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Afraz Khan, MBA 23, blends business strategy and social activism

Afraz Khan, MBA 23, has led a life driven by faith, community engagement, and social activism. Prior to business school, Khan served as an outreach coordinator for the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program and wed interracial and interfaith couples within the Muslim-American community as owner of Muslim Wedding Service. In this interview, Khan, an LA native, discusses his journey to memorize the Quran, his activism and social enterprise work, and why he decided to study business.

What brought you to Haas?

I joined Muslim Wedding Service in 2017 as an officiant. Our focus is providing qualified officiants who work alongside interracial and interfaith couples to craft culturally inclusive wedding experiences for all those in attendance. In 2018, I took over the enterprise and have built it out to a team of about 25 officiants. We conducted 120 weddings last year across the U.S. and, given our business is a social enterprise, we successfully donated $50,000 to nonprofits and social services over the past three years.  My thinking was, “Let me come to business school to get a better sense of how business strategy and revenue models are used to build sustainable funding streams.” The hope is to incorporate that type of approach into social enterprise work, where we can sustainably fund the types of initiatives that would help tackle some of our current social issues.

My thinking was, “Let me come to business school to get a better sense of how business strategy and revenue models are used to build sustainable funding streams.”

Tell us about your family background.

My parents immigrated from North India in the 1980s to Los Angeles, where I was born and raised with an older sister. Growing up, we were pretty attached to the local Muslim community, which was primarily immigrant and South Asian. My parents prioritized faith and building connections with immigrants from that same background.

Afraz Khan weds couples with interfaith backgrounds as owner of Muslim Wedding Service.

How did you connect to America and LA from that space?

Until Kobe and the Lakers, my family had little attachment to American culture. However, we really started getting into basketball in the early 2000s when the Lakers were winning championships. I have a lot of memories of watching games with my family and listening to them on the radio. It helped me feel more connected to the broader American culture claiming the Lakers as a piece of our own. Also pivotal was 9/11, when I was in second grade. After 9/11, there was a push for us to demonstrate more of our patriotism. It was understood that you had to have an American flag in front of your house. I remember people in our community not sending their kids to high school because there were instances of racial targeting and Islamophobia.

How did 9/11 change your life?

One moment comes back from eighth grade. I was sitting in class and the clock struck noon and the teacher was in the middle of his lecture. My watch started beeping and this student yelled from across the room, “Watch out! He’s [Afraz] got a bomb.” Most of the kids were laughing. The teacher didn’t really say much, and I was frozen, not knowing how to react. But there wasn’t much addressing of the comment or an acknowledgement that it wasn’t appropriate. In high school, I was one of maybe five or six Muslims in a school of over a thousand kids. It was hard to understand how I, as a Muslim American, was supposed to integrate into this larger society. Islam felt foreign to the American experience, and there was not really a place for my faith identity to exist. This othering continues to persist.

It was hard to understand how I, as a Muslim American, was supposed to integrate into this larger society. Islam felt foreign to the American experience, and there was not really a place for my faith identity to exist.

You began memorizing the Quran in fifth grade and have continued religious work as a teacher and advisor. What drove that commitment?

A big part was this general desire to build a closeness with my faith and take ownership over my relationship with the divine. I spent eight years memorizing the Quran, which also included taking a gap year before college. As an undergraduate student at NYU, I found for the first time a large community of native Muslim Americans also trying to understand their journey with faith. I started delivering sermons and facilitating classes at our Islamic center on campus and unexpectedly fell into a role in providing the community with something I hadn’t had while growing up: a person who possessed the lived experience of growing up Muslim in America and could draw upon deeper sources of knowledge of the faith in demonstrating how Islam can actually serve as a source of empowerment. 

I found for the first time a large community of native Muslim Americans also trying to understand their journey with faith. 

Where did you work after your undergrad program?

I spent a year in New York City government conducting community affairs work, and then the next three years at the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, focusing on advocacy and outreach. I was doing some organizing work around changing the disorderly conduct statutes in the South. These were policies designed to provide law enforcement broad discretion in criminalizing students of color for typical youth behavior—like when a kid purposely burps in class or doesn’t sit in an assigned seat. Law enforcement was charging these kids with disorderly conduct. We were working to help dismantle that policy, starting a lawsuit and organizing. But we had to shift our priorities at a certain point based on the desires of our funders to focus on a different issue within criminal justice. It’s tough when you know the on-the-ground realities, but the folks providing the funding have a different view. So, there was that lack of agency plus the reactionary way in which a lot of nonprofits understandably need to behave that pushed me to think more about business as a potential force for good. 

What relationship does your faith have with your activism work?

In 2016, our country bore witness to the continued murder of unarmed Black bodies at the hands of the police as well as a spike in xenophobic and anti-Muslim sentiment and attacks. In organizing several university-wide rallies alongside various allied minority groups, I started to learn how the same white supremacist institutions that govern this country uniformly and uniquely impact different marginalized communities. In learning from organizers and advocates who have dedicated their lives to social change, I sought to utilize my own lived experience of being Muslim in America to focus on dismantling broader systems of oppression. As activist Lilla Watson says, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

What’s a principle of your faith you seek to incorporate in your day-to-day work?

In 4:135, the Creator commands me “to uphold justice and bear witness to God, even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or your close relatives. Whether the person is rich or poor, God can best take care of both. Refrain from following your own desire, so that you can act justly—if you distort or neglect justice, God is fully aware of what you do.”

This verse pushes me to reflect on justice as a universal principle that exists outside of ourselves. A commitment to justice actually starts with a willingness to interrogate our own unjust behavior. This requires a strong development of humility and self-awareness which I believe is key to any movement work. 

How have you continued your activism work at Haas?

I’m focused on leveraging the clout and influence of Haas to bring light to issues that otherwise aren’t discussed within elite institutions and circles. Through Haas Hearts, a student-led non-profit consulting program, I got to work with and now currently serve on the board of Urban Compassion Project, an Oakland-based grassroots organization dedicated to empowering unhoused populations. Over the past few months, we’ve organized volunteer events for Haasies to attend as well as hosted an on-campus discussion on the current housing crisis in the Bay Area and what our role as MBA students is in supporting those fighting for change. 

Additionally, I’m working to expand Haas’ engagement with the broader UC’s union organizing efforts. Currently, a few of us student workers here at Haas are phone banking, tabling, and canvassing to build people power within our program to support the 48,000 UC student employees across the state who are fighting for a more fair and equitable contract. 

Afraz Khan began rapping his student government speeches in grade school.

You recently performed a rap at Haas that highlighted the disconnect between how history is taught in the U.S. and the realities that shaped your heritage under British colonial rule. When did you start rapping?

 In third grade I wanted to run for student government vice president. I wrote a first draft of my speech and my teacher told me that the presentation was boring and that I should rewrite it. My sister suggested rapping the speech and came up with a very simple rhyme and I was like, “What the heck?” and performed it. I was so nervous that I didn’t look away from my paper. I ended up winning. I ran for VP twice more and for president and just kept rapping all my speeches throughout middle and high school. At the end of high school, I started getting more into spoken word and slam poetry, using rap not just as a tool to have a fun experience but to also share more about my own narrative and experience.

For those who are curious, here’s my original rap:

Vote for me for VP/ — I’ll be the best, you can put me to the test/ — Yyou won’t regret and that’s a bet, it’s a promise that will be kept/ — Iif I win, I’ll put a spin to the school year that’s bright and clear/ – Sso don’t forget and put a check, next to the best… Afraz!

