long process of prepping for the test, crafting a story in a way that makes sense to be competitive, and to be seen as a strong candidate,” he said. “As a first-generation college student, it’s a world that I knew nothing about.” Rodriguez’s work paid off; he will enter the Berkeley Haas FTMBA class of 2026 this fall.

Mayorga, also a first-generation college student, said part of what empowered her as a Thrive Fellow was being in a room with people like her.

“It allowed us to be vulnerable with each other,” she said. “People shared very personal experiences they’d faced in the workforce or in school. I feel like that allowed us to have more authentic conversations.”

woman wearing a yellow shirt with arms around family and friends
Monica Mendoza (in yellow) celebrates completing the Thrive Fellows program. Photo: Jim Block

The Thrive Fellows program aligns with UC Berkeley’s 10-year plan to become a Latinx Thriving Institution, by enrolling and educating more Latinx students.  Whitten is now accepting applications for a second Thrive Fellows cohort. “Ultimately, our focus is centered around empowering, enabling, and really allowing people to achieve their aspirations or goals, regardless of whether or not they’re at Haas or another top business school,” he said.

Berkeley Haas names 2023 Finance Fellows

The 2023 Finance Fellows: Back row (left to right): Erik Swisher, Renzo Viale Paiva, Gauri Deshpande , Marya Unwala, Martin Lima;  front row (left to right) Rogerio Rios, Venky Vuppalapati, Yvonne Mondragón, Isabella Fantini, Hector Alamillo, Daniel Espinoza Birman. Photo: Jim Block

When Yvonne Mondragón finished the Berkeley Haas undergraduate program in 2016, she worked for seven years in finance, planning a long-term career in investment banking.

“I knew I wanted to come back to school in order to pivot into investment banking and work in banking at the highest level,” she said.

Mondragón, MBA 25, is now well on her way, as one of 11 first-year full-time Haas MBA students named among Haas’ 2023 Finance Fellows.

As fellows, the students receive a scholarship award and are assigned mentors—Haas alumni working in finance, including recent graduates and senior executives.

The 2023 fellows include:  

  • Mondragón, for the C&J White Fellowship in Finance.
  • Isabella Fantini, Renzo Viale Paiva, Marya Unwala, and Martin Lima for entrepreneurial finance.  
  • Venky Vuppalapati, Gauri Deshpande, Hector Alamillo, and Erik Swisher for investment banking. 
  • Daniel Espinoza Birman and Rogério Rios for private equity and investment management.

About 45% of these new fellows are international, reflecting the percentage of the overall MBA class, said William Rindfuss, managing director for Strategic Programs with the Haas Finance Group. Several of the students bring work experience in different finance sectors from their home countries, and are looking to pivot to larger sectors in the U.S. 

Vuppalapati, who is from India, said he’s drawn to the excitement of technology investment banking, and closely tracks how world events, the day’s news, and government policy impact financial markets.

“When I think of investment banking, I also think about how much any one deal can impact different people and different industries,” he said. “Tech has the largest impact, so it feels like a great fit.”

Rios, originally from Brazil, said he’s fascinated by innovation in health care, which led him to pursue a MBA/MPH degree.

“Innovation and technology are going to shape the future, and I want to be in a place that would not only give me an opportunity to be close to financial markets but also provide a solid understanding of how business and tech intersect with health care.”

Inspired by the four Berkeley Haas Defining Leadership Principles—Question the Status Quo; Confidence Without Attitude; Students Always; and Beyond Yourself—Rios added that he is seeking to make an impact on the world and give back to his family.

“I’m a first-generation student, so a lot of my efforts are in the spirit of giving back to them and to my community,” he said.

Mondragón, who is also a first-generation college student, said she hopes to serve as a role model.

“Having someone who looks like me in the finance space is so important,” she said.  “I have the lived experience of someone who did not benefit from this space. I grew up not having much access to any of the knowledge that I have now.”

Fantini said she is coupling passions for both technology and venture capital at Haas—and adding a lifelong interest in the food supply chain.

 “Haas has such an amazing focus on sustainability and food,” Fantini said. “I knew I could stay connected to Silicon Valley, stay connected to venture, and get even more connected to food resources by coming here for an MBA.”

Berkeley Haas names 2021 Finance Fellows

2021 Finance Fellows, from top left, clockwise: Anojan Palarajah, Mallory Bell, Ali Ware, Alex Rohrbach, Robyn Barrios, Jordan Bell, Alex Sborov, Nonso Nwagha, and Ricky Ghoshal. (Missing from photo: Elias Habbar-Baylac and Sunny Uppal) Photo: Jim Block

As a Black woman, Mallory Bell is on a mission to change the face of venture capital. 

“My personal goal is to diversify what the venture capital world looks like,” said Bell, MBA 23, one of 11 students recently named 2021 Finance Fellows at Berkeley Haas. “Money is fuel and if you are in venture capital you can be the one fueling the companies you want to succeed.”

Haas Finance Fellowships are awarded annually to full-time MBA students based on their applications and interviews. Awardees receive a cash grant and priority enrollment for finance electives. They’re also assigned a mentor who provides career advice and support in their chosen field.

