The award was created by the Academic Senate’s Committee on Teaching to honor faculty, staff, and student instructors who embraced the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and engaged in or supported excellent teaching.
“These instructors and staff used innovative methods and worked beyond their traditional roles to ensure that students remained engaged and supported, and were challenged to do meaningful work under extraordinary circumstances,” wrote the award committee.
Stowsky has served as senior assistant dean for instruction for 14 years, and at Haas for 24 years. He played a critical role in overseeing the transition from live to remote classes.
“Working to match the engagement level of a live, physical classroom has involved hours of brainstorming, planning, workshop training, and investments in a host of new technologies,” wrote Stowsky, who is retiring at the end of the semester. “It has been fascinating, and challenging, to conceptualize, organize and operationalize this goal with the faculty, graduate student instructors, and technology teams at Haas.”
Remote learning innovations at Haas included the installation of four state-of-the-art virtual classrooms, technical upgrades to regular classrooms for virtual teaching, regularly scheduled faculty-student engagement sessions, improvements in production quality of digitized asynchronous content, a remote instruction workshop series for faculty, and tech training.
Goodson is a distinguished teaching fellow and continuing lecturer who has taught popular courses on mergers & acquisitions, private equity, and turnarounds to MBA students since 2004. After the pandemic forced all courses online, he invested “hundreds of hours repurposing content and delivery” to transform his courses.
“Our lofty goal was to deliver a ‘value proposition’ that was as good as or better than the in-person model,” he wrote of the experience. “Our team designed an online classroom experience that is optimized for student engagement; altered curricula to showcase students’ company’s pandemic strategies; published COVID MBA cases (including the first at Berkeley Haas); established rigorous and equitable inclusion; and created a feedback system to continuously improve the course.”
The result was courses where students were highly engaged and rated among the very best experiences they’d had with online learning.
If ever there was a year that called on all of us to embody the Berkeley Haas Defining Leadership Principles, it was 2020. It so happened that this tumultuous year also marked the 10th anniversary of codifying these principles, which have become deeply embedded throughout our school over the past decade.
This year, many in our community went beyond themselves to help those struggling with pandemic impacts, while others questioned the status quo, speaking out against racial inequities and violence against Blacks and African Americans. Others showed confidence without attitude in sharing expertise and skills to help small businesses or solve other problems related to the pandemic. And we were all reminded to be students always as we adapted to life online.
While 2020 challenged us in many ways, it also taught us that a global pandemic can bring out the best in ourselves and our community, and there is a lot worth recognizing—and even celebrating—as the year comes to a close. Here’s what we’ll remember.
Black Lives Matter
As waves of protests swept the country in response to the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, Haas community members spoke out publicly about violence against Blacks and African Americans, sharing deeply personal narratives of anguish, frustration, and devastation. “If you read no further, understand this,” wrote Marco T. Lindsey, associate director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Berkeley Haas, in a widely shared letter to the community. ”Black Lives Matter = if anyone kills a Black person, their punishment should be the same as if they killed someone from any other race.” Responding to BLM, students, faculty, and staff rallied together, leaning on each other for support. They raised funds to rebuild damaged Black-owned businesses and for racial equity organizations, and embarked on personal journeys toward allyship through campus study groups, anti-racist challenges for students and staff, and “Ask Me Anything” sessions.
Students stepping up
Among the notable 2020 projects were the Berkeley Community Business Partnership, led by Lokilani Hunt, MBA 22. As president of the group, Hunt led 60 MBA students who worked with local community groups to offer consulting support to small Bay Area businesses. Their work ranged from organizing a worker-owned cooperative for struggling restaurants to developing new financing pipelines for women-owned businesses to helping small grocers build their online presence and upgrade their payment systems. The effort builds on a project launched last spring by theSustainable and Impact Finance (SAIF) initiative at Berkeley Haas. Meanwhile, Peter Gallager, EWMBA 22, a member of the University Development & Alumni Relations fundraising team, helped raise $10 million in three weeks for a pop-up coronavirus testing lab at the Innovative Genomics Institute. Raising that kind of capital can take months or even years to accomplish in normal times. “I’ve never experienced anything like that, but these are unprecedented times and people are responding in unprecedented ways,” he said.
Janet Yellen nominated for Treasury Secretary
Berkeley Haas Prof. Emeritus Janet Yellen’s career has been brilliant, groundbreaking, and defined by a commitment to public service. Among her many accomplishments: She was the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, she chaired the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, and she taught thousands of Berkeley Haas MBA and undergraduate students from 1980 to 2006. Now poised to become President-elect Biden’s lead economic advisor at one the nation’s most challenging periods, Yellen is expected to be a champion for all those facing the economic devastation of the pandemic.
Former Dean Laura Tyson, professor of the graduate school and her longtime close colleague, told the Financial Times that Yellen is driven by neither the “power” nor the “kudos” of the position. “She is doing it to serve the public, through the tools she has to understand economic issues.”
The passing of faculty greats
Nobel laureate Oliver Williamson, a pioneer of organizational economics, passed away on May 21 at age 87. Williamson, known to friends and colleagues as Olly, shared the 2009 prize in economics with political scientist Elinor Ostrom of Indiana University for his insight on the “make-or-buy”decision—the process by which businesses choose whether to outsource a process, service, or manufacturing function. “Williamson’s work permanently changed how economists view organizations,” said Prof. Rich Lyons, who was dean when Williamson won the Nobel. “Yet for all of his intellectual creativity, I most often think of Olly as a person who lifts others.”
Last month we also lost Prof. Emeritus George Strauss, who passed away Nov. 27 at age 97. An icon in the field of industrial relations who served as a professor from 1960 until 1991, Strauss helped establish Haas as an organizational theory powerhouse starting in the 1960s. He was a prolific researcher and top scholar of organizational behavior, unions, workplace participation, and comparative industrial relations.
The scramble to move online
On March 9, it was all-hands-on-deck after Chancellor Carol Christ announced the campus would suspend in-person classes to control the spread of the novel coronavirus. Haas had to move 270 classes online virtually overnight. Faculty members scrambled to adapt, with Haas Digital, graduate student instructors, and other staff working overtime to support them. Those with more experience online stepped up to help colleagues. The work continued all summer, as faculty and staff worked to re-imagine classes, learn online pedagogy, and pre-record asynchronous material, while Haas invested in new technology. Dean Ann Harrison commended the efforts. “After watching our faculty and staff move within 36 hours to online teaching when the coronavirus broke out, I believe there’s little that we can’t do virtually going forward.”
