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? 

How 9/11 made alumna Cristina Rossman embrace her American identity

For Latinx Heritage Month we’re featuring members of our Berkeley Haas community. Here we profile Cristina (Bermudez) Rossman, MBA 00, on how the 9/11 attacks made her reconsider her identity.

Cristina Rossman in Colorado
Cristina Rossman, pictured on a trip to Colorado, said 9/11 made her see herself as an American.

Cristina Rossman, MBA 00, was boarding a plane in Boston when Al-Qaeda attacked the U.S. on 9/11.

“The airport was in lockdown,” she recalled. “They still hadn’t figured out what was going on. People were on phones with their families but you weren’t sure what was real and what wasn’t.”

Rossman, who was wrapping up a post-graduation cross-country trip with her husband before starting a new job at Morningstar in Chicago, boarded a shuttle and headed to the nearest hotel.

The next day, they rented a car and drove to Chicago, a trip that Rossman, a native of Colombia, believes put her on a path to understanding the importance of embracing multiple identities.

Feeling something shift

Until 9/11, Rossman had not considered herself American.

“I grew up with one identity, Colombian,” said Rossman, whose father was a doctor and moved the family from Bogotá to the U.S. to pursue his specialization in gastroenterology. “Even though my schooling and my friends were here, my parents always intended to move back. My mom flew from the U.S. to Colombia when she was pregnant so that I’d be born there.”

Driving back to Chicago with her husband, who is American, Rossman said she felt something shift. “In upstate New York, there were trucks on the highway with big American flags, and I saw all of these small towns with their flags flying,” she said. “It was the first time that I realized that the U.S. could be in danger. That’s when I definitely understood that I was equally American. This is part of who I am and I wanted to honor and protect it. ”

It was the first time that I realized that the U.S. could be in danger. That’s when I definitely understood that I was equally American. This is part of who I am and I wanted to honor and protect it.

Being Colombian in the U.S. wasn’t always simple as a kid. The drug war caused strife between the U.S. and Colombia and led to stereotypes of Colombians. But relations between the two countries have improved and interest in exploring Colombia is growing, she said.

“The perception of Colombia as violent is going away,” said Rossman, who lives outside of Chicago with her husband and 13-year-old twins. “The country is now full of tourists and its biodiversity is amazing. I’m no longer surprised when colleagues ask me to coffee to discuss a vacation there.”

“Not the story people wanted to hear”

Cristina Rossman, MBA 00, in Cartagena.
Cristina Rossman, pictured in Cartagena, said that the imposter syndrome she felt with her Latina identity is fading.

At work as a marketing executive, Rossman said that for years she had mild imposter syndrome with her Latina identity, mainly due to her family’s privilege.

“We didn’t come to the U.S. because we were financially unstable or because we had to come here,” she said. “Yet that often felt like that was the story that people wanted to hear.”

That discomfort has faded, she said. As chief marketing officer at Relativity, which manages large volumes of data used in litigation, internal investigations, and compliance projects, she has the opportunity to share her reflections on identity with others and learn from them.

At a recent Culture Collective forum, a panel of colleagues shared how they navigated the topic of race both personally and professionally. “I was so impressed by how open and honest people were in sharing different perspectives and experiences, asking questions, and learning from one another,” she said. “I truly believe that when employees feel empowered and supported to be their authentic selves at work, especially in such a creative department like marketing, the output of our work is infinitely better.”

Gerardo Campos: How a student walkout changed my life

For Latinx Heritage Month we’re featuring members of our Berkeley Haas community. Our first profile is of Gerardo Campos, facilities manager for the Haas faculty and student services buildings. Campos, who is Mexican, discusses early activism that significantly impacted his life.

Gerardo Campos with his family
Gerardo Campos (second from left) celebrates his birthday with daughter, Celeste, son, Marcelino, and wife, Michelle.

In December 1993, Gerardo Campos helped organize a walkout with hundreds of Latinx students at San Francisco’s Mission High School to pressure the school board to change the curriculum.

“We marched, demanding that they add ethnic studies, demanding a review of materials and the curriculum, because we weren’t hearing our story in class,” said Campos, who was student body president at the time.

The walkout, which led to the addition of new ethnic studies courses and expanded college prep and job readiness courses, not only politicized Campos, it changed his life, laying the groundwork for Campos to receive a scholarship to UC Santa Cruz, where he was the first in his family to attend college.

Creating change

Mission High then housed 1,415 students, 37% who were Latinx and 26% who were Chinese. Many of the students were newly arrived immigrants from around the world.

Coverage of the walkout in local paper El Tecolote
Coverage of the walkout by the English/Spanish paper El Tecolote. Campos, who helped organize the walkout, saved the news clip.

Campos recalled that some students in the high school’s newly formed Latino Club had started talking about diversity issues. The San Francisco Independent weekly newspaper reported that the students believed that “many of the high school’s staff members were insensitive to minorities” and that the curriculum didn’t align with their diverse histories.