In addition to Bell, this year’s Finance Fellows, all first-year MBA students, include Bell, Elias Habbar-Baylac, Alison (Ali) Ware, Anojan Palarajah, Alex Rohrbach, in Entrepreneurial Finance; Jordan Bell, Sheetij (Ricky) Ghoshal, Chinonso Nwagha, and Praneet (Sunny) Uppal, in Investment Banking; Robyn Barrios in Investment Management; and Alexandra Sborov, who received the CJ White Fellowship earlier this year.

This group’s career interests lean toward the global intersection of finance coupled with technology and social impact, said William Rindfuss, executive director of Strategic Programs with the Haas Finance Group.

“Some of our students will be providing strategic advice to high-growth tech or biotech companies from the Bay Area offices of major investment banks or joining a fintech startup or established firm using blockchain technology for financial inclusion,” he said. “Others will be investing venture capital in startups in sectors with social impact.”

The importance of mentoring

A critical part of the fellowship is mentoring. CJ White Fellow Sborov said her mentor, Allan Holt, a senior partner at private equity firm Carlyle, has shared insights about the industry and helped guide her inquiries about investing in different asset classes.

Jordan Bell, who worked as a financial institutions examiner for more than seven years at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco before coming to Haas, was connected to mentor Adam Levine, MBA 20, and a Goldman Sachs investment banking associate.

Levine “has taken a hands-on approach in helping me craft my unique story, prepare my technical analysis, and discuss trends and deals within the technology industry,” Bell said.

“Adam tells it like it is and doesn’t sugarcoat anything, and that is exactly what I was looking for in a mentor to ensure I am the most competitive and well prepared candidate possible,” he said.

Five questions with Juan Alba, BS 21, “The Juan and Only”

As commencement approaches, we’re interviewing students from different Haas programs about their experiences at Berkeley Haas and where they plan to go next. 

Undergraduate Juan Alba, BS 21, is the star of the YouTube channel The Juan and Only, where he dishes about everything from how he got into Berkeley to his experiences interning at Warner Brothers in LA. He’ll start working at Google in July.


Tell us a bit about your background and your path to Berkeley?

I immigrated from Colombia to the United States when I was 10 years old with my mom. It was hard learning English and adjusting to this new culture since I didn’t have a community or a network of people to fall back on. There are few Colombians in the Sacramento area and that was something that motivated me to go above and beyond to make a difference in my community. I turned to food as a way for me to feel in touch with my culture and I came to Cal with the mistaken understanding that I could only enter the food industry through nutrition. So I was in the pre-med track my first year.

What made you decide to switch to business?

I became interested in business after realizing in my organic chemistry laboratory that I longed for a more collaborative environment where I could help people on a greater scale.

You’re a big supporter of mentorship, and you mentor students at Cal who are interested in Haas. You also launched your YouTube channel, where you talk about what it’s like at UC Berkeley for Latinos. Why is mentorship so important to you?

There are so many underrepresented minorities who come to Cal with dreams like mine.

I started my channel because when you look on YouTube for videos about UC Berkeley, you don’t see a lot of Latinos. I wanted to show a different face of diversity. I wanted to set an example that you can be successful, you can thrive, you can make friends, and that was the initial mission of my channel, The Juan and Only.

People mentored me when I was applying to Haas and I’ve helped over a dozen peers through the process since then. I am a teacher at heart and I find immense value in sharing my knowledge with peers, especially when they support others in the future. In the Becoming Business Leaders DeCal course that I co-teach at Haas, I make it my mission to get to know my students outside of lecture and share my insights to help propel their goals.

The question of identity is a struggle that a lot of people have, especially a lot of Latinos, and it’s hard to understand if you’re not from the culture. When I go to Colombia, I’m always a little different from everyone else because I do not live there. And here in the U.S., I’m from Colombia. But I’ve come to understand that I’m myself. I’m the Juan and Only, and I don’t have to be either Colombian or American. I can be both. That’s a lesson that I always share with my mentees—the importance of not comparing yourself with anyone else. And I really find that my work is valuable because I can connect with many people through my diverse perspectives.

What are some of the skills you learned at Haas that have made a difference in how you see the world?

For me, the most impactful classes were in leadership, personal development, and communications—the soft skills that really make you as a person stand out. My favorite class was Leadership and Personal Development with Cort Worthington. That class has been critical to my professional development. It really teaches you to dig deep into your past and understand yourself in order to move forward and be a better leader.

I want to emphasize how meaningful Haas has been for me. The ability to feel a personal connection with my professors is something that I could not have received anywhere else. I’m so incredibly thankful. I say I’m graduating from UC Berkeley Haas, not just UC Berkeley, because Haas has such a special place in my heart. I feel like Haas really helped empower me in finding my own voice.

What are your plans for after graduation?

I feel like I’m in a good place. I’m going to be working at Google as an associate account strategist. I want to learn more about the tech space in a big organization before I start my own social enterprise business in the future.

What I really love about this position at Google is that it’s about doing my best to help small businesses grow. Like these restaurants in Berkeley that have faced difficulties with COVID-19—in doing my job, I can help them boost their sales and support them to stay open. Having ideas that create a positive impact is very important to me, and that’s why I’m very excited for my future projects to come.


First M.E.T. student graduates, a year early

Avathika Ramesh
Avanthika Ramesh is the first grad in the undergraduate M.E.T. program.

