Year in review: Top Berkeley Haas stories of 2019

It was a big year at Berkeley Haas. We welcomed the school’s first new dean in more than a decade, continued our run in the top 10 in all rankings, and launched several new boundary-spanning programs. Our faculty broke new ground and were honored with numerous awards, and we also mourned the loss of several luminaries. The school was also recognized for its stellar sustainability efforts at our new building.

Going into the 2020, our culture—truly at the heart of Haas—will continue to take center stage. Here are a dozen of our highlights from 2019.

1. New year, new dean

Dean Ann Harrison
Dean Ann Harrison | Copyright Noah Berger 2018

On January 1, former Wharton economics professor Ann Harrison “came home” to Berkeley to serve as the 15th dean of Haas. Harrison was a double major in history and economics at UC Berkeley before going on to earn a PhD in economics from Princeton. She also served as a professor of UC Berkeley’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics from 2001 to 2011, and was the former director of development policy at the World Bank.

2. Fresh insights and groundbreaking research

Illustration of a satellite orbiting the earth

From the first-ever analysis of how hedge funds use satellite images to beat Wall Street, to a finding that information acts on the brain’s dopamine receptors in the same way as snacks, drugs, and money, to new insights from social network experts on how the opioid use spreads in families, Haas faculty questioned the status quo with their creative and groundbreaking research. They also made an impact: Ginnie Mae adopted a proposal based on Haas professors’ research for better risk management of non-bank lenders, and U.S. senators Elizabeth Warren and Doug Jones launched an investigation into evidence uncovered by three faculty that that online lending algorithms have created widespread lending discrimination.

3. Shedding light on PG&E blackouts

Professors Catherine Wolfram and Severin Borenstein

Haas experts were in high demand to make sense of this fall’s unprecedented power shutoffs. Energy economists Severin Borenstein and Catherine Wolfram of the Energy Institute at Haas fielded a stream of questions from journalists after Pacific Gas & Electric determined it could not guarantee the safety of its lines and shut down power to hundreds of thousands of people, including the entire UC Berkeley campus.

4. Mourning the loss of faculty luminaries

Prof. Mark Rubinstein in his home library / Photo by Jim Block
Prof. Mark Rubinstein in his home library | Photo by Jim Block

Mark Rubinstein (above), a finance professor emeritus whose work had a profound impact on Wall Street by forever changing how financial assets are created and priced, died at 74. Raymond Miles, a former Berkeley Haas dean and professor emeritus whose leadership had a deep and lasting impact on the Haas campus and community, passed away at 86. Leo Helzel, MBA 68, LLM 70, an honored faculty member who guided the school’s first forays into entrepreneurship and was a dedicated and generous supporter of Haas for decades, died at 101. Rob Chandra, BS 88, a professional faculty member since 2013, taught courses on entrepreneurship and venture capital to both undergraduate and MBA students. He passed away in October at age 53.

5. STEM designation for MBA programs

Photo of students in Chou Hall at Haas

Berkeley Haas is among the first business schools to receive a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) designation for its MBA programs. The designation makes all international graduates eligible to apply for an additional 24-month visa extension during post-MBA employment. All current international students studying on F-1 visas will be eligible to apply for the extension while they are in their first year of work authorization after graduating from the MBA program. “We anticipate that this will lead to expanded opportunities for our international graduates who pursue jobs incorporating business analytics, modeling, forecasting, and other skills developed through our program,” said Peter Johnson, assistant dean of the FTMBA program and admissions.

6. Record rankings

Students at work during week zero
Photo by Jim Block

All Haas programs continued their run in the top 10 in all major rankings, with the full-time MBA program moving up to #6 in the U.S. in the U.S. News & World Report ranking—its highest ever. The FTMBA program was also ranked #6 in the U.S. by The Economist (#7 worldwide) and #8 in the U.S. by Bloomberg BusinessweekU.S. News ranked the Berkeley Haas Evening & Weekend MBA Program #2, the Undergraduate Program #3, and the Berkeley MBA for Executives Program #7.  The Master of Financial Engineering Program was ranked #1 by The Financial Engineer, and #2 by QuantNet.

7. Chou Hall’s green trifecta

Photo of the front of Chou Hall

Our newest building officially became the greenest academic space in the U.S., receiving a WELL Certification recognizing its “strong commitment to supporting human health, well-being, and comfort;” a TRUE Zero Waste Certification at the highest possible level for diverting at least 90% of its waste from landfills; and LEED Platinum Certification for its architectural design, construction, and energy efficiency.