The walkout led to a new ethnic studies alliance between Mission High and San Francisco State University, where Campos thought he would end up going to college. However his activism and leadership as student body president led him down a different path. A high school counselor nominated Campos for a citywide $5,000 SF Rotary Club scholarship that enabled him to afford tuition at UC Santa Cruz, where he graduated with a degree in psychology.

“Huge pride and a sense of accomplishment”

After graduation, Campos, who is 45, worked as a substance abuse counselor, slowly moving toward a career in facilities management at Kaiser Permanente, and then as an administrator at a nanotech startup in Emeryville. In 2004, Campos arrived at Haas, where he’s worked as a facilities manager, one of few people who comes to campus daily to manage the buildings during the pandemic.

While Campos’ activism has taken a back seat to his demanding job and raising two children, he was active over the years in the UC Berkeley campus staff Chicanx/Latinx community Alianza.

Campos and his wife, Michelle, have two children: a son, Marcelino, who is a college sophomore, and a daughter, Celeste, a Berkeley High School junior. His family is close, including five brothers and 60 cousins. Of his family members, he’s the only one who made it to college, he said, adding, “I always feel huge pride and a sense of accomplishment that I did it.”

Campos said he tries to return to Mezcala, a small town in Mexico about an hour from Guadalajara, every year to visit his family.

In recent months, Campos said he’s followed the Black Lives Matter protests and kept informed on what Haas is doing to support diversity and equity for people of color. The Trump administration’s immigration policies toward his community anger him, and he challenges the idea that people are “legal” or “illegal.” “It’s not right that if I was born over here and somebody else is born over there that we should be treated differently,” he said. “I am against it to my core.”

Reflecting on his past, Campos said he’s grateful for his experiences, including the walkout that he believes awoke him to fight for justice as a teenager, a story he recently shared with his daughter. “I’ve had a lovely life,” he said.

Alex Lopez, EMBA 20: Honored after serving in Benghazi, fighting for banking equity

Alex (second from right) with a group of Marines at the US Navy vs Notre Dame Game in Dublin, Ireland in September 2012.
Alex Lopez (second from right) with fellow Marines at the US Navy vs Notre Dame Game in Dublin, Ireland, in September 2012

In honor of Latinx Heritage Month, we’re featuring interviews with members of our Latinx community.

After the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi that killed four Americans in 2012, U.S. Marine Sgt. Alex Lopez, EMBA 20, was deployed to Libya, where he led a team that provided support to the U.S. Embassy as Americans were evacuated.

Outside of work and class, Alex Lopez, EMBA 20, a vice president at U.S. Bank, teaches financial literacy to ESL students in Nevada.

Now a student in the Berkeley Executive MBA program and a vice president at the U.S. Bank in Las Vegas, Lopez has post-graduation plans to continue assisting people from Latinx backgrounds with financial literacy.

We talked to Lopez, who was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, about his time in the Marine Corps, and his new project to promote financial literacy in schools.

Where did you grow up?

I was a teenager when I came to the U.S. with my dad. I came to Las Vegas in 2006. After I graduated high school, I joined the Marines. I wanted to change the world….That was important to me. My siblings were in the Navy and Army so I decided to enlist in the Marines, and spent five years serving.

Tell me about your role as a Marine after the attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

Right after American Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was killed on Sept. 11, 2012, our company received the call to deploy as part of Operation Jukebox Lotus. We were a hand-selected group, assisting the Department of State with evacuation, protecting people and assets at a time of extreme diplomatic sensitivity. Four Americans lost their lives during the Benghazi attacks.

Our small military company had limited knowledge and experience, since none of us had operated in Libya before. I learned that in the presence of chaos, I had to take the initiative to complete every task to the best of my ability, whether it was high priority or something seemingly unimportant. I’m confident that during those extreme times of uncertainty that the Marine Corps’ leadership principles were critical to preserving the integrity of my Marines. When we returned, our company was recognized with the Meritorious Honor Award by the Department of the State.

Alex on board the USS Fort Henry as part of the Marine Corps Ground Combat Element in August 2012
Lopez on board the USS Fort McHenry in August 2012

Did you always want to go to business school?

I moved to the U.S. to pursue an education. Business school was always attractive to me, but I never knew what I wanted to do in business. I was involved in college in leadership positions and by the time I graduated from college I had several offers from banks, and so I started my career in finance. One of the reasons why I decided to come to Berkeley for an MBA is because Haas truly embodies diversity and inclusiveness across the board. Learning from a diverse executive MBA class is enriching and furthering my capacity to innovate and go beyond my own possibilities.

Why did you choose to study finance?

My grandmother owned a restaurant. I grew up watching her and my family manage it. One thing that made a big impact is how basic financial literacy concepts could have helped the family-owned business to flourish in a more efficient way. In Mexico, I noticed a big disconnect between small businesses and banks. There’s a lack of financial literacy in Mexico that stops people from getting the help they need. This is true in the U.S., too.