Financial creativity to save small businesses
The Haas School of Business and Berkeley Law came together to play a critical role in developing the State of California’s new fund to support small businesses devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. The California Rebuilding Fund, a new public-private partnership operated by the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz), uses government capital to attract private lenders to offer low-interest loans to small businesses—particularly the smallest firms and entrepreneurs from communities that have been historically disenfranchised. Professors Laura Tyson and Adair Morse contributed their finance and policy expertise to the innovative design of the fund. “The state put many groups together to try to get the best of the best ideas,” said Morse, the Soloman P. Lee Chair in Business Ethics. “We all came together to try to optimize a plan for the people of California.”
Haas had a banner year for welcoming new leaders to the Dean’s suite, including Loretta Ezeife, chief financial officer; Howie Avery, assistant dean for Development & Alumni Relations; Michele de Nevers, in the newly-created position of executive director of sustainability programs, and Michelle Marquez, assistant dean of Human Resources. On the faculty side, nine new professors, including five women, joined Haas. The diverse, international group hails from Italy, Argentina, France, China, Canada, and California.
Pride in our big wins
Alum Collin Morikawa, BS 19, stunned the golf world last August by winning the PGA Championship, making history as one of the tournament’s youngest winners. Highlights from our many student competitions this year include a FTMBA team win at the Berkeley Haas Spring 2020 Tech Challenge, and a first-place FTMBA finish at the inauguralOxford Global Private Equity Challenge in March. Yashoraj Tyagi and Akshay Gupta, both MFE 20, took first-place wins in the Moody’s Analytics competition. And another team of MFE students won first place in theCitadel West Coast Datathon. Eugene Kim, Zhuoran Li, Zixuan Chen, and Chen Su, all EWMBA 23, won the inaugural John E. Martin Healthcare Tech Challenge.
David Teece was inducted into the Thinkers50 Hall of Fame today, joining management greats Peter Drucker, Clay Christenson, Michael Porter, and his long-time collaborator Ikujiro Nonaka, PhD 82.
London-based Thinkers50 recognizes distinguished thinkers who have made outstanding contributions to the knowledge of management. Teece will be recognized during a virtual induction event on September 18, 2020.
Teece, the Thomas W. Tusher Professor in Global Business and Faculty Director of the Tusher Center for The Management of Intellectual Capital, focuses on how firms innovate in the global marketplace and how they need to be managed in order to survive in rapidly changing business contexts.
Teece is considered an authority on the theory of firm and strategic management. He coined the term “dynamic capabilities” to describe a business enterprise’s ability to mold assets to respond to changing technologies and markets. His research also spans the economics of technological change, knowledge management, technology transfer, antitrust economics, and innovation.
During the event, Teece described the golden thread throughout his work as a form of entrepreneurial thinking, a mindset of the need to embrace opportunity while being able to manage in a world of deep uncertainty in which you can’t plan the future. “You have to adapt to it and shape it,” he said.
“There is a big school about adaptation and a big school about entrepreneurship, but no one had brought really these two sets of ideas together, and that’s what led to my concept of dynamic capabilities,” he added. Going forward he seeks to bring this thinking to public policy and international development.
In addition to his scholarly work, Teece is the co-founder of the Berkeley Research Group, a global strategic advisory and expert consulting firm with 40 offices and over 1000 employees worldwide.
The Berkeley Haas Full-time MBA Class of 2020 has shown “real grit and resilience” with leaders who embody the Defining Leadership Principles, Dean Ann Harrison said today in a video made for grads.
“I want to thank you for staying engaged and for your positive spirit,” Harrison said. “Many of you went above and beyond. From student startups that quickly pivoted to provide much-needed supplies for COVID-19 to classmates who kept you sane with yoga and mindfulness classes or entertainment, baking, and movie tips.”
Student speaker Joe Sutkowski praised the”courage of Haasies” in his speech. (Read an interview with Sutkowski here)
“Over the past months of shelter in place I’ve witnessed an online community emerge that’s every bit as vibrant as the community I fell in love with many months ago,” he said. “I’ve seen the courage of Haasies donating their time to the less fortunate…I’ve seen resilience in our professors and our faculty. I’ve heard humor through Zoom and Slack channels.”
Individual Haas alumni then took turns congratulating the class, offering advice, and wished them well.
Full-time MBA award winners
Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching: Kimberly MacPherson, who taught three courses this academic year. Unlocking Digital Innovation in Healthcare, Commercializing Biotech and Pharma, and Healthcare in the 21st Century.
GSI award: PhD student Livia Alfonsi, who was the GSI for Aaron Bodoh-Creed’s Microeconomics class.
Adam Burgess, MBA 20, was also named the best GSI in the EWMBA program.
Academic Achievement Award: Brian Shain, the MBA student with the highest GPA.
Defining Leadership Principles (DLP) award winners:
Question the Status Quo: Evan Wright
Confidence without Attitude: Celeste Fa’ai’uaso
Students Always: Nina Ho
Beyond Yourself: Benny Johnson
Berkeley Leaders: Molly Zeins & Ezgi Karaagac
Also celebrating this month were 11 Berkeley Haas PhD students who are slated to graduate this year. Nine of the PhD grads are heading to jobs in academia and two landed positions in industry both in the U.S. and abroad. Read more here.
It was the first day of a week-long backpacking trip to Patagonia last January, a trip where Shannon Eliot and eight of her classmates were finally going to test lessons learned in their Extreme Leadership class at Berkeley Haas.
Their goal was to reach Cordillera Arturo Prat, a mountain peak just outside Torres Del Paine National Park, but not long after leaving base camp, Eliot, EWMBA 20, slipped on a log and fell backwards into a muddy swamp, twisting her knee on the forest floor. “I thought I would haveto be airlifted out of Chile,” she said as she lay on her back looking up at the Chilean sky. “I asked myself, ‘Why did I come?’”
That question could have led her to abandon the trek. But as she would several times during her final year at Haas, Eliot blocked the pain from her mind and moved forward with the help of her Haas friends, including two of her close classmates, Terrell Baptiste, EWMBA 20, and Brian Bell, MBA 20. “They told me that I was stronger than I thought I was and that I could do it,” Eliot said.
They told me that I was stronger than I thought I was and that I could do it.
“A million tiny knives”
For her grit, determination, and her role as EWMBA Association’s VP of Philanthropy, Eliot, a senior communications manager for Blue Shield of California, will receive the Beyond Yourself award at graduation Friday. It’s one of four Defining Leadership Principles awards given to students who embody the spirit of Haas and have made a lasting impact on the community. Eliot is being honored for leading ethically and responsibly and putting larger interests above her own.
Just months before the Patagonia trek, Eliot was almost convinced the trip would not be possible. Three days after her birthday in August, Eliot awoke from an afternoon nap unable to stand with a feeling of “a million tiny knives stabbing me in the back,” she said.