Watch Afraz Khan performing “Colonization of the Mind” last month at UC Berkeley’s Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership (EGAL)’s annual EGALapalooza event.

 

Dean’s Speaker Series: Reddit COO Jen Wong on her leadership journey

Growing up as a shy introvert, Reddit COO Jen Wong said she never saw herself as a leader.

“I think I assumed a leader was a person who told other people what to do,” Wong said.

It was her fascination with companies and the people who lead them, as well as a drive to solve new problems, that led her to pursue a career that has included leadership positions at Time, Inc.; PopSugar; AOL, and now Reddit.

“I’m a puzzler at heart, and when my mind starts searching for a new problem to solve, and there’s something I can learn, that propels me forward,” Wong said. “I always want to move into something that has a clear lane for me to have an impact.”

Wong, who topped Reddit’s Queer 50 list this year, shared her leadership journey with MBA students and the Haas community at a Dean’s Speaker Series talk on Sept. 21. The talk was co-sponsored by Q@Haas as part of Coming Out Week, September 18-22.

As Reddit’s Chief Operation Officer, Wong oversees business strategy and related teams.  Only four years into her tenure as COO, she has helped lead the growth of Reddit into a profitable business by scaling ad revenue to well over $100 million.  Her leadership goes beyond growing the business; she is also passionate about Reddit’s company goal that’s just as important as revenue: diversity and inclusion. In addition, Jen is viewed as an expert in the digital landscape.

Watch the full talk:


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What’s your personal brand? New class helps students craft one

A man and woman bump fists to show solidarity.
Berkeley Haas Lecturer Kellie McElhaney co-teaches the class with Graduate Student Instructor André Chapman, Jr. Photo: Jim Block

“Classified” is an occasional series spotlighting some of the more powerful lessons being taught in classrooms around Haas.

On a recent Monday evening Berkeley Haas Lecturer Kellie McElhaney opened her class with a challenge, asking her students how others have defined them. “Too bossy” and “too sensitive” were among the responses that McElhaney quickly urged them to dismiss or proudly own as they began a journey of how to describe themselves.

“What do you want your brand to be?” she asked the class of 48 students, most of them Cal athletes—a group that’s at the heart of her new class, Equity Fluent Leadership & Personal Brand. It’s designed to teach primarily Cal student athletes and undergraduates how to create personal brands. 

This class comes after California and eight other states passed laws in 2019 that allowed college athletes to benefit from their names, images, or likenesses (NIL). In July 2021, the NCAA followed suit and adopted its own NIL policy for all college athletes. Similar to professional athletes, college athletes can now engage in sponsorships and receive cash payments and gifts. However, the policy continues to preclude students from entering pay-for-play contracts with colleges and universities.

“The NIL policy is in its infancy right now and many college athletes haven’t fully grasped the policy in its entirety,” said McElhaney, who’s also the founding executive director of the Center for Equity, Gender and Leadership. “My hope is that I can give students the tools to discover who they are and what they stand for, regardless of whether or not they enter contracts.”

Focused on core values

The Equity Fluent Leadership & Personal Brand class has drawn the interest of many athletes, including Cal football players, swimmers, and gymnasts, five of whom are Haas students. Non-Haas students are also enrolled in the course.

college students sitting at desks in Chou Hall classroom
The Equity Fluent Leadership & Personal Brand class has drawn the interest of many athletes, including football players, swimmers, gymnasts, and non-Haas students. Photo: Jim Block

“This class has really re-energized me,” McElhaney said. “It’s bringing my three passions together: Equity Fluent Leadership, Cal athletics, and the love for my dad, my role model.” (McElhaney’s father, Harold “Hal” McElhaney, played football for the Philadelphia Eagles, coached at Duke, and went on to become the athletic director for Allegheny College and Ohio University.)

Black undergraduate student wearing blue hoodie smiles.
Cal women’s basketball player Jazlen Green, BA 22, a brand ambassador for Stoko, is working to better define “the best version of herself” in the class. Photo: Jim Block

In addition to crafting their personal brands, students explore their core values based on their social identities, learn about the power of allyship, and discover their own brand of leadership. Throughout the semester, students have been tasked with giving presentations about leaders whom they admire, finding songs to represent the soundtrack of their lives, and designing social media accounts that reflect their brands. 

Cal women’s basketball player Jazlen Green, BA 22, (sociology) has already benefited from the NIL policy, serving as a brand ambassador for compression legging company Stoko. In exchange for using Green’s name and image, Stoko gives the Cal basketball player free products. But her primary motivation for taking McElhaney’s class was to be the best version of herself.

The personal brand hero assignment, which required students to write about a leader who reflects their brand, has been the most impactful exercise, she said. 

“I had a hard time narrowing my decision to one person, which highlighted the fact that I’m multifaceted,” Green said. “I am an athlete, a student, a Black female, and a creator.” 

Cal baseball player Garret Nielsen, BS 22, said he took the class to learn more about himself and to become more empathetic. 

Male undergraduate student with cap turned backwards. He's smiling.
Cal baseball player Garret Nielsen, BS 22, enrolled in the class to become a more well-rounded and empathetic person. Photo: Jim Block

“This class asks the hard questions,” Nielsen said. “The most important lesson that this class has taught me is you have to establish a foundation of who you are before success comes.” 

Conversely, Nielsen said he’s not interested in benefiting from the NIL policy. He’d rather use his status and expertise to help children become great baseball players.

“I would have been ecstatic if a college player had helped me with my game when I was a kid,” Nielsen said. “I now have the opportunity to do just that. I think that’s the true gift of being a Cal athlete.”

Looking ahead

Over time, McElhaney hopes to expand the class to include topics such as how to read contracts, money management, and investing. She wants to bring in lawyers and more professional athletes as guest speakers. Earlier in the semester, she invited former NFL player Lorenzo Alexander to talk about the value of having a board of directors. She’s also tapped the wisdom of her graduate student instructor André Chapman, Jr., a former UCLA 400-meter hurdler who was bound for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. 

“At its heart, this is a leadership class,” McElhaney said. “Whether or not students, specifically my student athletes, enter sponsorships, this course sets them up for life.”

Viva la mujer: A Women’s History Month message from Chief DEI Officer Élida Bautista

This month, as we celebrate Women’s History Month and prepare to mark International Women’s Day on March 8, we are called on to imagine a world where women across all intersectional identities have equal access to opportunities, income, safety, political representation, and choices.

Viva la Mujer image by Jesus Barraza and Melanie Cervantes
“Viva La Mujer” graphic image credit: Jesus Barraza and Melanie Cervantes

Throughout our history, despite seemingly insurmountable barriers, women across the globe have strived and sacrificed to be seen for our capabilities, and fairly valued for our contributions. Women of all intersectional identities have organized and been a part of many movements to gain equal rights, and to advocate for reforms that impact everyone, including safe working conditions and labor practices, improved accessibility for people with disabilities, obtaining and protecting voting access, and other civil rights. However, women—here in the U.S. and around the world—continue to face epidemics of sexual and gender-based violence and harassment.

Yesterday, President Biden signed the Ending Forced Arbitration Act, a landmark piece of legislation spurred by the #MeToo movement, ending the use of hidden language in contracts that prevented employees from suing in the case of sexual assault or harassment. It is a victory, with so many more battles ahead.