Lopez (age 3 in photo) immigrated to America from Mexico at age 13 with his father.

You are already working on fixing this in your community?

Outside of work, I’m working on a project with a couple of friends from college. We go to community schools in Clark County, Nevada, that offer English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and provide a 30-45 minute workshop that focuses on basic finance topics like compound interest, retirement plans, home mortgages, personal and business loans, and credit cards. We’ve received extremely positive feedback so we hope to take the next step on this project and provide a more efficient way to increase financial literacy within the Latinx community.

What aspect of your cultural heritage do you enjoy most?

Food. Mexican dishes are very popular worldwide—tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and tamales. I love that in every part of the U.S. or the world I visit I can always count on Mexican food to be there. Our traditional food and culture is well-known worldwide, and I love to be able to eat tacos pretty much anywhere.


Paula Fernández-Baca, MBA 21: dancer, educator, and proud Peruvian-American

Paula with Berkeley Haas sign
Paula poses with the Haas sign shortly after arriving in Berkeley.

In honor of Latinx Heritage Month, we’re featuring interviews with members of our Latinx community.

Paula Fernández-Baca, MBA 21, grew up in Houston, a self-proclaimed very proud Texan. Her parents immigrated from Peru to the U.S. during the 1980s. Like many first-generation kids, Fernández-Baca grew up straddling the cultures of two worlds. We talked to Fernández-Baca about her family background & love of dance, her passion for empowering underrepresented minority students through education, and her new life at Haas.

Tell us a bit about your family background.

Nearly all of my family is still in Peru, with the exception of my parents and two brothers. As a child we’d go to Peru to visit over the summer, and I was basically “the American cousin.” My family there would call me gringa and make fun of my Spanish, so while of course everyone loved each other, I didn’t always feel like I could fully “fit in.” In Houston on the other hand, the Hispanic community was (and still is) very centered around Mexican culture. I guess growing up, people weren’t as culturally aware back then, because often people would get so confused when I’d tell them I was Hispanic but not Mexican. It was weird.

Five year old Paula (right) posing in costume with a fellow Mi Peru dancer before performing at a cultural festival in Texas.
Five-year-old Paula (right) in costume with a fellow Mi Peru dancer before performing at a cultural festival in Texas.

That being said, my family did find Peruvian community in Texas. My parents were involved in  the Peruvian Association of Houston, and through that they helped start a dance group called Grupo Folklorico Mi Perú. The community built from that group kind of became my extended family in the U.S. A lot of the kids who I danced with I’m still in touch with. They were kind of like my cousins growing up, because my real cousins were a plane ride away.

Did you love to dance as a kid?

I love Latin dancing and have a lot of childhood memories of dancing. We’d host dance practices at people’s houses that would eventually morph into big parties of salsa, Colombian cumbia, and whatever was popular in the Latin community at the time. In general I gravitate to the performing arts because of my personality, so as I’ve gotten older, I’ve taken formal salsa classes and learned how to do other styles, like bachata for example.

How did your career in education align with your heritage?

Going through Teach for America and teaching at KIPP (a charter school network) was important to me because I wanted to serve the community I grew up in. After going to high school and college on the east coast, I came back to Houston and taught 5th and 6th-grade Spanish, both a “non-native” Spanish I class, and a “native-level” class for kids that came from Hispanic backgrounds but had limited Spanish literacy skills. In my native-level class, I spent a lot of time trying to empower my Hispanic students  to think about themselves as the future leaders of the U.S., and that they should take pride in both their culture and in learning Spanish. Even though I haven’t been a teacher for a while now, I hope I can use my career to continue to empower people who come from similar backgrounds as me to see their culture as an important part of their leadership—and not something they should accommodate for others.

Paula (in the pink sweater!) with a group of her 5th grade students in 2014 at KIPP 3D Academy in Houston, Texas.
Paula (in pink sweater) with a group of her fifth grade students in 2014 at KIPP 3D Academy in Houston, Texas.

Have you found a welcoming community at Haas?

Paula with her parents at commencement.
Paula with her parents at undergraduate commencement

I knew business school was going to be a very different experience, and during the application process I was really worried about whether I’d find people who’d share my values. I went to high school at a private boarding school in Connecticut, and then to Johns Hopkins for college, so I’d been a part of predominantly white institutions for higher education before.

I got a great education in college, but have had to go on my own journey to try to figure out how to express my heritage and identity in a such a way that people around me see it as valuable, rather than “oh, that’s a cute quirk you have.” Because of that, I was trying to find a business school community where I’d feel valued and accepted. What Haas has done over the last year (in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion) was a selling point for me, even though truth-be-told I was cautiously optimistic about it. I’ve heard a lot of grand overtures from different institutions about these type of issues in the past, and it’s often not implemented well. So far, I’ve been generally pleasantly surprised. I have also found a Latin community both with people in The Consortium and among international Latin American students. Everyone here has been so, so kind.


Asst. Prof. Jose Guajardo’s Chilean pride

In honor of Latinx Heritage Month, we’re featuring interviews with members of our Latinx community.