Avanthika Ramesh has more than one “first” under her belt. Not only is she the first student to finish UC Berkeley’s Management, Entrepreneurship & Technology (M.E.T.) program, she’s also the first to finish a year early.

A joint program launched in 2017 by Berkeley Haas and the College of Engineering, M.E.T. allows students to earn two undergraduate degrees in business and engineering in four years. Ramesh did it in three.

“It was an amazing experience,” said the 20-year-old, who is now at home in Georgia, working remotely for Salesforce in its competitive two-year Associate Product Manager program.

“An amazing young woman”

Undergraduates admitted to M.E.T. combine business courses with one of six engineering tracks. They spend time in class at both schools throughout the four years.

Michael Grimes, EECS 87, the head of Global Technology Investment Banking at Morgan Stanley and the founder of the M.E.T. Program, said Avanthika took full advantage of the M.E.T. curriculum, which offers deep technology skills, along with management and leadership education. “As a rising star associate product manager at Salesforce she is putting those skills to use with her trademark poise, excellence, and empathy,” he said. “The sky’s the limit with Avanthika.”

The sky’s the limit with Avanthika.

“She’s one of the most glorious students I’ve ever had the honor of working with,” said Chris Dito, executive director of the M.E.T. program. “She’s smart and humble and eager for information. She’s an amazing young woman and her accolades speak for themselves.”

A change in plan

It was almost by chance that Ramesh ended up in the M.E.T. program at all.

She planned to study electrical engineering and computer science (EECS). But when she was applying, she spied an option on the application to do EECS only, or EECS + Business. “I thought I’d give it a shot and picked the ‘EECS + Business’ option,” she said.

Soon after, she was invited to submit a supplemental essay for the M.E.T. program. After learning more about the program, she got excited about it.

Avanthika Ramesh with her classmates in MET
Ramesh (first row, third from right) at Berkeley’s M.E.T. (Management, Entrepreneurship, & Technology Program) new student orientation. Photo: Noah Berger

A budding entrepreneur, Ramesh said she was drawn to taking integrated coursework from Berkeley Haas and the College of Engineering.

“M.E.T. offered what I wanted to do in the future, but I never knew there was a program out there,” said Ramesh, who in high school founded her own tutoring business, HiFive Tutoring.

“What I learned from Haas was so useful for me,” she added. “Haas courses like marketing, finance, business communication, and organizational behavior, which in particular was one of the most useful classes for me, taught me a lot.”

She credits those courses in helping her to grow HiFive Tutoring from 15 to more than 500 clients. The dual major also allowed her to participate in hackathons and business competitions at Haas, as well as take on research and undergraduate student instructor opportunities.

While participating in case competition training workshops over the weekends, Ramesh said she received valuable mentorship from Dresden John, the undergraduate student experience manager, and Finance Lecturer Steve Etter.

An MBA in the future

Although she took on extra credits that enabled her to graduate early, Ramesh made time on the weekends to take morning hikes on the Berkeley fire trails, explored the city, and tried out restaurants in Berkeley and Oakland. She said her most memorable Haas moments were attending the Haas Gala and Haas Formal.

Haas Gala with Avanthika Ramesh
Avanthika Ramesh (left) at the Annual Haas Gala with friends.

Ramesh said she’s planning to earn an MBA in the future. She’s already been admitted to three MBA programs, including Berkeley Haas through the Accelerated Access program for UC Berkeley seniors, which lets students defer for several years to work. Ramesh will spend the next two years at Salesforce, training in product management at departments across the company.

“All of us in the Salesforce APM program are very strong in computer science but also have a lot of experience in business, leadership, and entrepreneurship” she said. “Salesforce wanted just that combination that M.E.T. prepared me for.”


Undergrads launch popular virtual summer camp for teens

Saumya Goyal and Danielle Egan, both BS 21, were texting late-night after the coronavirus pandemic started when Egan shared a startup idea: How about a new program that helps connect bored teenage students to some fun classes during the pandemic?

Goyal loved the idea and the pair worked out the details to co-found startup Connect-in-Place, a free online “summer camp” for middle- and high-school students packed with dozens of classes taught by more than 100 college students.

Daniel Egan
Danielle Egan, BS 21, co-founded Connect-in-Place

“During this time, kids are especially lonely and disconnected and they really need that social connection for their development and growth,” Egan said. “Connect-in-Place is one way to find those connections.”

The Connect-in-Place idea caught fire fast. The first session, which ran from June 22-July 17, enrolled 750 kids from around the world in more than 60 classes that reflected the passions of the teachers, many of them student-volunteers from across UC Berkeley and other UC schools. The second session, which starts today, is even more popular than the first, with around 1,400 students enrolling in 150 classes.

The classes range from pure fun (Intro to DJing and Bollywood Dance) to a bit more academic (Intro to Python and Game Theory) to pragmatic (Personal Finance 101 and a High School Survival Guide). There’s even a class that explains the biology of COVID-19.

Classes, taught two to three times a week, are capped at 10 kids per class.