March 24 is All Women’s Equal Pay Day, the day that marks how far into the new year women must work to be paid what men were paid the previous year. On average, women are paid 82 cents for every dollar men are paid. Disaggregating the data shows a deeper disparity.

Asian American women are paid 85 cents for every dollar white men earn, making March 9 their Equal Pay Day. For Black women, Equal Pay Day doesn’t come until August; for Native American women, it’s September. For Latinas, the date comes near the end of October, with their average pay being 57 cents for every dollar paid to white men. The disparities do not stop there.

Women with disabilities make 72 cents for every dollar paid to men with disabilities; but as a whole, people with disabilities make only 68 cents for each dollar earned by able bodied people. Mothers earn 75 cents for every dollar fathers make.  There is not precise national data on equal pay for lesbian, bisexual, queer, or trans women, indicating our need to advocate to include all of our sisters in the data.

Important research insights uncovered by our faculty point to real-world solutions to pay inequity. In a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Professor Laura Kray and post-doc scholar Margaret Lee highlighted their findings that women are given smaller teams to manage on average than men, which contributes to the pay gap; Kray is working with Dean Harrison to dig into why the pay gap between men and women MBA graduates increases over time. Assistant Professor Solène Delecourt is studying inequities in business performance; three of her recent studies have pinpointed the factors that cause women-owned businesses to underperform men’s around the world, and how that can be fixed. Former Dean Laura Tyson was the co-author of a key UN report on women’s economic empowerment. Kellie McElhaney, founding director of the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership (EGAL) and EGAL Assistant Director Genevieve Smith co-authored a teaching case focused on the importance of pay transparency in closing the gap.

We know the progress toward equity took a giant step backwards during the pandemic. By the end of January, men in the U.S. had regained all of the jobs they had lost since February 2020. But 1.1 million women who left the labor force during the same time had yet to return, pointing to long-standing structural inequities (with caregiving responsibilities topping the list) that make it harder for women to return to work. Recognizing that women in heterosexual dual-career couples, with or without children, still do most of the household/care work, EGAL developed 7 evidence-based ‘plays’ to support dual career couples. 

Burnout brought on by the pandemic has pushed many women to reevaluate and identify new approaches to career and personal life. That re-evaluation is the focus of this weekend’s “Re:set, Re:imagine, and Re:build,” the 26th annual Women in Leadership Conference at Haas. Conference organizers intentionally have integrated intersectional identities throughout the program. The conference will be held tomorrow, March 5, in Chou Hall’s Spieker Forum. You may register here.

We have incredible representation of women in senior leadership roles at Berkeley Haas, including our Dean, our chief operating officer, our chief financial officer and several assistant deans and program directors. Yet we have more work to do to achieve balanced gender representation among our faculty and students. Our senior leaders are working to continue to foster a climate of belonging, and strategizing on outreach, recruitment, and yield to increase representation of women among our faculty and students.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day and its theme #BreaktheBias, I treasure all of the accomplishments of women around the world and I am grateful to have benefitted from the progress achieved by those who came before me. I also realize that “la lucha sigue” (the struggle continues), as we say in my community. Women with multiple marginalized identities often have even longer, bumpier roads to travel.

We each have the responsibility to continue unlearning the gender bias we have absorbed throughout our lives and we must hold ourselves accountable at an individual level. We have the power to use our leadership to create structural changes at all levels. Collectively, working together, let’s #BreaktheBias.

Sí se Puede,

Élida

Resources for further learning:

Promoting an Equitable Learning Environment

Stop AAPI Hate

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

National Domestic Workers Alliance 

Male allyship at work

81cents Pay Equity Advisors

Equal Pay Day 2022

“Viva La Mujer” image credit: Jesus Barraza and Melanie Cervantes

Dr. Élida Bautista: ‘Why Black History Month continues to be necessary to our collective learning’

A message to the Haas community from Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer Élida Bautista on the significance of Black History Month.

Lexi Watson, 10, of Flint, Mich., smiles as she shouts out with joy with Amethyst, an elite dance company, while marching in one of two Juneteenth parades in June 2021 in downtown Flint. (Jake May | MLive.com) Jake May
Elida Bautista
Élida Bautista, Chief DEI Officer at Haas

Every February, the U.S. marks Black History Month to celebrate the unique contributions and achievements of African Americans and the Black community in the creation and building of the United States.

In 1926, the historian and scholar Dr. Carter G. Woodson sought to encourage the teaching of Black history in public schools and became the driving force behind the first Negro History Week. It would be celebrated during the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, the Black statesman, intellectual and formerly enslaved man who became a leader in the fight to end slavery. The timing was an intentional signal by Woodson to underscore both Black excellence and the role of allies. Following a grassroots movement that stretched across decades and college campuses, President Ford in 1976 provided federal recognition that Black History is American History. 

As I reflect on the legacy of this month, I think of the significant impact and imprint made by those who influenced my personal and academic journey, whether as mentors or as researchers, and whose theories continue to inform my work.

We also see the impact in the research coming from our Haas faculty. A new study co-authored by Associate Professor Amir Kermani identifies the deeply structural reasons why Blacks and Latinos profit less from homeownership than whites; two studies by Assistant Professor Drew Jacoby-Senghor and PhD student Derek Brown found that people inadvertently signal prejudice in the language they choose, and that members of the majority misperceive even “win-win” diversity policies as harming them. A study co-authored by Assistant Professor Conrad Miller showed that racial profiling in traffic stops not only causes harm, but makes police less effective. 

As I reflect on the legacy of this month, I think of the significant impact and imprint made by those who influenced my personal and academic journey

We all gain from those who boldly name their experiences of exclusion and marginalization. We owe much to those who propose pathways toward liberation and empowerment, recognizing our collective responsibility and mutual benefit as we progress toward equality. 

Right now, we are seeing why Black History Month continues to be necessary to our collective learning and understanding. From the challenges to voting rights to the calls to restrict schools from teaching about our nation’s racial past, we are constantly reminded of the words of Fannie Lou Hamer, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” Contributions by leaders, inventors, and cultural icons across a variety of industries continue to be overlooked, omitted from our typical education and public discourse and, at times, vilified. On the first day of this Black History Month, at least 13 historically Black colleges and universities reported bomb threats.

From the challenges to voting rights to the calls to restrict schools from teaching about our nation’s racial past, we are constantly reminded of the words of Fannie Lou Hamer, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

As you make time to reflect on this heritage month, you will find that the Black community has not only shaped U.S. history and culture, but also global movements. Regardless of your personal identity, my hope for you is that you will find the points of connection in your own journey.

Throughout the month, we encourage you to engage in your own self-directed learning or take advantage of the offerings by Haas students and staff, the Cal Black Alumni Association, and campus to honor the month. The Black Staff Faculty Organization, in partnership with the Haas DEI team, will be co-sponsoring virtual tours of the Black History 101 Mobile Museum throughout the month, with a special lecture planned February 14 from museum curator Dr. Khalid el-Hakim on “The 5th Element of Hip Hop: Using Artifacts to Teach Black History.” Click here to register. 

For the Black community, this month creates an opportunity to feel seen and celebrated, and to come together in joy to restore health and wellness, the theme of Black History Month this year. In her message to campus, Dania Matos, UC Berkeley’s Vice Chancellor for Equity & Inclusion, underscored the value of the Fannie Lou Hamer Black Resource Center as a space for community building. One of the center’s offerings is The Well, “where Black folx come to heal,” along with other programming to serve you throughout the year. Here’s to Black History Month, and to Black Futures!