Assoc. Prof. Jose Guajardo
Assoc. Prof. Jose Guajardo (photo: Noah Berger)

Asst. Prof. Jose Guajardo joined the Haas Operations and IT Management Group in 2012 after earning his PhD from the Wharton School. He’s focused his research on business model innovation and business analytics in operations, carving out a niche focused specifically on service business models. He’s delved into the sharing economy and found that peer-to-peer rental services can actually help manufacturers, rather than hurting sales. More recently, he’s found that businesses going solar may be better off leasing rather than buying, and also studied how rent-to-own businesses can best operate in the developing world.

We spoke with Guajardo about his Chilean heritage and how it influences his work.

What are the roots of your heritage?

I was born in Chile. I grew up in the south and went to college in Santiago. I moved to the U.S. together with my wife to do our PhDs at Penn, and stayed in the U.S. since then. This is also how I became the father of three Chilean-Americans, all of them born in Berkeley.

How does your heritage shape your career, your cultural values, or the way that you go about your research and/or teaching? 

It has had a significant impact in my research and teaching. Several of my research projects benefit from my connection with Chile (co-authors at the University of Chile, data from companies operating in Chile and Latin America, etc.). Recently, I taught in Spanish at Haas in a management program for executives visiting Berkeley from a wide range of Latin American countries. And frequently in my regular teaching I make reference to the business reality in Latin America. 

Video: Fans of Guajardo’s favorite soccer team, Club Universidad de Chile, show their “pasion azul” (passion for blue, or the team’s color) in a game against rivals Universidad Católica.

Is there an aspect of your cultural heritage that you enjoy sharing with others?

Latin America is about passion. Passion with a sense of urgency. Attending a football match or a music event anywhere in Latin America can be an experience. Spending September 18 in Chile can be a good example too, as the whole country celebrates the national independence in quite a unique way. Hard to explain in words, but easy to recognize when you experience it.

Brenda Illescas’ passion for radio and her Guatemalan heritage

In honor of Latinx Heritage Month, we’re featuring interviews with and profiles of members of our Latinx community. For this interview, we caught up with Brenda Illescas, a senior associate and data analyst in Development & Alumni Relations at Haas.

Brenda Illescas at KPFA doing her radio showOn most Tuesday evenings, you’ll find Brenda Illescas at the microphone at KPFA’s Berkeley studio, co-hosting a weekly radio show called “La Raza Chronicles/Cronicas de la Raza.”

Illescas focuses on public affairs in the Bay Area Latinx community and beyond, sharing music between interviews, too. “We interview all types of people—poets, painters, activists, community organizers, and musicians, and promote events happening in the Bay Area,” says Illescas, whose parents were born in Guatemala, and raised her in Los Angeles.

Illescas, who has been on-air at KPFA for more than four years, got involved because a friend of a friend was searching for a co-host, and she’d wanted to return to radio since her college days.

We asked Illescas about her radio show, her family’s history in Guatemala, and her passion for music.

How did you get involved with radio shows for the Latinx community?

I started doing radio shows as an undergrad at KDVS, the UC Davis campus station.  My show was called Sin Fronteras Without Borders, and aired weekly for over five years.  I played music and interviewed bands and musicians across the Latinx diaspora . My husband and I met at the station when we were both juniors and immediately connected over our passion for music of all genres. Our vinyl collection consists mostly of Latin, African, jazz, soul, electronic, and hip hop.  Together we have about 1,500 records and always jump at an opportunity to dig for more.

Brenda Illescas with her husband and daughter
Brenda, a senior associate and data analyst in Development & Alumni Relations at Haas, with her husband, Dave Severy, and daughter, Camila.

Tell us a bit about your Latinx heritage?

Both my parents were born in Guatemala on opposite sides of the country. When my mom was in her teens, she worked in my grandmother’s tortilla shop in Guatemala City, where she met my dad. He was serving in the military, and would regularly come into the store not just to eat, but to see my mom. As the violence of the civil war escalated in the 80s, they decided to leave everything behind in search of a better life. They migrated to America, settling in Los Angeles, and started their family. My grandparents were all born in Guatemala, and some of my great-grandparents were born in Spain, which is the origin of my last names, Illescas, and Aragon. I still have immediate and extended family who live in Guatemala. I love to visit my parents’ homeland, seeing all the places they grew up going to, and eating all the yummy dishes from my culture.

Brenda at age two with her parents.
Two-year-old Brenda, who grew up in LA, at a house party with her parents, Luis Illescas and Ana Barrios.

How do you believe that your heritage shapes your cultural values?

My cultural values stem from my family being really close. Family comes first, period. Pretty much all of my aunts and uncles moved to LA and had kids, so I have over 30 immediate cousins and many more second cousins. My parents were the first among their siblings to buy a house, so we always hosted everyone for the holidays and cooked lots of food together. I also spent lots of weekends going to birthdays, baptisms, quinceañeras, weddings, graduations, and other reunions.  My parents still visit their extended families in Guatemala once a year, and have instilled in me the importance of staying connected to family.