Relationships that continue after classes end

Saumya Goyal
Saumya Goyal, BS 21, co-founded Connect-in-Place

The popularity of Connect-in-Place is a surprising success story for both its founders, who met during Haas undergraduate orientation. Both are working on Connect-in-Place while interning—Goyal is working for Deloitte this summer and Egan is at Salesforce.

But they’re getting support for the new venture from a 10-person management team, comprised of UC Berkeley students, including Haas undergraduate Kevin Wu, BS 20, who manages corporate relations. They also reached out through their networks and social media to find students who wanted to teach.

Lauren Yang, a rising sophomore at UC Berkeley who said she plans to apply to Haas, agreed to teach algebra during Connect-In-Place’s first session, and said it was a great experience.

“Even though I was teaching math, I tried to use fun games like Kahoot or Jeopardy, so the kids wouldn’t feel like it was summer school, but more of a fun class that they were excited to attend,” she said.  Yang said she believes that the Connect-in-Place classes are designed to push students to form bonds. “We keep classes fun, interesting, and lighthearted so students wanted to come to every class to get to know their friends more.”

Classes led by teachers who are not that much older than they are is a refreshing change for teens, Goyal said.

Goyal’s sister, Deeksha, who taught a Bollywood dance class, said the kids were having so much fun during her one-hour class that they extended it to three hours. Even though the session has ended, she said the kids planned to meet for an hour every week for the rest of the summer on their own.

A “cool impact on kids”

Currently, Connect-in-Place  is a bootstrapped operation. It has no funding—the founders cover any expenses they have out of pocket and they ask for a suggested donation of $10 per week per class from those who can afford it.

They’re using all of the money they’ve raised through donations–around $9,000 so far–toward providing laptops or digital infrastructure to students with financial need.

Goyal said they’re also researching potential nonprofit partners to work with as they consider the future and how to scale.

With schools in the Bay Area and beyond preparing for distance learning to continue into next year, the problems of isolation and boredom for teens isn’t expected to go away any time soon, she said.

But both founders say they’re willing to put in the extra time to help out.

“When I get tired I just realize we’re having such a cool impact on kids,” Goyal said. Egan agreed.

“That’s all the motivation we need,” she said. “We’re so passionate about this that it doesn’t feel like work.”

New Bear Cubs club offers support and fun to MBA student parents

The new Bear Cub club at their kick off party
The new Bear Cubs club at their kick off party

Jamil Bashir, MBA/MPH 19, got two pieces of very important news on the same day last year: He was accepted into UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and he found out that his wife, Farida, was pregnant.

At first, he was scared: the Bashirs were already the parents of a toddler.

Jamil thought that attending business school while parenting two kids would be too much. Still, he decided to accept.

Support and friendship

At Haas, the couple found support and friendship in a new club for parents that he and Farida helped launched in February called the Bear Cubs. The club, which now has 68 members, aims to help MBA students with children in a more organized way, by organizing fun events and providing a place where families can help each other navigate parenting with both emotional and resource support.

Farida and Jamil Bashir with kids Jabril and Murad
Farida and Jamil Bashir, MBA/MPH 19, with their children, Jabril and Murad

Parenting during an MBA program—the lack of sleep, the juggling of childcare, and the crazy schedules— can be daunting, but many do it. There are 25 parents in the Class of 2018, including four mothers (a fifth student has a baby on the way), and 13 in the Class of 2019.

The club launched with a picnic at University Village, where many of the families live.  They’ve also held a Halloween party, more picnics, a Disneyland trip, a movie night, and a photo session and are planning a graduation reception. Organizers are also working to find ways that trips to Tahoe can be more family friendly.

Annie Li, MBA 19, said she enjoyed all of the activities her family attended.

“My kid had lots of fun interacting with the other little ones,” she said.

Bear Cubs is a much-needed addition to the school, said Julia Rosof, associate director of Student Affairs at Haas.

“The students and partners have cultivated a strong community of support for student parents and helped raise awareness about the unique challenges student parents encounter,” she said. “They’ve been excellent partners in making Haas a more friendly and supportive place for student parents.”

Family time vs classmate time

Everybody knows that bonding with classmates is a huge part of the MBA experience, but when you have to rush home to a child, it can be hard, Farida Bashir said.

“If you’ve got to choose seeing your family or going out with your classmates, you’re going to choose your family,” she said.

It can be particularly difficult for international parents arriving at Haas.

Sabina Osponova and son, Alan
Sabina Osponova and son, Alan

Rafael Amado, MBA 19, who is from Brazil, the father of an baby boy, and a Bear Cubs club co-president with Farida Bashir, said he had no idea about how things like health insurance, housing, and daycare worked in the U.S. until other parents helped him.

“We were helping each other in an informal way,” he said.

Amado said that he and the other Bear Cub organizers want to make sure incoming families have all the same information, plus a ready-made network of friendly faces.

The club will be up and running for incoming students for the first time in the fall.

“Families make this decision together, it’s not just the students,” he said. “We’re trying to make it an easier decision for families to come to Haas.”

Women’s 21st Century Leadership Course Attracts Global Students

Students from eight business schools around the world are converging at Berkeley-Haas next week to tackle topics from kick-starting women’s workplace negotiations to mastering the skills they require to lead. The intensive five-day program, Women’s 21st Century Leadership, is the first offered at Berkeley-Haas through the Global Network for Advanced Management (GNAM).