Haas Voices: ‘There’s no excuse but to be great’

Black man in a navy suit with orange tie.
Portrait: Jordan Bell, MBA 23.

Haas Voices is a first-person series that highlights the lived experiences of members of the Berkeley Haas community.

In honor of Black History Month, we spoke with Jordan Bell, MBA 23, an Oakland native who’s determined to rise to the C-suite and open doors for younger generations of Black youth interested in finance careers.

Bell is the community engagement officer for the Haas Black Business Student Association; a “manbassador” for the Women in Leadership Club; and a fellow of the Robert Toigo Foundation and the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management. He’s also one of 11 Finance Fellows at Berkeley Haas. This summer, he will work at Amazon as a senior product manager.

Tell us about your family and upbringing?

I was born and raised in East Oakland, California, the second oldest of three sons. My parents are college-educated, working-class people. They strongly believed in the value of getting a quality education as the way to change the future. They scraped every extra dollar they had to send my brothers and me to private schools. I went to St. Mary’s College High School in Berkeley, and after graduation, I went to Morehouse, a historically Black, all-male college in Atlanta, Georgia. To this day, I wouldn’t have gone anywhere other than Morehouse.

What led you to go to a historically Black college (HBCU)?

I wanted to go to a college outside of California where I could grow and learn more about being a Black man. I also wanted to study in a place where I was not a minority. For many Black people in the U.S., there’s this extra thought process that we go through whenever we leave our homes and enter public places. Things like, “Do I belong?” “Am I doing enough?” “Do I fit in?” “Am I assimilating into a society that is not really built for me?” All of these questions are burdensome. Studying at Morehouse alleviated that stress because almost every other person around me was an African American man. There is literally no place in America where an African American of any sex can see so many Black professionals in one setting other than at an HBCU. 

Black male students line up to form the letter M
Bell attended Morehouse College, a historically Black, all-male college in Atlanta. Pictured left, second student from the bottom.

I chose Morehouse specifically because it has an amazing history and legacy of producing Black leaders. I think about the alumni who came before me—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., actor Samuel L. Jackson, civil rights activist Julian Bond—and I think about all of the barriers they broke through to lay the groundwork for future generations of young Black men. They inspire me to be the greatest I can be. There’s no excuse but to be great.

What led you down a career in finance, and why did you choose Haas?

During sophomore year at Morehouse, I attended a speaker series featuring former CEO of Goldman Sachs Lloyd Blankfein. He spoke about how going to college and choosing a career in finance changed the trajectory of his life. His speech convinced me to explore the world of corporate finance and capital markets.

After college, I landed a full-time job at J.P.Morgan as a capital markets research analyst. There, I learned the importance of networking and honed my technical, presentation, and client-facing skills that are transferable to any industry. Two years later, I moved west to work at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco as a financial regulator. I worked my way through the ranks from a junior to a senior examiner. After seven years, I was at a crossroads: Should I keep going down the financial regulator path, or should I go to business school? I chose the latter. Haas was one of the best decisions I ever made. I appreciate how collaborative Haas is. While business schools can feel very competitive or cutthroat, there’s a different kind of competition at Haas. We bring out the best in each other. We rise together is how I see it.

While business schools can feel very competitive or cutthroat, there’s a different kind of competition at Haas. We bring out the best in each other. We rise together is how I see it.

 

Two older black women and one Black man. The women wear Berkeley shirts
Bell with his grandmother and mother.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Black History Month means recognizing the accomplishments and struggles of African Americans. It allows us to tell our own narrative on our own terms. Black people were brought and enslaved here. We didn’t come here voluntarily like other cultural groups. And yet, we survived and are thriving. Our collective stories make me feel so proud to be a Black man. I wouldn’t want to be anything other than a Black man. During the month, I celebrate by reading a story daily about a historical figure, or I talk to the elders in my family to soak up their wisdom, especially the Black women in my family. They’re the strongest people that I know and the structural glue of my family.

Our collective stories make me feel so proud to be a Black man. I wouldn’t want to be anything other than a Black man.

What are your goals, and what kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?

In the short term, I hope to become a senior product manager or fintech strategist. My long-term goal is to be in the C-suite. I want to be a chief executive officer for a technology or financial services company. I want little Black boys and girls to see that there are Black people performing at the highest levels in executive positions. I want to show them that it’s possible to occupy these spaces.

‘Driven by our own mission’: Blackbook University builds community and belonging

Blackbook’s co-founders and supporters attend a pre-launch presentation. From L-R: Maya Hammond, former BSU president; Farhiya Ali; Imran Sekalala; Ibrahim Baldé; Nahom Solomon; Hana Baba, NPR; Joy Dixon, Salesforce; Marco Lindsey, associate director of DEI at Haas; Nicholas Brathwaite; and Chase Ali-Watkins. Photo courtesy: Ibrahim Baldé.

As an undergraduate, Ibrahim Baldé, BS 20, said he faced many challenges on top of managing a rigorous course load. They included battling imposter syndrome, experiencing microaggressions from peers, and feeling pressured in class to be the spokesperson for his race as he was often the lone Black student.

After speaking with friends and classmates who also identified as Black, Baldé learned that they faced the same hurdles. A 2019 campus-climate report published by UC Berkeley’s Division of Equity, and Inclusion also confirmed Baldé’s experience, which found that many Black students experienced exclusionary behaviors from peers, including being stared at or singled out to represent their race.

Wanting to improve the Black student experience at Berkeley, Baldé co-founded Blackbook University, a website and mobile app that provides educational and professional resources to help Black undergraduate and graduate students navigate their journey at Berkeley. Blackbook’s other co-founders include Nicholas Brathwaite, Chase Ali-Watkins, both BA 20, Nahom Solomon, BA 21, Farhiya Ali and Imran Sekalala, both BA 23.

The app, which launched Nov. 18 and is a revival of a Black student handbook published in the 1980s and 1990s, includes a calendar with extracurricular and career-related events, a student-alumni-faculty directory, a live chat feed for users to interact, and a scholarship and internship database. The website features student profiles and an internship program for students interested in entrepreneurship and tech. 

Brathwaite manages product development, Ali and Sekalala handle data analysis and design, Solomon serves as the director of operations, Ali-Watkins is the chief marketing officer, and Baldé is CEO.

Student Profile – Adaeze Noble from Made By Chase on Vimeo.

The journey

The son of an imam, Baldé was instilled with a “beyond yourself” mindset at an early age. Growing up in Alameda, Calif., Baldé knew that he wanted to combine his three passions: social impact work, business, and tech. Once at Haas, Baldé took Haas Lecturer Alex Budak’s leadership class called Becoming a Changemaker

“That class allowed me to think about my mission and purpose and to understand that leadership isn’t a defined trait,” Baldé said. 

Following that class, Baldé began to lay the groundwork for Blackbook University. He teamed up with his co-founders and formed an advisory board of faculty and staff across campus, including Budak, Marco Lindsey, associate director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Haas; Miya Hayes, BA 92, associate director of Campus Partnerships & Engagement; and staff from the African American Student Development Office. 

Baldé surveyed about 150 Black Berkeley and Haas students to assess if he had a winning idea. The answer was a resounding yes. 