Brenda with her husband and son at the beach.
Brenda (holding two-year-old Camila) met her husband, Dave Severy, at their college radio station at UC Davis.

Is there an aspect of your cultural heritage that you enjoy sharing with others?

People know that I love anything related to food…talking, eating, cooking, etc. My mom is known as the best cook in our extended family. She can cook anything. She loves cooking for anyone who comes to our house—she’s one of those moms who keeps feeding you and feeding you even when you’re full. You just can’t get enough of her food. I remember my friends in middle school would make requests for my mom’s sandwiches every week.

Also music! We would always play music, dance, and sing at parties. My family really encouraged me to listen to their records and CDs, and fostered my passion for seeing live music and hosting radio shows. One of my favorite photos was when I was two years old playing with my dad’s old record player and his 1960s/70s rock and oldies collection. LA is such a nexus for Latinx music and culture, and I was fortunate to be exposed to so much of it growing up and still today when I visit.

Brenda as a baby playing some tunes on her parents' stereo
Brenda at age three in her parents’ LA apartment, where she loved playing oldies and rock albums on her dad’s record player.

How family heritage influenced Élida Bautista’s career path

Élida Bautista, director of diversity & inclusion at Haas
Élida Bautista, director of diversity & inclusion at Haas

In honor of Latinx Heritage Month, we’re featuring interviews with and profiles of members of the Latin American community. For this interview, we caught up with Élida Bautista.

Élida Bautista, director of diversity & inclusion at Haas, is one of five siblings who grew up in an extended Mexican family of mixed immigration status in Chicago. When she was 13, her family moved to Fillmore, a sleepy California agricultural town where her father, aunt, and uncle were farm workers.

At a young age, Bautista was bussed out of her Puerto Rican neighborhood to a multi-ethnic, better-resourced school—and her life from then on became an exploration of the culture, language, food, and games of her classmates. “I credit my Chicago roots with putting me on the diversity path,” says Bautista, who came to Haas from UCSF’s Department of Psychiatry, where she spent 15 years developing programs focused on social justice, diversity, and inclusion.

At Haas, she’s setting school-wide strategy for inclusion, diversity, and equity, and also works to support students, faculty, and staff to build an inclusive school climate.

We asked Bautista a few questions:

What are the roots of your heritage?

Both of my parents are from a rural town in Zacatecas, Mexico. Growing up, we spent our summers visiting family there. We joined in on summer traditions, and visited local archeological sites. Additionally, my father made it a point to take us to neighboring states to deepen our cultural exposure and understanding, simultaneously sharing his knowledge of Mexican history and indigenous ‘leyendas’ (oral history).

Elida with her niece
Élida with her niece celebrating Día de los Muertos.

What aspect of your cultural heritage do you enjoy sharing most with others?

As an adult, when I moved away from my family, I started to share traditions related to Día de los Muertos with my friends, such as setting up an altar or gifting them sugar skulls with their names, and explaining to them the meaning behind the holiday. I also enjoy sharing traditional Mexican cuisine with my friends. From simple ‘antojitos’ (traditional snacks) to laborious dishes from scratch, it’s a way of staying connected to my family’s traditions and sharing the joy of yummy food.

How did your heritage influence your career path?

My dad had a strong influence in instilling in me a sense of obligation toward my community and taking care of each other. When I was a teenager we moved from Chicago to an agricultural town in California. I witnessed how Mexican students were tracked out of college prep classes, and therefore had limited choices upon graduation. I was interested in becoming a psychologist to challenge these patterns and create more access to higher ed. There’s still a long way to go, but I see a lot of opportunity.

Adriana Vanegas, BS 20, on learning to excel as a student

Adriana Vanegas with her family
Adriana Vanegas, BS 20,  (front, right) with (L-R)  sisters Fabiola and  Monica; and her mother, Patricia.

In honor of Latinx Heritage Month, we’re featuring interviews and profiles with members of the Latin American community. For our fifth interview, we caught up with Adriana Vanegas.

When Adriana Vanegas, BS 20, arrived in California from San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, in 2006, she spoke no English and struggled to stay motivated in school.

“Twelve years ago, I never would have imagined that I would be at Berkeley Haas,” said Vanegas.

But over the years, Vanegas said she was inspired by her mother, who runs her own dental practice, to work hard and study, which led her to Irvine Valley College. There, she was involved in student government and served as a student ambassador, helping to raise money for scholarships and boost enrollment at the school. From Irvine Valley College, she achieved a goal she never thought possible: transferring into Berkeley Haas as a junior this year, receiving a Chancellor’s Scholarship, a Leadership Scholarship and the Kruttschnitt Aspire Scholarship.

Adriana Vanagas, BS 20, came to the U.S. from San Salvador in 2006
Adriana Vanagas, BS 20, came to the U.S. from San Salvador in 2006

We asked Vanegas a few questions about life in San Salvador and her culture:

Tell me about your family.