GNAM, a consortium of 29 business schools led by the Yale School of Management, oversees the Global Network Weeks, designed to give students from member schools a short, intense introduction to a subject and a chance to learn with peers from around the world.

Berkeley-Haas students can attend reciprocal courses offered on GNAM members’ campuses around the world. Berkeley-Haas joined GNAM in 2015.

“In a global world, leaders who possess complex skills are critical, which is why I am passionate about GNAM and its potential,” said Adj. Prof. Kristiana Raube, executive director of the International Business Development Program and the Institute for Business & Social Impact at Berkeley-Haas.

Right time, right place

Prof. Laura Kray is teaching the Women's 21st Century Leadership course.
Laura Kray

Prof. Laura Kray, the Warren E. and Carol Spieker Chair in Leadership, will teach the course, offered by the Berkeley MBA for Executives program. The curriculum includes cutting-edge research, team exercises, feedback with guest lecturers, and company visits to Pandora and Salesforce for 33 students from the US, Ghana, Ireland, China, Germany, Spain, and Mexico.

“This is the right time and the right place to bring together a talented, motivated, and diverse set of rising-star leaders from across the globe,” Kray said. “Our work together will center around clarifying their leadership vision and developing skills to support their leadership in making the world safer, fairer, and better for all. Our goal is to accomplish real change in their leadership capacity in a short time. By developing the group’s collective intelligence through self-reflection, role play exercises, and peer coaching, the sky’s the limit in terms of what we can achieve.”

Thanh Cao, EMBA 17, who is taking the co-ed course, hopes to learn from students around the world.  “It’s easy to see what’s in front of you, but having students from other schools and countries in the same class really gives you a new perspective,” she said.

Guest speakers include Prof. Laura Tyson, faculty director of the Institute for Business & Social Impact, who will discuss her extensive gender research that speaks to the need for change. Carolyn Buck-Luce, managing partner at Hewlett Consulting Partners and co-founder/executive-in-residence at the Center for Talent Innovation, and Sally Thornton, founder & CEO of talent firm Forshay, will also speak.

Q@Haas Celebrates 25 Years at Berkeley-Haas

The co-founders of Q@Haas
Q@Haas co-founders Ben Burbridge and Adrienne Torf, both MBA 92, with Co-president Lucas Vital, MBA 18, at the 25th anniversary reception.

When Ben Burbridge arrived at Berkeley-Haas in 1990, he was ready to start a new chapter in life as an out gay man. But until he met classmates Adrienne Torf and Garrett Hornsby, both MBA 92, he had a hard time finding a community.

“We were it, out of a class of 300,” said Burbridge, MBA 92, describing how the three got together to form a small club. “I realized how alone we were when we arrived here, and we didn’t want the subsequent classes to have the same experience that we did.”

Little did they know how their club would take off: 25 years later, Q@Haas is a dynamic community of 380 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students, as well as straight allies.

“I’d love to take the slightest amount of credit for it, but I can’t,” said Burbridge, speaking at a gathering to celebrate the group’s 25th anniversary April 26. “The number of students involved today and their commitment is just amazing.”

Q@Haas Co-president Lucas Vital, who helped organize the panel discussion and reception, said learning about the founders’ experiences was eye-opening for current students.

“Hearing their story and understanding how far we have come is a way to understand and value what we have today,” said Vital, MBA 18.

Q@Haas keeps its community involved with events like the popular personal storytelling nights held in conjunction with Coming Out week, as well as through hosting speakers, panels, film nights, and even a pajama party. The group also maintains close ties with other UC Berkeley and outside MBA program affinity groups.

“I was stunned to find myself in a place where there were no lesbians,” she said.

When the small group—which also included Mike Brantjes, MBA 93—first started holding meetings, they had to take into account the concerns of closeted students who wanted to attend but were wary of getting leaflets for an LGBTQ club in their mailboxes. They instead let it be known they were posting notices on a particular bulletin board.

“If no one was looking, they could actually read it,” Torf joked.

For some current MBAs, the stories seemed close to archaic.

“Being LGBT in the workplace is almost an asset now,” said Jordan Pearson, MBA 17, and former co-president of Q@Haas.

Dan Sullivan, senior director for MBA academics, who helped the students establish the group back in 1992, says that makes the stories even more important.

“Some of these students here now were born in 1992,” he said. “People need to know this history.”

Pronoun buttons at the Q@Haas celebration
Attendees chose buttons indicating their personal pronoun preference.

Still work to do

Alongside the celebratory mood, with laughter at anecdotes involving shoulder pads and visits to the White Horse bar, there was serious discussion of how transgender issues are shaping the workplace today. There was also acknowledgement that the world has a long way to go in tackling not only homophobia, but racism and xenophobia.

Vital, who is from Brazil, pointed out that the rest of the world is still not as accepting as the Bay Area. “Now everything is much easier, but I’m trying to break the Berkeley bubble,” he said.

But at least at Berkeley-Haas, the club has had real impact. Philip Chen, EWMBA 20, said in some ways Q@Haas has changed the path of his life.

“This is one of the main reasons I wanted to come to Haas,” he said.