While Slack and GroupMe are useful networking tools, 90% of surveyors reported that it was important to have a tool that was designed for them.

“Students can’t take ownership of Slack and GroupMe, but they can take ownership of Blackbook,” Baldé said.  

A copy of the original UC Berkeley African American Student Handbook published in 1996.

Successes and challenges

Baldé and his team have had some successes. They participated in UC Berkeley’s Free Ventures pre-seed accelerator, allowing them to test and tweak their business model. They also were one of the Big Ideas Contest grand prize winners, earning $10,000 in prize money. 

But they’ve also had some setbacks, including finding the best developer who could deliver the app they envisioned. Another setback was validating their business model to potential investors. Currently, Blackbook is free to download. 

“We just tune out the noise,” Baldé says. “We’re driven by our own mission and that is to build community and to make our resources and networks available to Black student communities.”

Despite the hurdles, the team continues to press on. Their goal is to make customized versions of the app for Black student communities at colleges and universities nationwide. 

Faculty and staff advisors praise Baldé and his team for creating a sense of belonging on campus.

“I’m inspired by how Ibrahim can readily imagine a better future and then rally the people and resources needed to turn these ideas into reality,” said Budak. “We talked about how one of the greatest acts of changemaking is creating the opportunities for others that we wish we had for ourselves and Ibrahim is doing just that.”

Hayes agreed. “I’m in awe of their innovation–taking both the best and most challenging aspects of their time at Berkeley to create something that sustains and nourishes our sense of belonging,” she said. “They’re giants in their own right.”

Black MBA Association partners with Haas on EWMBA fellowships

The Berkeley Haas Evening & Weekend MBA Program will host a kickoff event Nov. 9 for a new fellowship program aimed at increasing access to business leadership and scholarships for historically underrepresented groups. 

The program, launched through a partnership between Haas and the SF/Bay Area chapter of the National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA), includes networking and mentorship, as well as the opportunity to be selected for a $50,000 scholarship. The scholarship award is more than 50% higher than most scholarship awards to students in part-time MBA programs.

 Joe Handy, president of the National Black MBA Association
Joe Handy, president of the National Black MBA Association, will speak at the Nov. 9 kickoff.

The kickoff event, to be held in Chou Hall’s Spieker Forum from 6-8 p.m., will feature guest speakers Joe Handy, president of the National Black MBA Association; Myisha Robertson, president and CEO of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the National Black MBA Association; and Élida Bautista, Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer at Haas. A panel discussion with Berkeley Haas alumni and members of the SF Black MBA Association will follow.

Elida Bautista
Elida Bautista, chief DEI officer at Haas, will speak at the NBMBAA event.

“We’re so excited to be partnering with the local chapter of the NBMBAA,” said Jenny Clare, senior associate director of admissions for the Berkeley Haas EWMBA Program. “The Berkeley Haas Equity scholarship will help us to continue to increase the diversity of the applicant pool, and, as a result, increase the diversity of student enrollment in our program.”

As an SF Black MBA Fellow, students will:

  • Become a member of the SF Bay Area Chapter of the NBMBAA and be assigned a mentor who will provide counsel, connections, and guidance throughout their MBA study. 
  • Join a cohort and community of other fellowship recipients and their mentors in the inaugural class of SF Black MBA Fellows, which will begin in Fall 2022 and extend through their time in the Berkeley Haas EWMBA program and beyond.
  • Meet regularly with other SF Black MBA Fellows and mentors, network with the SF chapter and Haas leadership, and have exclusive opportunities to connect with Bay Area business leaders.
  • Be considered for one of the $50,000 Berkeley Haas Equity Scholarships, which will be awarded to SF Black MBA Fellows who exemplify commitment to increasing opportunities and access for underrepresented groups. The number of awards will depend on the applicant pool, and is estimated at two-to-four scholarships of $50,000 each, distributed over three years.

Funding for the new scholarships was provided by Jamie Breen, assistant dean of the school’s MBA Programs for Working Professionals. 

“We’ve been thinking about scholarship support to increase the diversity of our working-professional student population for a while, but it’s hard to get these things started,” she said. “I have the capability to do it, so this seemed like a great place to use my philanthropy.”

Jamie Breen
New scholarships will help increase applicant diversity, according to Jamie Breen, assistant dean of MBA Programs for Working Professionals.

Interested new applicants should apply for the fellowship at the time they apply to Berkeley Haas, well before the final deadline of May 2, 2022, as fellowships are awarded throughout the admissions cycle, Clare said. (The scholarships are not open to current EWMBA students)

Applicants commuting to campus from outside the Bay Area, or who join the Flex EWMBA cohort, are also welcome to apply to be a SF National Black Fellow. 

The fellowship application includes a 250-word essay about how an applicant demonstrated an ongoing commitment to increasing opportunity and access to people from racial/ethnic groups who are historically underrepresented in business (specifically Black/African-American, LatinX, and Native/Indigenous communities).

Berkeley Haas has long been an NBMBAA educational partner, and sought to further this relationship with the local chapter, where some Haas alumni are already active. 

The San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the National Black MBA Association is open to Haas MBA students as graduate-level members. Visit their website or contact president@sfnbmbaa.org to learn more.

 

‘A place where people can see themselves’: Élida Bautista, Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer

Chief DEI Officer Élida Bautista.

When Élida Bautista arrived at Berkeley Haas as director of diversity, equity, and inclusion in 2018, she found a community “ready to do the work and not just pay lip service” to diversity.

Since then, she’s worked alongside that community, building the school’s first five-year DEI strategic plan and creating a culture shift toward one of greater belonging—or, as she puts it, “a place where people can see themselves.” This week, Bautista—who came to Haas after spending 15 years developing programs focused on social justice, diversity, and inclusion for  UCSF’s Department of Psychiatry—became the first woman and Chicana/Latina to be named chief DEI officer at Haas.

We spoke to her about her most pressing priorities, how the pandemic impacted her work, and the diversity-related initiatives she plans to work toward over the next five years.

What are you most proud of accomplishing during your interim DEI chief role at Haas in the past year?

One of the accomplishments I am most proud of is getting input from the community to implement our DEI strategic plan. Last year, the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) team started off with listening sessions across Haas.

We wanted to learn what teams were accomplishing, how they were integrating DEI in their work and to give people a space to feel heard. Those listening tours helped us refine and implement a Haas-wide DEI strategic plan and positioned us as thought partners in helping teams carry out their own DEI initiatives.

As we launched, it was important to be transparent with our community. We publicly shared the plan on our website, and shared regular updates about progress on our deliverables on our website, something that had not happened before. That was meaningful to our community because it allows everyone to get involved and to see our progress as well as any delays.

Beyond the DEI plan, what broad initiatives are you working on that dive deeper into DEI?

We are looking to continue creating a DEI culture shift at Haas. But we’re not just thinking about diversity as scholarships and increasing admissions and representation. That’s an important part of it, but we must simultaneously build a place where people can see themselves. We’re thinking about how we get more diverse folks in the door, but also about their experiences once they’re here in the classroom or the workplace. 

We must…build a place where people can see themselves.

We are creating a sense of belonging through a variety of offerings, including co-curricular educational and professional development activities, as well as community social events. 