I grew up in a very big family. At least once every week, I would see all of my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins gathered in one place. Not having my family around all the time was one the most difficult things I had to adjust to when I came to the United States. Over time, I realized that regardless of where I am in the world, I will always have my family’s support.

Why did you move to the U.S.?

In El Salvador, my mom had a dental practice but not many people were able to afford dental care so it became difficult for her to financially support the family. My mom made the brave decision to move to the United States to attain the American Dream. While she established herself in the US, I stayed behind with my grandparents in El Salvador and I eventually immigrated to California in 2006. My mom now has her own dental practice in California.

How did you become a good student?

Becoming a good student was a bit of a process for me but I remember my “turning point” very clearly. It was the last day of elementary school and I was walking home, nervous to open my report card. As soon as I opened it, I realized that I got all Cs—barely passing the grade. At that moment, I felt an overwhelming feeling of guilt because I knew I was not worthy of all of the sacrifices that my mom made for me. While my mom worked over 10 hours per day to build a better future for our family, I spent my days doing everything else besides school work.

From that point, I set myself a goal to make my mom proud and do well in school. The biggest challenge was not even knowing what studying meant. As a young middle-schooler, I thought rereading a study guide was boring—so as a music-loving Latina, I turned to music. Every Thursday night throughout middle school, I was in my room singing about mitochondria and cell walls to prepare for my biology test. Slowly, but surely, my grades improved and I accomplished my goal.

What do you love the most about being Salvadoran?

I am part of a community of fighters. As I was growing up, my mom showed me what it really meant to be a fighter, a go-getter, and a hard worker. Everything I have today is because of my mom’s hard work. She is the reason why I was able to learn English, why I was able to get an education in the United States, why I was able to transfer out of community college, and why I will be able to graduate from UC Berkeley. Her incredible example inspires me to work even harder every single day and to be a fighter—just like her.

How did your culture influence your future goals?

Being Latina has always empowered me to work harder because I want to set an example for other Latinos to dream big and further their education. There are so many children in El Salvador who are unable to continue their education due to economic reasons, which traps them in the vicious cycle of poverty. After graduation, my goal is to go back to El Salvador and help underprivileged children by empowering them through education.


Paola Blanco, MBA 19, on helping her community after Hurricane Maria

In honor of Latinx Heritage Month, we’re featuring interviews and profiles with members of the Latin American community. For our fourth interview, we caught up with Paola Blanco.

Blanco with her family
Paola Blanco (left), MBA 19, celebrating the first Christmas with her family in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.

Paola Blanco, MBA 19, was in her first semester at Haas in September 2017 when Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. It was devastating to Blanco, who was born and raised in Ponce, on the island’s southern coast; she did not hear from her family for five days.

The Bay Area Puerto Rican community quickly came together to organize collection drives in Oakland and share the latest recovery news. Blanco found encouragement from her classmates.

“Everyone at Haas was so supportive,” she said. “My classmates asked, ‘Are you ok? How’s your family? How can I help?'”

While Blanco was heartened by the local community support, she found the U.S. government’s response frustrating. “There was a lot of suffering and a lot of inaction,” she said. “I had to really quickly figure out what people here could do about it. I went from trying to help my family to helping our community.”

Blanco, left, with her sister, Pati, celebrating Paola's acceptance into Berkeley Haas in Puerto Rico.
Blanco, left, in Puerto Rico with her sister, Pati, celebrating Paola’s acceptance into Berkeley Haas.

When Blanco  returned to Puerto Rico a few months after the hurricane, she was shocked by the changes. “You walked around streets of San Juan and all of these small businesses were closed,” she said. “At night, all conversations come back to Maria, and the level of trauma people went through.” Now, she said, the island is recovering and people are living a new normal.

Paying it forward

Blanco earned an engineering degree at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez before coming to Chicago in 2011, where she joined a rotational program with Abbott Laboratories. Chicago was a bit of a culture shock. “I moved in the middle of a winter storm and we didn’t even have shovels,” she said. “We used pots and pans to shovel the snow.”

During her time at Abbott, she led a team charged with recruiting talented Puerto Ricans to the company’s internship program, prioritizing these efforts to give back to her community.

Blanco said she decided to pursue an MBA to broaden her perspective and develop a more strategic mindset. As a Consortium fellow, she is involved in multiple initiatives at Haas that help lift the underrepresented minority (URM) community and promote diversity and inclusion. “My commitment to the cause is rooted in the fact that I am a product of similar efforts and I want to pay it forward,” she said.

Blanco with her mom, Sandra
Blanco with her mom, Sandra, during a Bay Area visit.

As a Puerto Rican, she shares her love of her family and her culture—from music to sports—with her friends.

“I’m very proud of my Puerto Rican heritage,” she said. “Everything about the way I approach things in my career and my personal life are influenced by the way Puerto Ricans approach life: with passion. We’re very resilient and passionate about things we care about.”