Doctors diagnosed Eliot with rhabdomyolysis, a breakdown of muscle tissue that causes myoglobin, or muscle protein, to enter the bloodstream. This “freak accident,” she said, was a rare side effect of a prescribed medication she took.
For five months, Eliot, who is also a part-time Pilates instructor, tapped into her training to restore the muscles in her lower back. By December, Eliot had gained enough strength to walk on a treadmill with a 25-pound backpack — just enough weight to convince herself that she could make it to Patagonia.
An athlete’s recovery
Anyone who knows Eliot wouldn’t have been surprised to learn how determined she was to restore her physical health. From being an elite soccer player as a teen to racing for UC San Diego’s collegiate cycling team to teaching Pilates, Eliot has always been a lifelong athlete who has pushed her body to the max.
That fitness level and mental perseverance ultimately helped her to complete the Patagonia trek.
After her knee injury, Eliot got back on her feet and marched forward. For six days, she hiked on a sprained knee for 10 hours carrying a 52-pound backpack and camping atop of an icy mountain in high winds.
“Despite spraining her knee, Shannon was still able to keep a positive attitude and motivate our team to finish the trip,” Baptiste said. “She has a lot of grit.”
Eliot is working towards a role in management consulting following graduation. She’d also like to launch an online Pilates studio to help people remain physically fit in the age of the coronavirus.
“I’m so excited for the future and I have Haas—and especially my Haas family—to thank for it,” Eliot said. “Their unwavering support and endless encouragement are the secret sauce to my success.”
As a freshman at UC Berkeley, Celia “Cubbie” Kile, BS 20, became interested in studying business while managing the Cal Men’s Swimming & Diving team, alongside Coach Dave Durden.
“Going into Haas I thought I wanted to pursue sports management,” said Kile, who pivoted at the start of junior year to pursue finance. Kile’s success as a business major led to a top honor this year, as the recipient of the Departmental Citation for Outstanding Achievement. Every year, the award goes to the graduating senior with the highest GPA.
“I feel so honored to win,” said Kile, who is also a coxswain for the Cal Women’s Rowing Team. “I’m surrounded by students who strive to the highest caliber, so receiving this award is just incredible.”
Kile, who will graduate May 18 with a 4.0 GPA, will work for Altamont Capital Partners, a private equity firm in Palo Alto, starting in August.
At Haas, Kile took advantage of every opportunity that would prepare her for a career in private equity and venture capital, including networking with MBAs, seeking mentors through the alumni database, and doing an independent study that explored the intersection of healthcare and business with Stephen Etter, a member of the Haas professional faculty, who often advises student athletes.
Kile said Etter, who convinced her to pursue finance instead of sports management, completely changed the trajectory of her life. “He’s my biggest inspiration,” she said.
She said she shifted to finance, drawn by the good that money can do. “If you target it to something that’s beneficial to all, you can make a larger impact on society,” she said.
Etter said Kile “is an amazing woman who excelled in and out of the classroom,” with boundless energy. “It’s as if she cloned herself or created the 30-hour day,” he said. “Everything she did was at an exceptional level.”
Among her proudest moments while at Haas was spearheading a Women in Finance Speaker Series, attended by finance executives who spoke about their career paths.
Kile is not only a standout student, she has also served as a coxswain for Berkeley’s Women’s Rowing Team. Rowing, she said, has taught her patience, resilience, discipline, and how to lead a team–essential skills for a career in private equity.
“Being a cox, it takes a lot of leadership and communication skills,” Kile said. “You have to have a fire within you and the ability to have trust from others and for others to trust you.”
Coming to Berkeley and enrolling at Haas has been one of the best decisions she has ever made, she said.
“Berkeley has given me so much,” she said. “It’s made me who I am today and I’m very happy about where I’m going in the future.”
Before arriving at Haas, Ha Du, MBA 21, worked at J.P. Morgan for more than four years, first as an analyst in asset management, and then as an associate supporting the company’s CFO on financial analysis and business management.
Now, Du is deep in a career transition to investment banking, which she believes will let her build on skills she has developed so far.
“I enjoy solving problems for clients and I want to work on complex financial transactions and help companies to think through their strategies,” says Du, who is one of 13 full-time MBA students named as 2019 Finance Fellows at Haas.
An international group
The 2019 Finance Fellows are an especially international group, coming from the United Kingdom, Canada, India, Singapore, Vietnam, Brazil, and the U.S., notes William Rindfuss, executive director of strategic programs for the Haas Finance Group. Student interest grew this year, particularly in the area of entrepreneurial finance, in which a record six students with career goals in venture capital, impact investing, and fintech won fellowships. One student, Boris Wang, is already working to launch fintech startup Valuation Inc.
These 2019 Finance Fellows named last month include:
Investment Banking Fellowship: Trevor Cleary, Ha Du, Sameer Goyal
Investment Management & Quantitative Finance Fellowship: Julian Downey, Steven Gan
Entrepreneurial Finance: Dalmia Akshay, Huai-Ping (Andy) Chen, Julian Darby, Erika Hirata, Rahul Venkateshwara, Dai Shi (Boris) Wang
C&J White Fellows: (selected last winter) Daniel Cerda and Anjani Vedula
Haas awards Finance Fellowships every year to full-time MBA students, who apply for the awards. Fellows receive a cash grant and priority enrollment for electives and are also assigned a mentor, usually a Haas alum working in finance, who provides career advice and support. Candidates are evaluated on their experience and preparation in their stated area of interest, the clarity of their goals and career plans, and interviews.
Julian Darby, MBA 21, worked in investment banking in London before arriving at Haas, but said he found his passion through volunteer work as a board member at a school in an underprivileged neighborhood. The school had a financial education program for elementary students to teach them the habit of saving. “The older children acted as bank tellers and the younger ones were rewarded for the frequency of deposits, rather than the amount,” Darby recalled, adding that parents noticed and in turn asked the school principal about learning good financial habits themselves.
Seeing the parents’ response sparked his interest in financial inclusion to help individuals find ways to save, pay down debt, and manage expenses, he said. Darby hopes eventually to work for an organization, likely in fintech, that drives individual financial independence.
The award, established in 2007, recognizes a strategy scholar who has demonstrated outstanding commitment to PhD and doctoral education, as well as ongoing development of junior colleagues. The awards committee recognized Mowery’s exceptional contributions to the field of strategy through mentoring PhD students, who have excelled to become top scholars of the field.
“In the early 2000s until his retirement, many people (very rightly) regarded David as the top PhD advisor in the econ-based strategy field. Mowery student after Mowery student got top jobs at top schools, and most of us have blossomed,” wrote one former student in the award nomination. ”David did this by carefully reading our papers, giving us very sound advice, and most of all, being someone who didn’t try to influence our direction—unless we were struggling with direction—but instead tried to influence the quality of our work.”
