As a former banker, business school fundraiser, and veteran admissions expert, Eric Askins’ varied career helped shape him as a nimble and creative team builder. He was recently named executive director of admissions for the Berkeley Haas Full-time MBA program.
We talked to Askins recently about his New York roots, his varied career path in education, and his goals as new admissions director.
Tell us a little about your background and where you grew up?
I’m originally from New York and grew up with two sisters in an incredibly diverse neighborhood in Queens. I’ve always been incredibly proud of how my mother brought us up. An immigrant from the Dominican Republic, my mother cleaned houses and took care of other people’s kids to ensure we had what we needed. I know she was excited to see me accepted into the Bronx High School of Science, a specialized public school. I went to Hunter College, a school in the CUNY system, where I worked during the day and studied political science and sociology in the evenings. I learned to appreciate the way a community can support people through school, as I wasn’t the only first-generation Latinx college student working their way through at night.
What are a few of your first goals as admissions chief?
The primary role of any admissions head is to support the team of admissions professionals who work tirelessly to engage with the amazing applicants to our program. That will continue to be my number one priority. Externally, I’m focused on maintaining the academic standards of our program and broadening our outreach strategy.
Specifically, we will focus some of our efforts on increasing the percentage of women applicants to our program. Berkeley Haas was among the first business schools to cross the 40% women threshold. My goal is to consistently hold that figure. In order to move towards closing the gender divide, we are working to better highlight our programs like Women in Leadership and the work of our Gender Equity Initiative and our programs that develop leaders equipped to manage diverse and inclusive work environments. We also need to think about how we are reaching out to all women: women of color, international students, women from different academic backgrounds, and students with non-binary identities.
Berkeley Haas was among the first business schools to cross the 40% women threshold. My goal is to consistently hold that figure.
What was your first job after graduating from college?
I started my professional career in banking, in a process-oriented role at Sterling National Bank, shifting into commercial loan workout, and then to small business lending. I worked with small business owners, individuals whose entire lives were tied to the businesses. These were often immigrants, first-generation business owners opening restaurants, franchises, and dry cleaners.
I began my admissions career in 2010 at Fordham University in New York as an assistant director of admissions for the law school. In that role, I traveled the country and developed a deep interest in the pathways to graduate-level education. After a number of years, I decided to broaden my experience and take on a new challenge with Fordham Business School’s fundraising arm. I worked closely with the school’s alumni to help chart avenues for growth for the school. Among our successes was a partnership with the NASDAQ Entrepreneurial Center here in the Bay Area. I was amazed at the impact business school alumni could make on the community. I think it’s safe to say that that experience planted the seed that would eventually bring me to Haas.
Can you talk about how you diversified your experiences by working at The New School in New York, which has a design school, liberal arts college, and a performing arts college?
I was director of strategic initiatives and planning, managing net tuition revenue for an institution that was constantly looking for ways to shift, be nimble, and be dynamic. The New School was a collection of various different types of colleges and it’s connective tissue was cultural not structural. The New School provided a number of very unique challenges that engaged me intellectually. I worked directly with the college’s deans, doing scholarship modeling, developing enrollment strategies, building our strategic partnerships globally. But in this role I was no longer participating in the candidate’s journey, something that I enjoyed and have returned to at Haas.
What brought you to the West Coast?
I’ve been lucky enough to be with my partner for nearly 20 years. In that short amount of time we’ve had a number of different adventures, not the least of which has been our two children. Though we’ve both traveled significantly for work, neither of us had ever lived outside of New York City. So when she was offered an amazing professional opportunity here in the Bay Area it felt like the perfect time to start a new adventure.
I’ve always been aware of Berkeley and its reputation as a culture-forward institution. When we moved here we rented a house within walking distance of campus. I knew I wanted to work at one of the graduate schools and I loved the idea of the Haas MBA. It’s the least narrow degree providing the most opportunity to make a change. Through the Defining Leadership Principles, I had a very clear understanding of the school’s values and they closely reflect my own personal values.
Every person matriculating through Haas is going to make an impact, whether it’s in impact investing, tech, transportation, sustainability, or consulting. This is where I want to be, participating in some small part on that journey.
Every person matriculating through Haas is going to make an impact.
What’s your favorite DLP?
I most closely align with Confidence without Attitude. It prompts me to reflect not only on what I can contribute, but also calls on me to recognize where I need to grow. When I practice this DLP, I’m an active listener and I engage meaningfully with my partners and peers, so that I can learn from them and build with them. I’m excited to see what we build together in the coming years.