Josue Chavarin, MBA 19, on helping immigrant communities prosper

In honor of Latinx Heritage Month, we’re featuring interviews and profiles with members of the Haas community of Latin American descent. For our second interview, we caught up with Josue Chavarin, MBA 19.

Josue Chavarin, MBA 19, with his family.
Josue Chavarin, MBA 19 (front left), surrounded by his family. From the left, clockwise, Chavarin’s mother, Maria; brother, Jesus; sister, Triny; grandmother, Emerita; sister, Alina; father, Trinidad and brother, Misael.

Josue Chavarin, MBA 19, a first-gen college student and son of Mexican immigrants who grew up in Salinas, Ca., is all about paying it forward.

As a recipient of the Galloway Fellowship—created by Scott Galloway, MBA 92 in honor of his single, immigrant mother—Chavarin is now helping other students by working on the Haas Racial Inclusion Initiative. Through the student-led effort to increase diversity in the program and ensure that students from all backgrounds feel welcome, he and classmates conducted research that helped influence a decision to include optional MBA admissions essay prompts that allow students to expand on their socioeconomic and family backgrounds.

Chavarin is back at Berkeley for his second degree. As an undergrad, he majored in political science. Two of his siblings also went to Berkeley.

What aspect of your cultural heritage makes you proud?

I’m most proud of my culture’s emphasis on family.

My family has heavily influenced my sense of identity and provided me with invaluable support. My sense of identity was heavily shaped by observing my parent’s resilience and willingness to sacrifice to see my siblings and I prosper academically and professionally. Moreover, it was my parents who taught me about the rich culture of their home country, Mexico, and to be very proud of my brown skin and mestizo background.

Likewise, I have been fortunate enough to be able to pay it forward by passing these values on to my younger family members. I draw an immense sense of satisfaction in being able to assist my family members grow academically, professionally, and personally. Every day, I am grateful for the both values that I have learned from my culture and the opportunity that I have to imbue these values in others.

How did your heritage shape your desire to get an MBA – or impact the career path you are on?

I am very proud of my Latino American background. My career goals and desire to get an MBA has been heavily influenced by my desire to see working class Latinos and immigrants prosper and grow.

As a recent college graduate, I worked in the state legislature to expand the opportunities that undocumented immigrants, including Latinos, had to work and prosper in California. While working in philanthropy, I had the privilege of being able to work for several years on a campaign that successfully advocated for our state government to expand access to health care to California’s 300,000 undocumented children. In the future, I hope to be able to use the skills learned in my MBA program to continue improving the lives of members of disadvantaged communities, including those who are Latino.

Read other Latinx Heritage Month profiles: Rafael Sanchez, MBA 19  and Cristy Johnston-Limón EMBA 16



Rafael Sanchez, MBA 19, on balancing family and career aspirations

In honor of Latinx Heritage Month, we’re featuring interviews and profiles with Haas community members of Latin American descent. For our third interview, we caught up with Rafael Sanchez.

Rafael Sanchez, MBA 19, (front, center), surrounded by his family. L-R: Sanchez’s mother, Margarita; brother, Lino; aunt, Amanda; niece, Emily; nephew, Alex; sister, Kareen; sister, Vero; and nephew, Carlos.
Rafael Sanchez, MBA 19, (front, center), surrounded by his family. L-R: Sanchez’s mother, Margarita; brother, Lino; aunt, Amanda; niece, Emily; nephew, Alex; sister, Kareen; sister, Vero; and nephew, Carlos.

Rafael Sanchez, MBA 19, nearly didn’t graduate high school after failing English his senior year.

“I fell into a trap that existed in my neighborhood,” said Sanchez, who grew up in Baldwin Park, Ca., surrounded by his large and tight-knit Mexican-American extended family. “In a low-income community a lot of people were influenced to do the wrong things, such as join gangs or do drugs…It was not a good environment. I didn’t do either, because of the values my mother instilled in me, but I hung out with friends who did both.”

With a little luck and extra credit, Sanchez managed to pass the class and graduate and—on the strength of his overall GPA and resulting class rank—was accepted to UC Riverside, where he studied business administration.

A future career in business

Today, it’s hard to believe Sanchez ever failed anything. He’s a student leader at Haas with a long list of roles: an Academic Cohort Representative; a liaison for the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, the nation’s largest diversity network; a leader of the admissions pillar of the Racial Inclusion Initiative at Haas; an officer in the Haas Marketing Club and the Sports Business Club; a founding student advisory board member for the Center for Equity, Gender, & Leadership; a graduate student instructor for Kellie McElhaney’s Equity Fluent Leadership course; and a founder of the Latinx Business Club, a new club dedicated to promoting the experience of U.S. Latinx at Haas.

Growing up one of four siblings, he said, there were signs of a future career in business. For extra pocket money, he stood outside of a toy store and sold personal pizzas outside, and he also bought snacks at a big box store to sell out of his backpack at school—that is, until his business was shut down by a school proctor.