The Irwin Reception included speeches from several of Mowery’s former students, who spoke about the impact he had on their careers. More than (two dozen?) of Mowery’s former students attended.
Mowery, a member of the Haas Business & Public Policy Group, is the William A. & Betty H. Hasler Professor Emeritus. His research contributions are in the areas of economics of innovation and technological change, strategic management of technology and innovation, and international trade policy and technology policy. He has authored or co-authored 19 books and over 100 academic articles in numerous top journals. He has served as assistant to the counselor, Office of the United States Trade Representative, and as a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Adj. Prof. Henry Chesbrough recognized for leadership in technology management
The award honors individual who have provided leadership in managing technology by establishing a vision, providing a strategic direction, and facilitating the implementation of strategies for that vision. It was established in 1991.
Villas-Boas was honored at the INFORMS Marketing Science Conference in Rome, Italy in June.
The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS)
aims to foster the development, dissemination, and implementation of knowledge, basic and applied research, and science and technologies that improve the understanding and practice of marketing.
Villas-Boas has published extensively in competitive strategy, design of marketing organizations, distribution channels, customer relationship management, customer recognition, product line design, and industrial organization. His research has appeared in several journals, including Marketing Science, Management Science, Journal of Economic Theory, RAND Journal of Economics, Journal of Marketing Research, and Journal of Economics and Management Strategy.
Villas-Boas shares the 2019 INFORMS award with Prof. Peter E. Rossi of UCLA.
Prof. Ernesto Dal Bó and Assoc. Prof. Frederico Finan win best paper award
Prof. Ernesto Dal Bó and Prof. Frederico Finan received the 2019 Williamson Award at the 2019 Society for Institutional and Organizational Economics (SIOE) conference.
The award was given to the best paper of the annual SIOE conference, held June 27-29 in Stockholm, Sweden. The paper, “Economic Losers and Political Winners: Sweden’s Radical Right,” is available here.
The award was named for Nobel Laureate and Berkeley Haas Prof. Emeritus Oliver Williamson.
Connie & Kevin Chou Hall has earned the third in a trifecta of green building credentials: a WELL Certification recognizing its “strong commitment to supporting human health, well-being, and comfort.”
The certification comes on the heels of two others the building has received over the past year from Green Business Certification Inc. (GBSI). It achieved TRUE Zero Waste Certification at the highest possible level and LEED Platinum Certification for its architectural design, construction, and energy efficiency.
“From the start of the Chou Hall construction project, we focused on building a student-centric academic space that reflected our school’s unique culture and how we value sustainable impact,” said Courtney Chandler, senior assistant dean and chief operating & strategy officer of the Haas School. “Being the first academic building to be WELL Certified, and the greenest academic building in the country, exemplifies our Defining Leadership Principles in action.”
“It’s particularly rewarding to cap off the building certification journey with the last of these three certifications,” said Walter Hallanan, BS 72, who has managed the Chou Hall project as well as the school’s Master Plan Project. “We’re breaking new ground with Chou Hall. It’s a significant achievement that sets an example for the Berkeley campus, particularly with regard to the LEED and WELL certification.”
Attention to many details
WELL Certified spaces are designed to improve the overall health of the people who use the building, by addressing areas such as nutrition, fitness, mood, sleep patterns, and performance of the building occupants. Design details include everything from the solar panels that provide energy to the building to the fact that as much outside air as possible is funneled into the building’s interior.
The WELL Certified credential is the culmination of literally years of detailed planning and design. “There are hundreds of requirements you have to comply with,” Hallanan said.
Certification officials toured Chou Hall for performance verification site visits in December 2018 and June 2019 to get a sense of the building’s environment.
“The level of detail and thought that went into the design and construction of the space and flow throughout Chou Hall contribute to the overall feeling,” Chandler said. “It’s not an accident that when people come to Spieker Forum—our top floor event space with huge windows and amazing views—they often say it feels like they’re in a tree house.”
An innovative funding model
Another novel aspect of the building was its funding model that enabled greater efficiency and cost savings. A private nonprofit fund, the Partnership for Haas Preeminence, chaired by Ned Spieker, BS 66; Walter Hallanan, BS 72; and former Dean Rich Lyons, BS 82, raised the donations and managed design and construction in tandem before donating the completed building back to the university last year.
Chou Hall is the core of the Haas Master Plan Project, which also included the new courtyard and the addition of cooling to Cheit Hall. The student-centered building includes classroom and meeting spaces, the state-of-the-art Spieker Forum event space, and a cafe at the courtyard level.
Chou Hall provided much-needed space at Haas, where enrollment has nearly doubled over the past 20 years.
It is named for Kevin Chou, BS 02, and his wife, Dr. Connie Chen, in recognition of their donation: the largest personal gift by an alum under the age of 40 in UC Berkeley’s history.
“I am proud of what we’ve accomplished,” Chandler said. “What I love hearing most is how the building makes people feel. That’s what people are going to remember.”
Four Haas students—with career goals ranging from starting an investment fund to helping to grow immigrant-run businesses—have been awarded scholarships by The Financial Women of San Francisco.
A total of 13 undergraduate and graduate students were honored at a June 7 gathering at the City Club in San Francisco. The 30-year-old scholarship program was created to honor women leaders who are pursuing careers in finance, and the scholarships all include a pairing with a mentor
Jie Wang, MBA 20, a native of China who received a $15,000 scholarship, holds both an English literature degree from Nanjing Normal University and a master’s in accountancy from the University of Notre Dame. She previously worked as an international tax consultant at Deloitte. At Haas, she is the vice president of communications for the Asia Business Club and teaches federal income tax as a graduate student instructor.
Having lived mostly in the South and Midwest, she said she was drawn to the Bay Area for its job opportunities and the chance to make an impact. “Lots of exciting things are happening here,” said Wang, who is interning as an investment banking associate for Deutsche Bank in San Francisco this summer and is interested in the long-term in working on educational development for underprivileged women.
Three undergraduates, Sally Liang, Deeksha Chaturvedi, and Kyung Hee Egoian, all BS 20, were each awarded $10,000 scholarships.
Liang has worked as a finance coordinator for the UC Berkeley student-run Basic Needs Center. She said she’s dedicated to continuing her work in food security and holistic wellness in a nonprofit field.
“Investing my skillsets in a nonprofit would be a good way to put my business education to use and help the next generation resolve their basic needs insecurities so they can become more well-equipped during and after college,” she said.
Last summer, Liang was a finance operations intern at Tesla. This summer, she’s interning with PriceWaterhouseCoopers in corporate tax and plans to get her CPA license after graduation.
Chaturvedi, president of the Berkeley Women in Business club, will be interning this summer in San Francisco at Goldman Sachs’ investment banking division and aspires to run her own investment fund.