8. Welcoming David Porter, our first Chief DEI officer

Berkley Haas Chief DEI Officer David Porter

“My first priority is making sure that the students, particularly students of color, have the best experience possible,” said Porter, who previously served as CEO of media nonprofit Walter Kaitz Foundation, director of graduate programs at the Howard University School of Business, and as an assistant professor and faculty director at UCLA’s Anderson School.

9. Unveiling a new sustainable and impact finance program (SAIF)

MBA students who managed the Haas Sustainably Investment Fund
MBA students who have managed the Sustainable Investment Fund at Haas. Photo: Jim Block

The Sustainable and Impact Finance program aims to better position students to work in sustainable and impact finance as public fund managers or private equity investors, or in the startup world. It’s focused on three sectors: sustainable investment, impact investment, and impact entrepreneurship. Assoc. Prof. Adair Morse developed the new program with Prof. Laura Tyson, faculty director for the Institute for Business and Social Impact (IBSI).

10. Building campus connections with cross-disciplinary programs

Haas joined forces with the College of Engineering to launch the concurrent MBA/MEng dual degree program. The new program, enrolling for fall 2020, allows students with undergraduate technical training to earn both a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Engineering degree in just two years. The new undergrad Biology+Business dual major is designed to prepare students for careers in healthcare, biotech, and drug discovery research. It’s a joint venture between the Department of Molecular & Cell Biology and Haas.

11. A host of honors for faculty

Top row: Chesbrough, Mowery, Wallace. Middle: Dal Bó, Schroeder, Morse. Bottom: Konchitchki, Patatoukas, Finan.

Assoc. Prof. Yaniv Konchitchki and Assoc. Prof. Panos Patatoukas received the 2019 Notable Contributions to Accounting Literature Award from the American Accounting Association. Prof. Emeritus David Mowery received the 2019 Irwin Outstanding Educator Award from the Academy of Management’s Strategic Management Division. Adj. Prof. Henry Chesbrough received the Leadership in Technology Management Award from the Portland International Center for Management of Engineering and Technology (PICMET). Prof. Nancy Wallace was honored by campus with a prestigious faculty service award. Miguel Villas-Boas was awarded the 2019 INFORMS Society for Marketing Science Fellow Award, which is the organization’s highest award recognizing cumulative scholarship and long-term contributions to the marketing field. Prof. Ernesto Dal Bó and Prof. Frederico Finan received the 2019 Williamson Award at the 2019 Society for Institutional and Organizational Economics (SIOE) conference. Assoc. Prof. Juliana Schroeder was recognized as a “Best 40 Under 40” professor by Poets & Quants. Cheit Awards for Excellence in Teaching went to professors Adair Morse, Ross Levine, Yaniv Konchitchki, and Hoai-Luu Nguyen, along with lecturers Janet Brady, Eric Reiner, and Veselina Dinova.

12. Going deeper on culture

We continued to embed our Defining Leadership Principles (DLPs)—Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself—throughout the school. In January, the Berkeley Haas Cultural Initiative launched with a  pioneering conference where executives from Facebook, Netflix, Zappos, Pixar Animation Studios, Deloitte, and other “culture aware” companies mingled with top academics from around the world. Separately, Haas supporters donated over $200,000 to distribute as grants for efforts aimed at keeping our DLPs strong. After reviewing 29 proposals from students, faculty, and staff, grant reviewers funded six projects and initiatives.

Questioning the status quo: a Q&A with Chief DEI Officer David Porter

David Porter, Haas' first chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer, started July 15. Photo: Brittany Hosea-Small
David Porter, Haas’ first chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer, started July 15. Photo: Brittany Hosea-Small

David Porter, Berkeley Haas’ new chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer, believes in questioning the status quo—which happens to be his favorite Defining Leadership Principle.

“I’m not a ‘follow the rules’ kind of guy,” said Porter, who started his job July 15. But before he shakes things up, Porter is getting acclimated with the Haas campus and community, meeting with his team, and setting his priorities.

Porter comes to Haas from the Walter Kaitz Foundation, a media nonprofit, where he served as CEO. He’s also the former director of graduate programs at the Howard University School of Business and was an assistant professor and faculty director at UCLA’s Anderson School.

We sat down to interview him last week.

Tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, although I was born in Nashville. Kansas City was a great place to grow up. It was a large enough city that you had access to all the city stuff, but it wasn’t so big that my parents had to worry about my safety. Of course, it was a different time, so as long as you were in by the time the lights came on, it was all good. My father was a pediatrician. My mother was an assistant dean at the University of Kansas Medical Center, where she ran the medical center’s diversity programs. I have one sister, who’s now a psychiatrist.

When did you first come out to California?

In 1981, I drove cross-country to attend Stanford, where I stayed for eight years. At Stanford, I was very active in the black community. In addition, I was elected president of the student body and later served as the chair of the student senate. These experiences helped shape my understanding of universities and honed my leadership skills. As a student activist, I was the guy who often stood in the middle working to negotiate creative solutions with the administration.

My experience as a leader helped prepare me to serve on Stanford’s University Committee on Minority Issues. This was my first opportunity to think strategically about how one might diversify an organization. The committee was created in response to student protests in the spring of 1987. Its role was to make a comprehensive review of the entire institution. We worked for two years to develop a report which made numerous recommendations, many of which were adopted. That’s where I developed a lot of the skills around exercising influence without authority which I still use to this day.

What drew you to this position at Haas?

What I was really looking for was an organization where I thought the leaders were serious. A lot of diversity roles are what I call “diversity eye candy.” These companies often hire individuals who will come in and make the organization look good, without making real change. When I saw this role, I said to myself, “Let’s go through the process and see.” And as I went through the process, it seemed like Haas was serious with the DEI action plan. The fact that Haas has responded so energetically to the issues raised was impressive. You don’t often see a dean and her senior staff say they’re going to take the next 30 days to dig into a problem and actually take specific actions to address it.

When you first read our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion plan, what did you think of it?

I think it outlined some great first steps. For example, it recognized that the admissions process has some inherent biases which needed to be addressed. It also made some quick changes that were critical to impact the incoming class and it identified additional resources, including the expansion of the DEI team.  These efforts helped Haas to yield a critical mass of underrepresented students in the incoming class. It is my hope and expectation that these students will have a great experience which they will be able to share with future prospective students.

What are your first priorities here at Haas?

My first priority is making sure that the students, particularly students of color, have the best experience possible. I don’t want any of them to say, “Hey, this was a bad choice for me.” Part of that will be about meeting with them, being a good mentor, being a good resource. Another part of it will be working with my team to make sure that the environment continues moving in the direction that we’re going: to become more inclusive, to make sure that we put true meaning in the word “equity.”

I’d also like to get a better understanding of all the diversity activities going on at Haas. I’ve been amazed that in almost every conversation I’ve had, I’ve learned of another diversity initiative or an individual who has taken it upon themselves to do something to make this place more inclusive. I want to know what everyone is doing regarding diversity-related efforts and I’d love to create a big flow chart, because I think that we can do a better job of telling that story. I also think that better coordination could take place. All of those people who are doing that diversity work in addition to their regular day jobs—they are instant allies.

What are some of the things that can be done inside of the classroom?

There are lots of ways in which we can make a more inclusive experience in the classroom. For example, including more cases with diverse protagonists or covering diversity-related topics or bringing in more diverse guest speakers.  Hopefully, over time as our students see a broader range of individuals who are successful leaders, their view of what a successful leader looks like will change.

Will African American enrollment increase this fall and do you think that will change the campus environment?

We don’t have the final numbers yet, but we’re definitely expecting to have more African American students on campus this fall.

Every class comes in with a different mix. You can never really predict who will step up early on as leaders. But I do think that when you have a more diverse group of folks, there are more ingredients in the mix, and if Haas does a good job of creating an inclusive environment where everyone can come in and feel like they can be who they are and contribute actively, it will be a great experience for everyone.

VIDEO: Wall Street pioneer Margo Alexander on thriving against the odds

As one of the first female leaders in the global financial services sector, Margo Alexander, BS 68, spent four decades achieving exceptional success on Wall Street in the face of pervasive sexism. Now, she’s using what she learned as a financial powerbroker to cultivate entrepreneurs who serve the world’s poorest people.

“The social problems of the country are not just for the government to solve. And corporations have the levers…they can make that decision to improve [society],” says Alexander, who spoke candidly about her experiences with Interim Dean Laura Tyson in the final installment of the 2018 Dean’s Speaker Series this month.

Alexander retired in 2003 after 30 years at UBS/Paine Webber, in equity research, sales, trading and asset management, serving as chairman and CEO of UBS Global Asset Management 1995 to 2000 and chairman from 1999 to 2001.  She then spent almost a decade as board chair of Acumen—a nonprofit committed to changing the way the world tackles poverty—where she continues to serve as chair emeritus.