“With my dad, everything had to be a business proposition,” he said. “If I wanted a pair of shoes, I had to negotiate and make trade-offs, so business was ingrained in my DNA.  Also, although my parents never explicitly said it, I was expected to go to college.”

After his father returned to Mexico, Sanchez said his mother, one of 16 children, became the family’s rock and inspiration.

“I’m here because of the sacrifices my mother has made for me to be successful,” he said. “It all comes back to my mom. She never demanded anything from me. She just wanted me to be a good person…she is the only one in her family to graduate all four of her children from college. There’s something there.”

Sanchez showing friends around his beloved Rosarito Beach in Mexico.
Sanchez showing friends around his beloved Rosarito Beach in Mexico.

We asked Sanchez a few more questions:

What do you like to share about your heritage that your friends might not understand?

I’m not Mexican. I’m not American. I’m Mexican-American. I am proud to be a blend of two distinct cultures. Being part of an educational system that’s American, going to school in America, and then going home to a different language and culture makes me a blend of those things. The foundation is family and I’m comfortable saying “I am both.”

What are you most proud of with your heritage?

It always comes back to family. Here in this country, the idea of the American dream, I believe in that. But I’ve come to terms with the fact that society’s definition of success isn’t necessarily what I want. What I want, personally, is maximizing time with family. That’s been my constant battle as I’ve had to manage my personal aspirations.

At the end of the day, why I chose Berkeley over my dream school (UCLA) was that it was time for me to get away from my family, focus on myself, and figure out what I was passionate about. Geography made a huge impact because it was important for me not to be too far away from home.

Have you been back to Mexico lately?

I went to Jalisco, where my parents are from, right before I started at Haas.  Also, I love to travel to Rosarito Beach in Mexico so much that I have taken some of my classmates to visit.

Additional profiles: Cristy Johnston-Limón EMBA 16 and Josue Chavarin, MBA 19

Cristy Johnston Limón, EMBA 16, on transforming lives and communities through the arts

In honor of Latinx Heritage Month, we’re featuring interviews and profiles with members of the Haas community of Latin American descent. For our first interview, we caught up with Cristy Johnston-Limón.

Cristy Johnston Limon, EMBA 16, executive director of Youth Speaks (Photo by Noah Berger)
Cristy Johnston Limón, EMBA 16, executive director of Youth Speaks (Photo by Noah Berger)

Cristy Johnston-Limón, EMBA 16, is the daughter of Guatemalan immigrants who grew up in San Francisco’s Mission District, where she worked as a young urban neighborhood activist. A first-gen UC Berkeley student who went on to graduate from the Berkeley MBA for Executives Program, Johnston-Limón was the former executive director of Destiny Arts in Oakland. She’s now the executive director of Youth Speaks, an organization that aims to transform young peoples’ lives and communities through the arts. 

Recently, she volunteered for the CARA Pro Bono Legal Project, which works with lawyers and translators to help asylum-seeking mothers at the border prepare for their “credible fear interviews,” the first step in a lengthy process to gain protection from violence and persecution in their native countries.

“The majority of the women were from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras,” Johnston-Limón said. “As a Guatemalan woman who speaks the language and understands our cultural norms, I was able to build rapport and trust quickly with the mothers, some who were struggling with the trauma of migration, and having been separated from their children while gaining entry into the U.S. I have never felt more proud of my fluency than I did when I discovered that all of the women I worked with were granted asylum, and have a fighting chance to start a new life in this country.”

We asked her a few more questions:

Tells us about your heritage.

My ancestral roots are Mayan. Both of my parents are from Guatemala and met in San Francisco in the mid 1970s. My grandparents are from Antigua, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and one of my favorite places to visit, drink coffee from my grandfather’s coffee plants, and listen to American rock music with my cousins.

What aspect of your cultural heritage do you enjoy sharing most with others?

Being bilingual and bicultural has opened so many doors, professionally and personally. I was raised to value family, friendships, and personal connections which have translated into being able to make a connection with virtually anyone from any background. Emotional intelligence is a powerful skill that builds bridges, creates opportunities for genuine connection, and more. Having developed this cultural fluency has really helped propel my career in public service as I engage with people from all walks of life, sometimes in the same conversation.

How did your heritage shape your desire to get an MBA and your career path?

Obtaining higher education is still largely limited in our Latinx community, with just under 4% of U.S. Hispanics obtaining master’s degrees [2016, U.S. Census Bureau reported 3.9%]. Being the first person in my family to graduate from college, from UC Berkeley no less, I felt a responsibility–still feel it–to push myself beyond what I think I can do and make a greater impact in my family and my community through higher education. I knew an MBA could open more doors for my social impact work, as increasingly nonprofit leaders must also have business fluency, but what I didn’t account for was that other young men and women, particularly young people of color, would be inspired by my journey.

Today, as the director of the country’s largest spoken-word organization, I am using every skill and tool I learned at Haas to advance social justice through the arts, centering youth voices and narratives to make lasting change for the better.