She said she is interested in gender equity and helping domestic violence victims gain financial independence. “I started volunteering with human trafficking victims and this opened my eyes to the injustices many women in our community face,” Chaturvedi said.
For Egoian, pursuing higher education has been a life-long dream. Formal education wasn’t an option in the small town in Korea where she grew up, she said. Studying finance became her passion and focus when she moved to the US.
While raising her two children, Egoian worked for 13 years as a finance and administration manager at Save the Bay, a nonprofit aiming to restore and protect SF Bay for wildlife and people. After graduating from Haas, she plans to continue using her business and finance knowledge to help immigrant-run small businesses grow and succeed.
“I enjoyed my work so much that I never once looked at the clock to see if it was time to go home,” said Egoian. “I loved helping people, my staff, and working for a cause to improve our community.”
The AAA award is given annually to work published within five years that has been evaluated for its uniqueness and potential magnitude of contribution to accounting education, practice and/or future accounting research; breadth of potential interest; originality and innovation, clarity and organization of exposition; and soundness and appropriateness of methodology.
The award, which is sponsored by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), will be presented at the AAA Annual Meeting in San Francisco on August 14.
Konchitchki is a tenured associate professor Haas Accounting Group. His expertise is in the interdisciplinary links between financial reporting and analysis, capital markets, and macroeconomics. His work focuses on the modeling and resolution of real-world problems aimed at enhancing decision making, dealing with topics such as inflation, economic fluctuations/growth, monetary policy, real estate, inequality, and national accounting. He is a founder of the new research field of Macro-Accounting. Konchitchki has been recognized for his research and teaching as a Bakar Faculty Fellow, a Hellman Fellow, and a Schwabacher Fellow for distinguished research excellence; two Cheit Awards for Distinguished Teaching Excellence; Poets & Quants’ “World’s Top 40 Under 40”; and the American Accounting Association’s Financial Accounting and Reporting Section Best Paper Award.
Patatoukas is also a tenured associate professor in the Haas Accounting Group, and the L.H. Penney Chair in Accounting. His work focuses on interdisciplinary capital markets research and informs “micro-to-macro” and “macro-to-micro” questions bridging the gap between academics and practitioners. He was honored with the 2018 Distinguished Teaching Award, which is the highest teaching award bestowed by the University of California, Berkeley; the 2017 AAA/AICPA Notable Contributions to Accounting Literature Award; and the 2011 American Accounting Association Competitive Manuscript Award. He was also selected as a “Top-10 Business School Professor Under 40” by Fortune. He is the founding faculty director of the Berkeley executive education program on Financial Data Analysis.
During his MBA orientation two years ago, Daniel Clayton heard something that grabbed his attention: if space was available, MBA students could enroll in data-intensive Master of Financial Engineering program classes like Financial Innovation, Dynamic Asset Management, Investments & Derivatives, and Behavioral Finance.
Clayton, MBA 19, jumped at the chance. “It was an awesome opportunity,” said Clayton, who is a CFA charterholder, and had worked in finance for six years before heading to Berkeley for his MBA. “I set the goal early that I should try to graduate with three or more of these courses to add more quantitative skills to my strong finance base. It’s the ‘quants’ who will be key to the future of the investment field by driving markets, developing new and innovative investment strategies, and disrupting decades-old industries.”
The top-ranked MFE program trains an elite group of students in financial engineering and data science, many who go on to work at top banks, tech companies, and startups. Since 2001, when the MFE program launched, a select number of its courses have opened up to MBA students to provide an opportunity to deepen their knowledge of quantitative finance and data analytics, preparing them for a job market that increasingly demands these skills, said Linda Kreitzman, executive director of the MFE program. On average, five MBA students take one or more courses each year.
“I saw this coming years ago and, in the future, the MBAs will need to be more data science savvy,” Kreitzman said. “It’s a critical need in the very near future; why we don’t have more MBA students taking our courses is quite surprising to me.”
For taking at least three MFE courses, Clayton was recognized along with Michael Bausback, also MBA 19, at the March 2019 MFE commencement.
The start of “a more studied experiment”
While the typical MBA student does not take the most quantitative and programming-intensive MFE classes such as Stochastic Calculus and Asset Backed Security Markets, they are able to enroll in the more qualitative courses.
In 2013, MBA student Benjamin Cooper fully capitalized on that opportunity. As a CJ White Finance Fellow, Cooper was matched with an alumnus as his mentor in his area of focus within finance, global asset allocation. “This was the start of a more studied experiment for MBAs taking MFE courses,” said William Rindfuss, executive director of strategic programs in the Haas Finance Group. “The mentor’s first bit of advice was to take as many MFE courses as possible. Ben wound up taking five MFE courses over his two years, and really kicked off this idea of MBAs leveraging the MFE program—literally under the same roof—to expand their training and set of opportunities in the more quantitative ends of finance.”
Cooper, MBA 15, now works as a multi-asset strategist at Wellington Management in London.
Exploring machine learning and quantitative finance
Bausback and Clayton shared similar goals in taking MFE courses: to challenge themselves in the quantitative side of finance.
Bausback, who worked in economic consulting before he came to Haas at a job that required financial modeling and knowledge of trading derivatives, took courses that would prepare him with a deeper, most up-to-date set of finance skills. “I now have the confidence to explore and interact with the fields of machine learning and quantitative finance, both of which seemed inaccessible prior to the program,” said Bausback, who will work at Morgan Stanley as an associate in its Tech Investment Banking office after graduating. “Coming out of the program I realize I had never fully appreciated how financial markets actually work, how prices are driven on a day-to-day basis—and how human biases affect that more than a math model will ever tell you.”
Clayton said he added the most value as a member of the MFE student teams by developing qualitative analysis based on data the MFE students crunched. “Once they coded everything I could interpret the results, articulate the findings clearly, and suggest additional analysis,” he said. “The MBA and MFE skill sets actually complement one another nicely.”
One of the biggest takeaways of taking MFE courses was learning to work with engineers, he said. “I still can’t code in Python or do Stochastic calculus but I do now know how to communicate with financial engineers and understand the kind of analysis they are capable of producing. In the future, I will have a better appreciation for what goes into this kind of work and what is possible, which will make me much more valuable in the finance world.”
Kellogg Real Estate Conference and Venture Competition winners: (l-r) Stefan “Steve” Jeitler, LL.M 19; Kyle Raines MBA 21; Esmond Ai, MBA 20; Nithya Rathinam, MBA 21; Hind Katkhuda, MBA 20; and Julia McElhinney, MRED+D 19. Photo: Kellogg School of Management.