MBA Student Looks to Next Quest: Easter Island by Wheelchair

Photo credit: Pedro Paredes-Haz

Álvaro Silberstein, MBA 17, was on top of a mountain in Patagonia in his wheelchair last December, and the cameras were rolling.

He was fulfilling his dream of making an arduous 50-kilometer trek through the landscape of granite towers and massive blue glaciers of the remote Torres del Paine National Park in his native Chile. Documentary filmmakers, part of his 12-member expedition, had captured dramatic footage along the way.

Yet the achievement was just the beginning of a new chapter for Silberstein, who is using the trip’s success to fulfill an even greater goal: making more of the world’s most remote places accessible to adventurous tourists who happen to have disabilities.

Through the Wheel the World nonprofit he formed with sponsor The North Face, Silberstein has now launched a crowdfunding campaign for a November trip to Easter Island. He aims to attract $20,000 to purchase two trekking wheelchairs and two hand bikes to leave behind for future visitors.

“Our main goal is not just me doing this adventure but making these adventures possible for more people,” he said.

He’s already accomplished that in Patagonia. Silberstein raised $8,000 to buy a specialized trekking chair, which helped his team prevail through drenching rain to become the first to complete the tough “W” route at Torres del Paine in a wheelchair in six days. (Read more about the challenges they faced—and see full-sized photos—on UC Berkeley News.)

“Álvaro is one of the strongest and optimistic people I have ever met,” said Matan Sela, MBA 17, a classmate who accompanied Silberstein to Patagonia. “In his mind, there is nothing he cannot accomplish, no matter how challenging it seems.”

Photo credit: Pedro Paredes-Haz

The all-terrain chair they used has just one wheel for narrow trails and is meant to be both pulled and pushed with a harness and handles, making the trek a truly collaborative effort. It was that idea of collaboration that got Silberstein thinking that if he could figure out how to make the trip work for him, maybe he could help more than one person.

“We wanted all of that effort to be useful for other people too,” he said.

He left the chair in Torres del Paine, along with a guide he and his team created for using it. Three people already have done so—including a 10-year-old boy. Another eight people have reserved it for next season.

A spinal cord injury from a car accident when he was 18 left Silberstein with full paralysis from the chest down, and partial paralysis in his arms and hands. It changed his life, he said, but in many ways, it didn’t. Always a sports lover who enjoyed socializing and traveling, he still has the same goals and ambitions, from skiing in Tahoe to visiting national parks like Yosemite, where he was inspired by the easy access for disabled visitors.

Photo credit: Pedro Paredes-Haz

After he graduates in May, Silberstein will work on scaling Wheel the World to open more adventures to all people.

The Patagonia trek has made Silberstein a bit of a folk hero in Chile, where 1,000 people turned out to see the premier of the documentary on his trip. The 15-minute film will be screened at Berkeley-Haas on Monday, April 17, in Andersen Auditorium.

For some teaser footage, check out this short video on the trip by UC Berkeley Public Affairs (with footage from Wheel the World).


New Certificate Focuses on Multidisciplinary Design & Innovation

A new certificate program launched this month provides undergraduates with a chance to learn how design and innovation are taught across the UC Berkeley campus.

The Berkeley Certificate in Design Innovation (BCDI) program is a first-ever collaboration between Berkeley-Haas, the College of Engineering, the College of Environmental Design, and the College of Letters and Science’s Arts & Humanities Division.

An open house for students to learn more about the program is planned for April 21 at noon at the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation.

With its focus on problem-solving, dialogue, and “non-linear creativity,” the new certificate will connect design approaches to the disciplines within each school.

“The problems that need to be solved in the world are more complex than they used to be,” said Senior Lecturer Sara Beckman, the Berkeley-Haas academic advisor for the program and co-instructor of the Collaborative Innovation course. “Design offers a toolkit for framing and solving those bigger kinds of problems.”

Students who enroll in the BCDI program are required to take a total of four courses: one chosen from a set of foundation courses such as Needfinding in the Wild, taught by Michael Barry of Berkeley-Haas; two courses selected from a wide variety of designated design and innovation skills courses at the different schools—from theater design to solar power use in vehicles; and one course that requires applying design and innovation skills to a project, ideally in a cross-disciplinary setting. Beckman’s Collaborative Innovation course, which is jointly taught across Business, Art Practice, and Theater and Dance Performance Studies, is an example of an applied project course.

The program will encourage students from different schools to work with and learn from one another about how design is applied within their own fields, said Berkeley-Haas lecturer Clark Kellogg, whose Innovation and Design Thinking in Business course is part of the certificate curriculum.

Joe Wilson, BS 17, who has taken design courses, said he regrets that he’s graduating too soon to complete the new certificate. “The skills I’ve learned through design have really helped me to be a more big picture thinker,” he said.

Students may apply to the program on the BCDI website by submitting an Intent to Complete the Certificate form. A certificate from all four BCDI sponsors will be issued to students who complete the requirements. The certificate will not appear on students’ academic transcripts.

From Herat to Haas, Afghan Student Finds a New Life

Born in Afghanistan and raised during Taliban rule to a family without much education, Sal Parsa didn’t have many options: by age 12, he was going to school half the day and working the other half sewing clothes.

“My destiny was to become a tailor, or a mechanic,” he says.