She’s focused on helping entrepreneurs doing business in impoverished regions of Africa and South Asia—applying many of the same tactics she used to spot talent in the corporate financial sector. “I think being an entrepreneur is hard work anywhere. But imagine in a place where there’s no electricity, the water is intermittent, the workforce is uneducated…all of the resources that you would pull together as an entrepreneur to build an organization are somewhat rickety to start with,” she said.

“What we have found about our successes over time is the most important variable is the character of the entrepreneur. They’re operating in very difficult circumstances; there’s an enormous amount of corruption; and, if these people don’t stand up in an honest, ethical way, we’ll [withdraw our support].”

Alexander, who was recently honored with a Haas Lifetime Achievement Award, exemplifies the Defining Leadership Principle Question the Status Quo. Each time she entered into a new assignment and wanted to make changes, she took care to communicate to employees what would be in it for them. She would start by saying, “Here’s what I’ve learned about our group. Here’s what we need to do better. And here’s how we’re going to do it.” Then came the benefit: “It will improve our bonus pool.”

Her strategy was to link “the broader goals with the individual performance and what that would do in terms of the firm, the team, the individual.”

Alexander was one of just 27 women in a class of 800 to graduate from Harvard Business School in 1970. It took her two years to get her first job in finance. In her last semester, she signed up for several interviews. “You’d go in, and, frequently, they would say, ‘oh, I’m sorry, we don’t hire women.’ I said, ‘Oh, okay.’ So, then you leave. I’ve had women say to me, ‘What did you say to them?’ Nothing. I mean, it was just how things were.”

Alexander persevered through years of gender discrimination, and she believes strongly that women bring tremendous assets to corporate finance. “I actually think women can have an advantage in dealing with people. I think women are generally more open, more inclusive, and warmer.”

She had lots of advice when asked how to attract and retain top talent, especially entrepreneurs. First, she advocates for offering robust training programs and fellowships.

“When you get involved in hiring people, you’re not always right, but you get a feeling for what is it that motivates this person. Do they have ethical standards?,” she said. “I would say we do not have a magic box. But, when you find out you were wrong, we don’t sit around. We’re done.”

Watch Alexander’s full talk:

Haas welcomes a record number of MBA students

A collage of photos of new MBA students during Week Zero.Berkeley Haas welcomed the two largest MBA classes in the school’s history this semester: 291 full-time students and 276 evening & weekend students, all with outstanding academic credentials.

“We’ve always had the demand and now we’re so happy to have the space to accommodate more students,” said Jamie Breen, the assistant dean of MBA Programs for Working Professionals at Haas. The extra space comes thanks to Connie & Kevin Chou Hall, the student-centered building that opened last fall.

“Haas is a truly unique and special community, and top students from around the world continue to choose us for the quality of our programs and our distinctive culture,” said Morgan Bernstein, executive director of Full-time MBA Admissions. “These students are already coming together as a class, preparing for what we know will be a rewarding time here.”

Full-time MBA Week Zero

The new full-time MBA students arrived last week for an orientation that included tackling a business case, hours of volunteer work at Alameda Point Collaborative, a rousing cohort Olympics, and a session on diversity and inclusion.

“Week Zero has been a great experience—just jam-packed with information and networking, so it was both exhausting and fun,” said Tiffany Tran, MBA 20, who is from Long Beach, CA., and most recently worked at Annie’s (now part of General Mills) as a senior sustainability analyst.

Full-time MBA students competing in the cohort Olympics.
Full-time MBA students cheering on their team competing in the cohort Olympics. All photos: Jim Block.

The cohort Olympics for the Class of 2020 was a highlight, she added. “My cohort, Oski, won the championships,” she said. “We’re quite proud of that!”

The class of 291 students—up from 284 last year—is comprised of 43 percent women, and 34 percent international students. As a group, they are academically exceptional, with average GMAT scores of 726 and average GPAs of 3.66.

About one quarter of the new students worked in consulting; 20 are from banking/financial services; 10 percent from high tech; 9 percent from nonprofits; and 7 percent from healthcare/pharma/biotech. The group includes 14 U.S. military veterans, representing the Air Force, Army, Marines, and Navy.

Interim Dean Laura Tyson welcomed the students, noting that the MBA program has transformed thousands of students lives in meaningful ways over the years. “Many, many people come to business school to transform, to make a change in their career path and their goals or their sector or their role in an organization, and that’s what we give people: the skills to do the transformation you want to do, and stay authentic to yourself,” she said.