The competition, hosted April 10 at Northwestern University at the Kellogg School’s Guthrie Center for Real Estate Research, aims to encourage entrepreneurial real estate ventures.
Nine international semi-finalist teams were asked to create a scalable, profitable real estate business—complete with supporting financials and profit projections—that would transcend traditional real estate and help solve urban and social issues.
The Berkeley team included Esmond Ai, MBA 20, Kyle Raines, MBA 21, and Nithya Rathinam, MBA 21, all students in the Evening and Weekend MBA Program. They were joined by teammates Hind Katkhuda, FT-MBA 20; Julia McElhinney, MRED+D 19, who is earning a master’s degree in real estate development and design from Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design; and Stefan “Steve” Jeitler, LL.M 19, a master of laws candidate at Berkeley School of Law.
Raines said their proposed real estate venture, named Click + Mortar, would provide secure delivery options through package pick-up centers—and help businesses that sell mostly online to benefit from small, short-term brick-and-mortar presences in key urban centers.
“We see the social and economic challenges of empty Bay Area retail spaces every day,” McElhinney said. “So we wanted to create a viable and scalable business that would address this issue locally, drive profits, and offer opportunities to expand to other urban areas facing the same challenges.”
“An incredibly creative solution”
The team spent four months researching the concept, talking to developers, property managers, e-tailers like Sugarfina and Ministry of Supply, and package locker providers. The idea includes signing discounted, long-term master leases in large, vacant retail spaces; adding package lockers to part of the space; and filling the remaining area with small, short-term retail lots.
“Our students found an incredibly creative solution to an intractable problem,” said their faculty adviser, real estate Professor Nancy Wallace, co-chair of the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics. “Their idea is so compelling that they’ve already found real property owners and clients who are willing to sign on if Click + Mortar launches.”
The team members are currently considering how best to bring this business idea to fruition. They have seed capital from the competition’s $25,000 cash prize and an additional $75,000 to apply toward co-working space and legal and accounting professional services. In addition, several investors who attended the event have already requested pitch decks.
Before the competition, Rathinam said she believed that real estate offered a limited range of traditional career paths. “With Click + Mortar, I now have an opportunity to start off on my own and build something that is very unique and that solves an important urban issue all at once,” she said.
This is the latest in a string of Haas real estate wins. This week, another Haas team won the NAIOP San Francisco Bay Area Real Estate Challenge, dubbed the “Golden Shovel” competition, for the second year in a row. In December, a Haas team took the top prize at the University of Texas McCombs’ National Real Estate Case Challenge.
Prof. Nancy Wallace has been honored with UC Berkeley’s prestigious 2019 Berkeley Faculty Service Award for making a lasting and significant impact—particularly by helping the campus navigate complex financial and real estate issues.
The award is bestowed by the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate on faculty whose “outstanding and dedicated service to the campus, and whose activities as a faculty member have significantly enhanced the quality of the campus as an educational institution and community of scholars.”
Wallace, the Lisle and Roslyn Payne Chair in Real Estate Capital Markets and chair of the Haas Real Estate Group, shares the honor this year with Spanish Prof. Ignacio Navarrete of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.
“During the past 10 years, Nancy has devoted extraordinary time and energy to the campus’s day-to-day well-being,” wrote Anthony Long, chair of the Academic Senate’s Committee on Faculty Awards and an emeritus professor of classics and literature.
Wallace, a prominent expert on the residential mortgage market, mortgage-related securities, and pricing models, helped the campus with a “series of onerous financial issues,” including the budget for intercollegiate athletics, advising on strategic banking relationships, and a sustainable funding model for the Lower Sproul Plaza redevelopment project.
In 2008, she was recruited by the UC Office of the President to serve on the Systemwide Committee on UC Faculty Mortgage Programs. She was also drafted to play a major role in the financial planning for Memorial Stadium, helping to deliver a blueprint for expanding the stadium’s uses.
Prof. Candi Yano, Haas Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Chair of the Faculty, along with Prof. Richard Stanton wrote in a letter of support that in addition to her campus service, Wallace goes far beyond herself at Haas.
“Very few faculty are so committed to the campus that they are willing to invest long hours and their intellectual prowess in improving the financial stability of the campus. We note that Nancy is equally dedicated in her service to the Haas School, where she has served as Chair of the Real Estate group essentially ‘forever’,” they wrote.
In addition to her service on campus, Wallace has served on the Federal Reserve’s Model Validation Council and the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Research Advisory Committee.
A team of Berkeley MBA students took first place at the 16th annualNational Real Estate Case Challenge for their creative investment strategy surrounding a new commercial property.
The prestigious finance-based competition, hosted by the University of Texas McCombs School of Business last month, charged 20 teams from the top MBA programs with analyzing a real estate investment case and presenting a recommendation before a panel of industry leaders.
For three of the six Haas team members—Matthew Hines, MBA 19; Robert Kelly, MBA 20; and Mark Trainer, Master of City Planning (MCP) 19—the win comes just months after participating on a team of students that took back the Golden Shovel real estate award from Stanford. The other National Real Estate Case Challenge team members—Claire Collery, MBA 19, Joe Dembesky, MBA 19, and Mike Wiedman, MBA 20— participated in their first competition. The team took home $10,000 in Haas’ first win since 2009.
Case sponsor Invesco asked teams of six to figure out the best way to use money generated from a new commercial real estate construction project. The options given were to keep the building in the portfolio with no change to existing financing; keep the building in the portfolio but refinance the loan on it; sell the building and return the profits to investors; or sell the building and invest the profits in building a new property.
Questioning the status quo, the Haas team came up with a different option.
“We questioned why there were only four options given, and we began to suspect there was a hidden fifth option,” Hines said. The team proposed refinancing the existing building and combining the savings with additional money in the private equity fund to invest in building a new property.
The Berkeley Haas team spent nearly three months preparing for the competition during an independent study course taught by LecturerBill Falik, a managing partner with Westpark Community Builders, andAbigail Franklin, an investment banking and real estate student adviser. Students in the class practiced solving sample cases each week and presented to guest judges, including former competition participants and local finance and real estate professionals. The format helped build competence, cohesion and confidence, Dembesky said.
Judges said they were impressed with Berkeley’s presentation, which called for role playing, creativity and financial acumen.
“I was playing the role of the fund manager, and Matthew [Hines] burst onto the scene from the development team and pushed for funding the second building,” Collery said. One of the judges told the team that the performance felt like being in a real investment committee meeting, Dembesky said.
A team of Berkeley MBA students bested groups from seven schools to win the annual Berkeley Haas Tech Challenge for their plan to educate city government officials on how new technologies can support initiatives that improve quality of life and efficiency.
The 2018 Berkeley Haas Tech Challenge, called “Big Data and the City of Tomorrow,” was held Nov. 8-10.