We also need to invest in pathways toward making our faculty more diverse. One way we’re doing this is by creating a postdoctoral fellowship through a gift from Allan Holt, MBA 76. Postdocs offer the opportunity to bring scholars into the faculty pipeline who might not otherwise pursue a faculty career at a university where there is a very high level of research activity. We also set aside part of the funds to integrate DEI into the curriculum. 

What are your most pressing goals in the new role? 

As a chief diversity officer who sits on the management team, my pressing goals are focused on partnering with our associate deans of academic affairs to increase diversity in faculty hiring, support retention and promotion efforts for our underrepresented faculty, and support DEI curricular offerings. At a strategic level, my goal is to support our dean and our senior managers in effectively addressing diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging-related challenges, and collectively continuing to make progress on our strategic plan. Additionally, I will be involved in providing feedback to the chairs of the search committees about the diversity of our faculty candidates. Over time, our postdoctoral fellowship will be an additional source for increasing the diversity of the faculty pool.

How has COVID impacted your job during the pandemic?

COVID magnified a lot of existing disparities and social injustices—everything from who had to keep going to work in-person to who had access to health insurance to treat COVID if they got sick. We also saw a rise in visibility of violence targeting some communities. This increased the sense of vulnerability that needed to be integrated into our team’s offerings and approach. 

Initially during the pandemic, a lot of our work was about holding space for community members to reflect, as well as offering managers tips to understand how to support staff who might be having a different experience during this time. We asked: How do we extend empathy at a time when everybody is feeling overwhelmed and stretched? 

How does it feel to be back on campus?

Now that we’re back on campus, there’s a renewed sense of connection that we all need. Being back allows people to engage in a more authentic way with each other, which makes my work a little bit easier when we’re talking about learning across differences. Being online made these connections more challenging. For example, if everyone is off camera and one person is talking and nobody’s clapping or smiling or affirming, it’s unclear if your message has resonated with anyone.

What would be a major achievement for Haas in the next five years in DEI?

I think we’re well on our way, but a major achievement would be to make Haas the leader among business schools in reputation regarding diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, based on our robust offerings, the skills our students gain while at Haas, and the type of leaders we produce.

Another major achievement would be to make meaningful gains in the representation of women among our students across degree programs and among our faculty, including more women of color, LGBTQIA+ women, women veterans, and women with disabilities.

Also, as UC Berkeley continues to advance toward becoming a federally designated Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) by 2027, a major achievement would be to  align Haas with the recommendations of the HSI task force and position ourselves to serve the needs of Latinx/Chicanx and underrepresented communities on campus.

Om Chitale, MBA 18, receives first Equity Fluent Leadership Award

Om Chitale, MBA 18, receives the Kellie A. McElhaney Equity Fluent Leadership award.


Om Chitale, MBA 18, has won the school’s first Kellie A. McElhaney Equity Fluent Leadership award for championing diversity and inclusion initiatives at Haas and beyond.

Chitale, the former director of diversity for Berkeley Haas’ Full-time MBA Admissions, received the award at the Center for Equity, Gender & Leadership’s “EGALapalooza” diversity celebration last Friday. 

The award, named for and funded by EGAL’s founding director Kellie McElhaney, recognizes members of the Haas community who have made significant contributions toward building an inclusive and equitable community at Haas and beyond.

“Om walks through life with a halo of light and love and acceptance and has left a profound impact on our community,” McElhaney said at the event, which brought together about 75 students, faculty, and staff, at Spieker Forum in Chou Hall. 

“Om walks through life with a halo of light and love and acceptance and has left a profound impact on our community.” — Kellie McElhaney

While a student at Haas, Chitale and classmate Liz Koenig, MBA 18, co-founded the student-led class called Dialogues on Race. He also led the charge to create EGAL’s first Investing in Inclusion Pitch Competition. After graduation, he founded startup Teachers of Oakland, with the aim of sharing first-person stories from the city’s public school teachers to social media. He later joined the full-time MBA Admissions’ team as its first director of diversity.

McElhaney noted that Chitale was “a real thought partner” who encouraged cross-campus collaboration between students, faculty, and staff on DEI initiatives.

“It’s incredible to be part of this [Haas] community with people who are pushing the envelope, questioning the status quo, and taking action,” said Chitale, who recently left Haas to serve as LinkedIn’s senior program manager of Inclusion Recruiting Partnerships. “This work [DEI] has ripples of impact and so I encourage everyone to continue to take action,” he said.

Other notable EGALapalooza guest speakers and performers included Derek Brown, PhD 23; Ashley Rabinek, director of merchandising at Old Navy; Verse Gabrielle, associate director of full-time MBA Admissions; and singer and songwriter Dominique Gomez.

Haas Voices: ‘Fighting for healthcare equity in my community’

Portrait: Adilene Dominguez, EWMBA 24
Adilene Dominguez, EWMBA 24, is determined to make healthcare more equitable.

Haas Voices is a first-person series that highlights the lived experiences of members of the Berkeley Haas community. In honor of Latinx Heritage Month, we spoke with Adilene Dominguez, EWMBA 24, who’s determined to create a new business model that will provide equitable health care to everyone, regardless of economic status. She shares her story below.

Growing up in Waukegan, Illinois, a suburb north of Chicago, I lived in a world with many blessings. My parents weren’t millionaires, they were migrant workers who worked 80 hours a week. But the opportunities afforded to us–access to public schools, tutors, health insurance, the ability to find work–were privileges that many Latinos in my community, including my extended family members, did not have.

I began to notice inequities, specifically in healthcare, when I was about five years old. I often accompanied friends and family whenever they needed to see the doctor. They spoke little English, so I translated on their behalf. I noticed that they’d have to stand in line for hours at the local clinic to get medical treatment, whereas if I needed medical care, my parents would take me to a hospital because I had health insurance. It just didn’t seem fair to me that our friends and family couldn’t get the same quality health care as I did.

family portrait featuring a mom, dad, 2 girls and 1 boy.
Dominguez’s family portrait. Dominguez, (center), began translating for friends and family when she was five years old.

Observing those disparities early on, coupled with a natural aptitude for science and math, led me to Beloit College where I joined the pre-med program. As a pre-med student, I interned with doctors and volunteered at hospitals, but quickly realized that I didn’t want to be a doctor. I thought that I’d have a greater impact if I could find a way to bring equitable health care to my community.

After college, I landed at Becton Dickinson (BD), a medical device company, working as a research and development (R&D) technician. I moved up the ranks from a technician to a scientist and eventually transitioned from R&D to global marketing and strategy. 

I also lead the Hispanic Organization for Leadership and Advancement (HOLA) at BD. Through my work with HOLA, I help raise awareness within my industry about health disparities that impact the Latino community. When the pandemic hit, access to testing was limited, especially in Latino communities in California, Arizona, and Texas. I, along with marketers across eight HOLA chapters, decided to advocate for the distribution of Veritor, a rapid antigen test that can detect the COVID-19 virus, to health clinics servicing Latino communities. Through our efforts, we helped the Family Health Center of San Diego, which provides care to more than 215,000 patients a year, 91% of whom are considered low-income and 29% are uninsured. 

It’s been gratifying to help my Latino community as it’s been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. But I need to do more. The pandemic magnified health disparities that have long existed in Black and Brown communities. Whenever there’s a hurricane, earthquake, or any natural disaster, health care seems to be the primary resource that’s out of reach for these communities.

The pandemic magnified health disparities that have long existed in Black and Brown communities.