But in 2001, something happened: American soldiers showed up in his hometown of Herat, seizing control from the Taliban regime. Sal was fascinated by the men, as they walked through the city with their guns handing out candy to children, and he wanted to find out more about them.

“I was a kid, so I wasn’t seen as a threat and I could approach them and try to talk to them,” says Parsa, MBA 18. “They looked scary at first but they were friendly and kind. Those first encounters were what began to change my life.”

His outgoing curiosity, along with his drive to get an education beyond the severe limitations he had faced, soon sent him down a winding path that ultimately led him to Berkeley-Haas—where he is now an aspiring entrepreneur.

Books, not bombs

Growing up under the Taliban, Parsa’s access to education was mostly limited to religious books. All he had ever known was poverty and war: his young life had spanned the Soviet occupation and withdrawal, the civil war that raged in its wake, and the Taliban’s rigid control. But with the arrival of the Americans, things opened up. Now, there were new books in the library and classes to take. So he took full advantage, going to study English after he was done with work at night.

Parsa remembers when a group of American men visited his high school looking for top students to apply for an exchange program.

“I thought it was a hoax,” he says. “My parents weren’t wealthy and we had no power; usually this kind of opportunity was given to the sons of the warlords, ministers, or top top people.”

But it all became real when—after an exhaustive series of exams and interviews—he and three others were selected from more than 1,000 students vetted by the State Department. They were invited to spend their junior year at American high schools through the Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program in Afghanistan, offered for the first time in Afghanistan.

Cultural Immersion

And so, in 2004, Parsa found himself living with a host family in Plattsburgh, a small college town in Upstate New York. It was a different world, but Parsa—already a bit of an overachiever—was undaunted.

“I brought these huge dictionaries from Afghanistan—English to Farsi, Farsi to English,” says Parsa, a native Persian speaker who was learning English as a 3rd language. “Those dictionaries were my buddies. I used to record my classes, then go home and listen to them, and use the books to translate.”

Parsa immersed himself in American culture. His host mother was an Air Force Veteran who treated him like one of her own and his host brother was in the Navy—a great excuse for the family to travel around and watch Navy football games. His soccer prowess was an easy entree to the high school sports and social scenes.

As part of the exchange program, he served as a youth cultural ambassador, visiting and talking to high schools, colleges, and churches, and even traveling to the White House to meet high-level officials.

Tense times

That helped when, at age 17, he returned to Afghanistan and worked as a translator and cultural liaison for the US military—a period that Parsa describes tersely as “very intense times.” By then, the war was in its 4th year, and the Taliban was attempting to regain control.

As a translator, Parsa risked his life. “There was a $5000 prize for the head of a translator or anyone working or helping the Americans. I couldn’t trust anyone,” he says.

Parsa recently opened up about those years for the first time at a Haas Story Salon—an event where MBA students share personal stories with classmates, with the understanding that everything said stays in the room.

“Sal connected with every person in the room that night by sharing his narrative,” says classmate Greg Keiser, MBA 18.

It was hard to talk about some things, says Parsa, who is still careful about what he’ll say publicly about the experience. But his trust in his Haas cohort made him willing to do it. “This would not have ever happened without these people,” he says.

Return to the US

Parsa considers himself incredibly lucky. After two years working for the military in Afghanistan, he was invited to attend Walsh University in Ohio, where he was a new quantity for the small, Catholic school.

“I was the only Muslim student living on campus,” he says. “During Ramadan, the cafeteria closed before I could break my fast, so I ate Ramen noodles or fast food. But by the second year, they made me a boxed dinner.”

Parsa was chosen to give a speech at his 2014 naturalization ceremony.

After graduation, he worked for large manufacturing company in Canton, Ohio, and was considering a career in US intelligence when a mentor suggested he look into an MBA. While he got offers from several top schools, he says Haas offered a combination of first-rate faculty, connections to an entrepreneurial ecosystem, and a great location.

And when he got a call from Full-time MBA Admissions Director Morgan Bernstein, he hung up feeling like Haas really “got” him.

Bernstein recalls what stood out about Parsa: “It was clear that not only is Sal someone who embodies our four Haas Defining Principles, but that his life experience allows him to bring a truly unique, and valuable, perspective to our community.”

Parsa’s background and struggles have shaped his attitude and approach to life; he puts “problems” like a heavy course of study into perspective.  “Why should I worry? Why should I complain?” he asks.

After a just a few months at Haas, Parsa says he knows he’s in the right place: there’s nothing about his life right now that stressed him out, even though he’s combining the full-time MBA program with a leadership role as the president of the data science club, a deep-dive into data science, and a hard push with classmate Greg Keiser on a startup idea for a career guidance platform. That’s on top of the fact he got married last summer.

But Parsa is ready for every opportunity he can find—at Haas, at UC Berkeley, or anywhere else.

“Sometimes I think, ‘I shouldn’t sleep,’” he says.

EWMBA Student Nabs $1 Million for “Smart Mailbox” Startup

Juggling work, business school, and a new baby, Shuai Jiang, EWMBA 16, and his wife relied heavily on online shopping. But the busy family quickly found the convenience of online shopping outweighed by the hassle of delivery slips.