The winning Haas team included Bryan Chiang, Catherine Hsieh, Max Kubicki, and Cori Land, all MBA 19s. Haas took home the $5,000 first-place award for the second year in a row.
The challenge called on students to come up with a plan to entice city government officials to adopt Amazon Web Services (AWS) to create smart cities. Smart cities use data and communications technologies to increase efficiency, share information with the public, and improve the quality of government services and public safety. Example projects include monitoring and managing traffic signals remotely, using a software platform that tracks the real-time availability of spaces in parking lots, and implementing a lighting-management system that allows cities to monitor energy efficiency and maintenance needs.
The Haas team began the Tech Challenge case by asking: Who are the customers, what do they care about, and how can AWS meet them where they are?
“We tested each of our ideas against whether or not it ultimately solved a problem for people,” Land said. “If not, we rejected the idea, and it helped us focus our recommendations.”
The Haas team made recommendations for a website redesign that would provide easy-to-understand smart cities information to non-technical city planners, as well as new certification programs to educate government officials on how they could use AWS.
(Left to right) Max Kubicki, Bryan Chiang, Cori Land, and Catherine Hsieh prepare their presentation. Photos: Benny Johnson.
The team also proposed a dashboard tool to help city officials compare their city services to others that have adopted smart cities technology—and measure the potential return-on-investment for their proposed projects.
Confidence without attitude may have been what set the Haas team apart from competitors. “One judge kept thanking us for admitting we still had some work to do when we better understood some gaps in our plan,” Hsieh said. Another Haas strength was leveraging broader perspectives by assembling a team with different areas of expertise, ranging from finance and energy to design thinking and change management.
Evan Cory and Charlie Cubeta, Tech Challenge co-chairs who organized the competition for the Haas Tech Club, said they received 108 team applications from 15 schools for the competition, a 25 percent increase over last year.
Competing teams included Yale, Kellogg, Columbia, Chicago Booth, MIT Sloan, UCLA, and Wharton. Eight Amazon executives served as coaches and judges.
Both awards will be given during a Dec. 12 ceremony at the Banatao Auditorium in Sutardja Dai Hall from 4-6pm.
“It was a total surprise for me,” said Felkins, who has worked at Haas for 32 years. “It’s just amazing to receive an award for doing something that I love. Working with our students and helping them with their academics as well as their personal problems can be very challenging, but when I see them walk across the stage at our commencement ceremony it’s all worth it.”
“Excellent service and positive energy”
The award, named for the late Mary Slakey Howell, former director of advising and policy at the College of Engineering, is UC Berkeley’s highest for advising excellence. The awards are given annually across campus by the office of the Vice Chancellor of Undergraduate Education, Catherine P. Koshland. They recognize “the positive impact the office has had on student learning, performance, engagement, and progress and the many ways it contributes to a culture of advising excellence on campus.”
The honored undergraduate team includes Felkins, Sojourner Blair, director of admissions; Karren Bautista Tanisaki, assistant director of academic & student services; Renee Camarena, assistant director of student services; Dresden John, student experience manager; Alessandra Fadeff, program manager, admissions; Mary Balingit, assistant director of admissions and outreach; Dinko Lakic, associate director of student services; and Elinor Gregorio, assistant director of academic affairs.
In her nomination form, Erika Walker, assistant dean of the Haas undergraduate program, said the team has “delivered excellent service with positive energy and passion” on a regular basis during a very busy year.
“The team’s applied leadership methods are geared toward helping students become independent learners and effective leaders,” Walker wrote. “I am proud to have a team that supports and advocates for students, and provides equitable service.”
She noted that the office has recently launched and supported multiple new programs, including the Management, Entrepreneurship, & Technology (M.E.T.) program, a simultaneous degree between business and engineering; the BioBusiness simultaneous degree program with molecular and cellular biology; and a new Global Management Program (GMP) for freshmen that embeds global education into the undergraduate experience.
“We always put the student experience first,” Blair said. “I’m honored that the office is being recognized.”
A stellar graduation rate
Walker also nominated Felkins, who began her tenure at Haas as an assistant in Associate Dean David Alhadeff’s office, under former Dean Ray Miles.
“From the smallest innovations to crisis care management, it is because of Barbara that we have a 99 percent graduation rate of business majors,” Walker wrote in her recommendation letter.
In her current role, Felkins oversees student degree progress from admission until graduation, assisting students with class planning, academic, and personal issues. Felkins also works with the faculty, tracking student grades and advising on academic policies. Additionally, she oversees undergraduate commencement and the graduation reception and serves on campus-wide committees, including the Colleges and Schools Committee, Student Systems Policy Committee, and the Advising Operations and Advising Council.
In his nomination letter for Felkins, Jay Stowsky, senior assistant dean of instruction, called her the “longest serving and most deeply knowledgeable student affairs officer at Haas.”
“Her long tenure has been characterized by a unique ability to connect meaningfully and compassionately with individual undergraduate students while simultaneously enforcing fairness in a competitive and complex enrollment system,” Stowsky wrote.
Haas finance Lecturer Steve Etter commended Felkins for her attention to detail, knowledge of the university, and positive disposition with students.
“With ever-changing work and personal schedules, students often turn to Barbara for advice on choosing faculty, classes, and breadth requirements,” Etter wrote in his nomination letter. “I’ve heard so many times from students that Barbara was a life saver when it came to selecting classes and getting through the process.”
Adena Ishii, BS 14, recalled how Felkins helped her when her father was dying during her senior year at Haas, taking the time to sit and listen, and to make recommendations for resources she could access. “She wasn’t afraid to ask about my mental health and make sure that I was getting the help I needed,” she wrote in a recommendation for Felkins. “I wouldn’t have made it to graduation if it wasn’t for her.”
Haas Lecturer Krystal Thomas praised the office’s shift toward helping students with life preparation and management. As an example, she noted Walker’s support for Women’s Empowerment Day over the past six years, an event that brings 100 faculty-nominated students together annually to spend the day with more than a dozen senior business executives. The program evolved out of questions female students were asking about how to handle themselves in professional environments, Thomas said.
Support for the event represents a core tenant of the undergraduate office, Thomas noted: “If you see a problem, solve it.”
Margo Alexander, BS 68, the retired CEO and chairman of UBS Global Asset Management who blazed a trail for women in the financial services industry, was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 17th annual Haas Gala November 2.
The award recognizes members of the Berkeley Haas community who have achieved prominence in their fields. Alexander is the seventh person to be given a Lifetime Achievement Award from Haas, and its first female recipient.
During her career, Alexander was one of the first women to head a large asset management business. She was also the first woman to head a top-ranked research department and to oversee a major trading floor—doing it all while raising two sons with her late husband, Robert.