That’s why I’m at Haas. I want to acquire the skills needed to disrupt the healthcare system in the U.S. I want to design a profitable business model that will provide equitable health care for everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status.

What does disruption look like? It’s putting the patient first and profit last. Currently, the way healthcare works in the U.S. is that whoever or whichever entity has the most influence or paying power gets access to the best medical supplies. Typically government contracts are fulfilled first. Thereafter, private institutions and public institutions get priority, and community health centers are served last.

But what if we flipped the funnel? If we help community clinics first, which serve people like farmers and hourly-wage workers–the people who are growing our food and working at grocery stores and other service industries–we can prevent the spread of any disease.

For too long, our approach to providing health care has come from the top down, when we really need to flip the funnel and think about the process much differently. We can’t keep doing business as usual when there are hundreds of people filling up the emergency room because they don’t have access to COVID-19 testing or vaccines.

Creating a new business model for the healthcare system is a lofty goal. But someone has to do it, so why not me? 

Creating a new business model for the healthcare system is a lofty goal. But someone has to do it, so why not me? 

I know that I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself, but it’s my responsibility to help my community. That philosophy has been ingrained in me since I was a little girl. My family, who migrated from Tonatico, Mexico, made enormous sacrifices so that my siblings and I could have a better life. So I must move forward and be a role model for younger generations. If I don’t help my community, who will? 

Haas expands annual Diversity Symposium to alumni and community

The Berkeley Haas Diversity Symposium this month will bring together prospective students, and—for the first time—alumni and the Haas community for a weekend of events featuring top industry speakers and showcasing the school’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.

Rosanna Durruthy
Rosanna Durruthy, vice president of Global Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging at LinkedIn, will deliver the keynote.

The annual symposium will be held virtually this year over three half-days from Friday, Oct. 22 to Sunday Oct. 24. Organizers, including Berkeley Haas Alumni Relations and the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, in partnership with MBA Admissions, expect about 600 prospective students and 200 alumni to join. While the symposium has traditionally been an event for prospective students, a special morning of programming on Friday is also geared toward alumni and the the Haas community for the first time. 

Elida Bautista
Elida Bautista will give a “state of DEI at Haas” talk.

“We’ve expanded the symposium to make it a signature event for Haas that showcases the school’s DEI strategy and highlights areas where Haas is leading the way,” said Liz Rosenberg, director of Alumni Engagement & Leadership Development at Haas.

The program on Friday, Oct. 21 includes:

  • A talk on the state of DEI at Berkeley Haas with Interim Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer Élida Bautista.
  • A keynote conversation with Rosanna Durruthy, vice president of Global Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging at LinkedIn. “For over 35 years, Rosanna Durruthy has advocated for a more inclusive corporate America as an openly queer leader,” Business Insider wrote of Durruthy. “Now, as LinkedIn’s head of diversity, she’s clearing the path for other LGBTQ professionals.”
  • A discussion addressing “Business as a Catalyst for Social Change,” featuring alumni thought leaders including Rachel Williams, BA 97, head of equity, inclusion & diversity at X, the moonshot factory; Marcus Chung, MBA 04 and vice president of manufacturing & supply chain at ThirdLove;  Elisse Douglass, MBA 16, co-founder of the Oakland Black Business Fund;
    and Robert Chatwani, EWMBA 07, CMO of Atlassian. (Hector Preciado, MBA 11, will moderate)

On Saturday, Oct. 22, Dean Ann Harrison will welcome prospective students. Other highlights include tips from admissions officers, an interactive discussion on “crafting your authentic story” with Doy Charnsupharindr, a member of the Continuing Professional Faculty at Haas, and information on financing an MBA.

On Sunday, sessions include a networking event for prospective students, a mock class with Kimberly MacPherson, executive director of the Graduate Program in Health Management at Haas, and an overview followed by a Q&A with the Haas Career Management Group (CMG).

Register for the Diversity Symposium here.

Haas refreshes core MBA curriculum, adds three new courses

Berkeley Haas is rolling out core curriculum changes designed to prepare MBA students for a fast-changing workplace by equipping them with enhanced communication skills and deeper data knowledge.

The refreshed curriculum includes additional training in business communications and persuasion skills, doubles the coursework in statistics and data analytics, and adds a brand new course—perhaps the first required core business class in the U.S., on leading diverse teams. The new courses will be rolled out in the full-time MBA program during the 2021-22 academic year. 

An eight-member faculty task force worked throughout the pandemic to rethink the MBA core experience. The faculty in April unanimously approved the task force’s recommendations. 

Dean Ann Harrison
Dean Ann Harrison

“I am so proud of the hard work that our faculty-led team put into these transformative core curriculum changes,” said Dean Ann Harrison, who created the core committee, which was led by co-chairs Prof. Ross Levine and Assoc. Prof. Dana R. Carney. “We are rolling out innovative courses that will help prepare our students for what’s next, addressing a wide range of workplace challenges—from questioning the ethics of artificial intelligence to recognizing how unconscious bias impacts management decisions.”

Three new courses

The MBA core consists of 14 required courses that form the fundamental building blocks of a general management education. The classes are designed to build on each other, providing students with the analytical tools and knowledge required to manage complex managerial problems–skills every employer expects from an MBA. 

The MBA core consists of 14 required courses that form the fundamental building blocks of a general management education.

The three courses added to the core include:

  • Data Analytics will provide more extensive training in data analytics, artificial intelligence, and related approaches to using big data for decision making. The course is a companion to the existing Data and Decisions statistical analysis course. 
  • Data-Driven Presentations: Making the Business Case will better prepare students to make persuasive arguments using data and narrative. It builds on the knowledge and experience developed in the courses Data and Decisions and Leadership Communication.
  • Business Communication in Diverse Work Environments will help students navigate diverse settings more effectively to improve their ability to create, work within, and lead diverse teams and global organizations. It also develops critical thinking on topics such as identity, relationships across differences, bias, and equality of opportunity in organizations.

Levine said he was proud of the group’s camaraderie and collaboration and the transparency of the process.

Prof. Ross Levine co-chaired the curriculum review task force.

“It’s very important for any type of program to re-evaluate, reassess, renew, modernize, and make things as relevant and useful for students as possible,” said Levine, the Willis H. Booth Chair in Banking and Finance. “We worked very hard to make some changes that would help our students achieve their professional ambitions.”

Jay Stowsky, who served as Senior Assistant Dean of Instruction for the past 13 years, added that the curriculum changes will make it easier for faculty “to address, with relevance to each of their courses and academic disciplines, the broader social impacts of business.” 

Evidence-based changes

Dana Carney
Assoc. Prof. Dana Carney co-chaired the curriculum review task force.

Copious research enabled the task force to have full confidence in the proposed core changes, said Carney, a psychologist who studies racial bias and is the director of the Institute of Personality and Social Research at UC Berkeley. “We knew that we had to have a lot of data to guide and substantiate the changes the data suggested we make; we made sure the data we collected were unimpeachable,” she said.

As part of this research, the task force members sought extensive feedback from different groups before making its recommendations. They met with tenure-track and teaching faculty and current students and separately with MBA students active in the Race Inclusion Initiative (RII) and the Gender Equity Initiative (GEI) at Haas. 

 

“We knew that we had to have a lot of data to guide and substantiate the changes the data suggested we make.” – Assoc. Prof. Dana Carney.