“We were constantly worried about the packages and ended up wasting a lot of time waiting at home and driving to post offices,” said Jiang, a former Hewlett Packard senior product manager.

Like many first-time entrepreneurs, Jiang found himself brainstorming to solve this real-world problem.

As a student in the Berkeley Evening & Weekend MBA Program he began exploring the concept of a worry- and hassle-free way to receive, track, return, and manage online purchases.

That idea led to the founding of startup Enchantin Inc., the maker of the uCella smart mailbox, an expandable, wirelessly-connected wall-mounted container that secures packages when they are delivered or returned.

Jiang asked a childhood friend, Donny Zhang, to help with uCella’s prototyping. He assembled a small team at Haas to help him work on the project, including Kelly Han, EWMBA 14, Susy Schöneberg, MBA 17, Jinpei Li, EWMBA 16, and Chang Li EWMBA 16.

Both the cohort and the MBA curriculum helped guide Jiang, who also participated in UC Berkeley LAUNCH, a startup accelerator and competition designed to transform early stage startups into fundable companies.

“A lot of classes I took really opened my eyes,” he said, including Strategic Brand Management with Lynn Upshaw and Entrepreneurship with David Charron. “To be honest, I don’t really think I’d have started my own startup if I wasn’t in the Berkeley MBA program.”

Enchantin is already well-funded. The startup received $1 million in January from unnamed investors. The company has also received several hundred pre-orders through its Indiegogo campaign.

Here’s how the uCella system works.Customers use a mobile application to track package deliveries.

The system synchs with popular email services to pull customer tracking numbers from order receipts. When a delivery person arrives, she scans the barcode that contains a tracking number required to unlock the customer’s box. The package is stowed in the expandable box, which automatically locks. Then the system alerts the customer of the delivery.

The uCella box can also be used to coordinate package returns.

Enchantin now has a 12-person team and the company will roll out a seed program in several Bay Area neighborhoods this spring.

The company is in discussions with major couriers such as Fedex and UPS and e-retailers to form potential partnerships, Jiang says. Couriers and e-commerce companies from Canada, Korea, and Turkey have also told Jiang that they’re interested in testing and rolling out the product.

He believes that going global is a real possibility.

“My vision is that uCella will be outside every house in the U.S and will become an essential package platform in the worldwide e-commerce ecosystem,” he said.


Women in Leadership Conference Celebrates 20th Year, March 12

Even as they celebrate the 20th year of the Berkeley-Haas Women in Leadership (WiL) Conference, organizers are looking two more decades ahead and asking: How can we empower each other to get further, faster by 2036?

This year’s conference theme, “Leading Today, Building Tomorrow,” recognizes how much has been accomplished and how much still needs to be tackled.

“It’s a huge milestone for Haas and for us,” said conference co-chair Sydney Thomas, MBA 16. “Through this conference, we hope to give our community the tools to support each other in our quest for gender equity in business.”

The event is the longest-running student-organized conference at Haas, bringing more than 500 students and professionals to campus March 12 for a full day of high-profile speakers, workshops, and networking. It is once again expected to sell out (register here).

The 20th anniversary comes on the heels of a successful push for gender equity at Haas, and at what seems to be a turning point for gender equity in MBA programs. This year, women make up a record 43 percent of the full-time Berkeley MBA program overall. Nationwide, women for the first time are more than 40 percent of the student body at a dozen elite MBA programs, according to a recent report by the Forté Foundation.

The one-day WiL conference reaches beyond the school, bringing students and professionals from outside UC Berkeley together to hear inspiring stories and share their insights on issues that affect women.

“We want people to get involved, and we want to be connected with the Bay Area overall,” said Erin Robinson, MBA 17, co-president of the Haas Women in Leadership club, which organizes the conference.

Kicking off the morning will be a keynote speech by Staci Slaughter, executive VP of communications and senior advisor to the CEO, San Francisco Giants.

The talk will be followed by a “Story Salon,” where a half dozen women will share openly about times when they have been most vulnerable, followed by discussion. It’s an unorthodox but deliberate way to help people break some of the invisible walls that can discourage networking, organizers say.

“It’s really intimidating for people to walk up to someone they don’t know and start a conversation,” said conference content co-chair Stacey Chin, MBA 16.

It’s not the kind of session all business conferences might have, but it’s one of the things that makes the Women in Leadership conference special.

“It’s an opportunity for our community to get closer together,” Thomas said. “Relationships are really critical to getting to the next levels in business.”

The afternoon keynote speech will be given by Robin Wolaner, COO of We Care Solar and founder of Parenting Magazine.

In addition to inspiration, there will be ample time for practical matters: afternoon workshops will tackle concrete skills like how to negotiate a salary, strategies for power and influence, and how to develop your personal brand.

The Haas Women in Leadership club holds events, hosts speakers, and does outreach throughout the year in order to help support women MBAs in network building. Club members have also taken a role in the Haas Gender Equity Initiative, an effort spearheaded by students in the Class of 2015 to increase the number of women in the full-time program. Their work with faculty, alumni and the admissions office helped fuel a 50 percent increase in the percentage of new women enrolling in fall 2014.

The group, which includes women and men, has continued to work on gender equity in admissions, academics, and school culture. Members also recruited “manbassadors” to encourage more men to get involved with WiL.