Haas Interim Dean Laura Tyson underscored the tenacity required to break those glass ceilings. “When Margo began her career, the behavior toward women in the financial services industry was appalling,” Tyson said. “She was able to handle difficult situations, successfully working with men and always trying to mitigate inequities by hiring and supporting women. As she moved through the ranks, she was able to influence how organizations behaved in those arenas.”
“Margo is the best!”
Her influence on employees was profound. “She changed the DNA of the firm,” said Mary C. Farrell, whom Alexander recruited and who retired in 2005 as chief investment strategist for UBS Wealth Management, USA, and co-head of the Wealth Management Research department. “She ran a trading desk full of young guys who said, ‘I’ll never work for a woman.’ Within a year they were saying, ‘Margo is the best!’ She had an extraordinary ability to connect with anyone.”
After retiring from UBS in 2003, Alexander joined Acumen, a global nonprofit changing the way the world tackles poverty by investing in sustainable businesses, leaders, and ideas. Alexander served as board chair for nine years of Acumen’s first decade, and, as chair emeritus, continues as a board member.
Alexander’s traditional financial services expertise complemented Acumen’s social impact mission, said Tyson. “She played a pivotal role in building Acumen’s model.”
To date, Acumen has invested $110 million to build more than 102 social enterprises in countries including Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, Pakistan, India, Colombia, and the U.S. These companies have created and supported 60,000 jobs and brought basic services like affordable education, health care, clean water, energy, and sanitation to more than 200 million people.
Alexander also extends her wisdom and support to Berkeley Haas. She has helped to boost the number of female students at Haas and to create Haas’ Institute for Business & Social Impact. She is on the senior advisory board for the Center for Responsible Business and has served on the Haas School Board since 2001.
Other alumni honored
Three other alumni also received awards at the Gala. Brett Wilson, MBA 07, received the Leading Through Innovation Award. Wilson revolutionized digital advertising by making it more simple, accountable, and transparent as co-founder and CEO of TubeMogul.
Wilson began the company with fellow student John Hughes, MBA 07, in an entrepreneurship class at Haas. The two grew the company into a tour de force, named one of the fastest-growing companies by Inc. and Deloitte and among the best places to work by Fortune, the San Francisco Business Times, and Glassdoor. They finally sold two years ago to Adobe for $540 million. Wilson now serves as Adobe’s VP of advertising and joined Adobe’s board of directors this year.
Also at the Gala, the annual Raymond E. Miles Alumni Service Award was presented to Abbey Breshears, MBA 15, and Brandon Doll, MBA 14, for their outstanding service to the MBA Worldwide Admissions Volunteer Effort (MBA WAVE) at Berkeley Haas.
A team of Master of Financial Engineering (MFE) students took first place in “The Data Open” this month, besting 25 teams who competed across UC Berkeley in the regional data science competition.
The winning team—Li Cao, Pierre Foret, Teddy Legros, and Hosang Yoon, all MFE 19—won $20,000 in the competition semi-final, sponsored by Citadel LLC, a global asset management firm, and operated by data scientist recruiting firm Correlation One.
The Berkeley Haas semi-finalists will travel to the New York Stock Exchange later this fall to compete against top universities for a $100,000 grand prize.
The Sept. 8 competition asked teams to solve a complex problem by analyzing complex data sets.
More than 400 students across UC Berkeley applied to participate, and 100 were accepted. Event organizers grouped the contestants into teams, many of whom—including the winners—had not worked together before.
Choosing a question
The night before the event, the teams were given a description of data sets—data that applied to everything from 311 calls in New York state to restaurant inspection data. The teams were challenged choosing a question and finding the answer in the data.
“Most data science competitions focus on achieving the best possible score for a predefined metric,” Foret said. “In contrast, we had to come up with our own question, which is a lot closer to the type of problems a data scientist has to tackle in the industry.”
The team outlined two goals: identifying the top factors that influence public health in New York state and providing local government officials with policy recommendations based on their analysis.
Working through the night, they prepared code that allowed them to test their hypotheses quickly, so they were able to spend most of the competition time running experiments, analyzing the data, and choosing the most relevant problem to solve.
Legros said their data analysis tracked factors that affect residents’ health, including both traditional socioeconomic ones and several lifestyle considerations—such as smoking habits, eating habits and living conditions—that evolve over time. “Next, we identified clusters of regions where some of these determining lifestyle factors are more dominant. This can help policymakers develop regional proposals to improve the health of residents.”
“It was one of the most intense 24 hours I have spent,” Yoon said. “While the competition itself was short, I really learned a lot from our preparation.”
The judges, announcing the winner, said they impressed by the originality of the team’s question and the strategy to focus on comprehensive view of the factors involved.
The case competition, which was open to all UC Berkeley undergrads, grew out of EGAL’s alliance with customer service software company Zendesk, which recently provided a $1 million gift to the center.
The students were charged with helping Zendesk solve problems with its existing pilot mentorship program, including an imbalance of mentors and mentees, a program that was too short, and inadequate engagement. They were also asked to design the mentorship program to operate on a global scale.
Team Azend’s secret sauce may have been a standout app they developed for the company’s mentoring program. The app, developed around a curriculum and targeted content, allowed both mentors and mentees log in to a home page, check events, connect with each other outside of mentoring sessions, watch videos, and collect data to assess progress. During each quarter, the women participating in the Azend mentoring program would focus on one area, such as “growth and development,” and follow a self-assessment, working toward a goal that included sessions on developing self-confidence through skills such as public speaking.
The project was a true team effort that required many hours of intense work during the week they had to work on the case, said Metz, who is from Romania and transferred to Haas from Diablo Valley College. “Last night Alec, Beta, and Adriana were up until 3 am polishing the slides and making sure the app was working,” she said. “This week was hard. I had interviews (for internships), exams, and working on the case. But everyone did a great job.”
Li, who developed the app using prototyping software he’d used before in class, said everyone on the team had different strengths that made their project come to life.”
Nyquist agreed. “We all brought something to the table,” she said. “I brought the idea for the app and Alec was the brainpower behind putting it together.”
Kate McMahon, a senior director of sales and one of three Zendesk employees judging the case, praised the winning team’s work, noting that it was clear how serious they were about the challenge. “What we loved was the simplicity and how you pulled the challenges into one place,” she said. “We loved the engagement piece. That was a challenge. How do we keep people engaged when they’re not in one-on-one sessions?”
After the winner was announced, the Azend team cheered and hugged.
Vanegas, a transfer student from Irvine Valley College, said she never expected to win. “As transfer students we really didn’t think that we’d be able to live up to the other continuing students so we didn’t believe we’d be here,” she said, adding, “I think one of the best experiences was being up all night and working together and making mistakes.”