The task force also worked closely with the Haas Board and the Career Management Group (CMG), which developed a survey of recent alumni and collected data from corporate recruiters on the skills they seek when hiring. Early in the process, two clear areas in the existing curriculum emerged that would need a fresh and upgraded experience—interacting with people and interacting with data, Carney said. 

Jenn Bridge, senior director of employer engagement & industry readiness at Haas, said her team’s interviews with recruiters and alumni surveys aligned with findings in the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report, confirming the demand for strong data and people-centered skills. 

“Being nimble as a leader and managing people through change are skills that are highly desired,” she said. “The pandemic has accelerated all of this.” 

Learn by doing

One of the ways the task force made room in students’ schedules for the new core courses was to to shift the decade-old Fundamentals of Design Thinking course from the core to an elective. 

Haas pioneered teaching design thinking as part of an MBA core refresh in 2010. Since then, design thinking has become a standard approach to problem solving, woven throughout the curriculum, especially in the required project-based Applied Innovation electives. MBA students will continue to “learn by doing” through design thinking and other decision-making approaches, Stowsky said.  

The part-time MBA programs are considering the core refresh in light of the needs of their students. In the Evening & Weekend MBA program, the Business Communications in Diverse Environments core course will be added to the core and become the capstone course, while the two new data-focused courses will offered as electives. Implementation in the MBA for Executives program is under discussion with the EMBA Academic Program Committee.

Verse Gabrielle on the revolutionary act of being a proud Black queer woman

One, light-skinned black girl and a dark-skinned Black woman sitting in car.
Verse Gabrielle (with daughter Lyric Assata Gabrielle) is an associate director for the full-time MBA admissions program.

Haas Voices is a first-person series that highlights the lived experiences of members of the Berkeley Haas community. 

Born and raised in Chicago’s South Side, Verse Gabrielle is an associate director for the full-time MBA admissions program at Haas. Gabrielle, who uses “shey, sheir, shem,” pronouns that are preferred by some nonbinary and trans people, is also a poet, a playwright, a wife, and mom to four-year-old daughter Lyric Assata. In this Haas Voices interview, Gabrielle talks about growing up, being queer, and the healing power of intellectual curiosity and the spoken word.

I knew from as early as six years old that I was queer. But queerness was not celebrated in my family. I enjoyed having male friends and playing sports with boys my age, but I was never interested in the male gaze. I despised wearing dresses, playing with Barbie dolls, and never considered myself overly feminine, which was met with a lot of disdain.

When I was a freshman in high school, I told a family member that I liked girls. I was advised to keep the secret and not to disclose it to anyone. So I did. I suppressed my queerness until I deemed it safe to come out. Unfortunately, I was forced back into the closet until I turned 18. 

Book smarts and intellectual curiosity are what saved me. 

I graduated as valedictorian of my elementary school. Instead of attending my neighborhood high school, I went to De La Salle Institute-Lourdes Campus (DLS), one of the top private schools in Chicago. After completing my freshman year, I transferred into the honors program at DLS. I was ranked #6 in my class, graduating with a 4.667 G.P.A.

In my senior year of high school, I applied for and was awarded the Bill and Melinda Gates Scholarship. I felt like I had secured my financial future and could leave behind all the drama. I decided to go to the University of Minnesota, where for the first time in my life, I could be my authentic self. I started dating women, joined the LGBT student union. It was freeing. 

While my intellect saved me, my spoken word helped heal me. I started writing poetry when I was about 10 years old, performing at talent shows and school assemblies, but it wasn’t until the summer before I went to college that I started performing at open mics in Chicago. 

In college, I joined a student club called Voices Merging and later established the group Poetic Assassins. We’d travel and perform at different universities and colleges around the U.S. My poetry spans topics of internalized homophobia, racism, sexism, misogyny, the prison industrial complex, and gender roles. 

Spoken word was my therapy: it helped me escape and process all the trauma I endured in Chicago. That’s where I let out all of the anger, rage, and pain. It also opened many doors for me. My poetry has been published in a few anthologies, including “When We Become Weavers: Queer Female Poets on the Midwestern Experience.” I’ve also written and collaborated on a spoken-word play, and facilitated poetry workshops focused on the intersectionality of race, class, and gender through a hood-feminist lens (i.e. Black feminist critique of traditional feminism).

I’ve been called dyke, bulldagger, male-woman, he-she, and chi chi man, which was hurled at me as I walked the streets of Kingston, Jamaica. 

My artistry allowed me to move and operate in different spaces, but it didn’t shield me from bigotry, homophobia, and microaggressions on and off campus. I remember going to a rally almost every other weekend to protest against police brutality and crimes against Black and Brown people. I’d go to these protests to show solidarity because I am Black and I’m absorbing the pain like everyone else, but I’d also face homophobia from members of the Black community because my physical appearance and queerness didn’t fit the mold of what an “ideal Black woman” looks like. I’ve been called dyke, bulldagger, male-woman, he-she, and chi chi man (which was hurled at me as I walked the streets of Kingston, Jamaica).

A Black woman wearing dark sunglasses and pink shirt
Portrait: Verse Gabrielle

Being queer and masculine-presenting has affected my relationship with straight men and women. I get weird looks and sometimes I’m questioned when I enter the female restroom, which is where I am most comfortable. I have had verbal altercations with men who’ve had issues with how I express my queerness being masculine-presenting. I’ve also had women express their discomfort with my presence in professional and communal spaces because they feared I was romantically interested in them.

I have many identities, however the core of my identity is my unapologetic Blackness: Black Buddhist, Black mother, Black queer, Black wife, Black woman, and so on. I am proud of my heritage and culture. I embody the beauty and duality of masculine and feminine traits without denying either. I demand the world see me the way I want to be seen. As a result, my identities have evolved from strikes against me to badges of honor that I wear proudly. To walk this earth against society’s expectations of what womanhood looks like is revolutionary.

A black woman and her daughter sits on a blue-and-white checkered blanket.
Gabrielle’s wife, Dominique, and four-year-old daughter Lyric Assata.

As parents to a four-year-old daughter, my wife, Dominique, and I strive to be the best parents. We have taken parenting classes and joined groups to prepare and round out our parenting techniques. It’s important for us to not only model Black queer love, good communication, and healing, but also to support and celebrate our daughter’s Blackness, femininity, intellectual curiosity, athleticism, and spunk. We support our daughter, Lyric Assata, in everything she does. We take the time to listen to her and truly understand her love languages. Dominique and I are just two Black queer womyn who’ve shared their visions and created the family we always wanted to have—and that’s revolutionary.

I’ve had an amazing experience since joining Haas in 2019. By far, Haas has been one of the best communities that I’ve joined. As a Black queer woman, I feel heard, my identities are celebrated, and I’m part of a diverse staff who support me. My colleagues and I regularly participate in Courageous Conversations where we discuss difficult topics like race, gender, and class. It’s rare to find a work environment where I can be my authentic self and I think much of that has to do with Haas’ Defining Leadership Principles (DLPs). Students Always is my favorite DLP because I’m an intellectual at heart and will forever be a student. 

Now that I have transitioned from an admissions manager to an associate director, I feel like I have a seat at the table, I can make admissions decisions, and I can serve as a support system to all of our students, especially those who have similar backgrounds to me. When I was applying to college and graduate school, there was neither a blueprint nor a support system for me; I had to figure out everything on my own. But now, I can be of service to others.