Interim Dean Laura Tyson addresses the new class of full-time MBA students.
Interim Dean Laura Tyson addresses the new class of full-time MBA students.

The MBA program continues to select students who show leadership skills that reflect the school’s Defining Leadership Principles: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Beyond Yourself, and Students Always.

Oriol Pi Miloro, who arrived at Haas from Barcelona, said all of the students he’s encountered so far share a common awareness of the world beyond themselves. “Every single classmate I have met demonstrated a genuine interest on the most pressing issues of our society,” he said. “And they came to Haas to tackle these issues.”

Miloro said he’s looking forward to joining the Haas Finance Club, the Haas Impact Investing Network and Q@Haas, the LGBTQ club.

“This class is just an amazing group with such an interesting and diverse array of career and life experiences—and an enthusiasm for our school’s mission and Defining Leadership Principles,” said Peter Johnson, assistant dean for the full-time MBA program and admissions.

The class includes a ski instructor who worked with disabled people at Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra; a student who speaks seven languages, including German, French, Arabic, Hindi, Urdu, and Spanish; a student who already holds a master’s in public administration and a juris doctorate and was admitted to the state bar in both New York and Washington, DC; a student who introduced a rural micro-flush toilet to schools in Ghana; and a Black Hawk helicopter pilot.

A surprise visit from Wes Selke, MBA 07, and managing director of Better Ventures.
A surprise visit from Wes Selke, MBA 07, and managing director of Better Ventures.

Each day of “Week Zero”—which was co-chaired by second-year students Annie Sept, Elaine Hsu, and Antoine Orard—centered around one of the Defining Leadership Principles.

Sept said her first impression of the new class is that they are both extremely thoughtful and participatory and that they are “having a blast.”

“I’ve already seen a lot of cohesion and friendship,” she said. “People are comfortable saying vulnerable things to each other. There’s general support from classmates. They’re excited to be here for sure, and that makes us feel good.”

Entrepreneur Heather Hiles
Entrepreneur Heather Hiles

During the week, Heather Hiles, CEO and managing partner of Imminent Equity, spoke to the students about showing up as their authentic selves. Hiles, who was recently named among Vanity Fair’s “26 women of color diversifying entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley, media and beyond,” spoke to the theme of questioning the status quo and highlighted a diverse career.

Hiles has founded non-profit organizations, written public policy, managed a large portfolio at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and raised the most money of any African American woman for her e-portfolio startup, Pathbrite, which helps students document their achievements. Most recently she founded the first women-led private equity fund: Imminent Equities, focused on emerging technologies.

Wes Selke, MBA 07, also joined the class for a debrief on a case they were asked to read about his company, Oakland-based Better Ventures, which is focused on social investments. Better Ventures invests in companies that measure their success not only by revenue and profitability, but also by their products’ quantified, positive social or environmental impact. Other alumni speakers included Tom Kelley, partner at IDEO and founder & chairman of VC firm Design for Ventures in Tokyo, and Manuel Bronstein, vice president of product for Google Assistant.

Evening & Weekend students stand strong with the "We are one Haas" message of inclusiveness.
Evening & Weekend students stand strong with the school’s “We are one Haas” message of inclusiveness.

Evening & weekend class arrives

Last month, a record number of Evening & Weekend students arrived for orientation, called WE Launch, July 27-29. With 276 students, this is the largest class in the program’s history. The class is 33 percent women and 39 percent international.

Evening & Weekend MBA students arrive on campus for WE Launch.
Evening & Weekend MBA students in the Ax cohort arrive on campus for WE Launch.

“Our orientation was such a strong bonding experience for our students, who are all starting to come together as a group,” Breen said. “The study teams plunged right in.”

The Evening & Weekend program has been ranked the #1 part-time MBA program in the U.S. by U.S. News & World Report for the past six years.

Delphine Sherman named as Haas chief financial officer

Delphine Sherman, MBA 06, a veteran in education and financial management, has been named the new chief financial officer for the Haas School of Business.

For Sherman, the first day on the job was a bit of a homecoming.

“I am so excited to be back,” said Sherman, who started April 2, twelve years after earning her MBA at the school. “Walking through the gates on the first day was a little bit surreal.”

Sherman most recently managed a $240 million budget and led 35 staffers at Aspire Public Schools, a network of more than 40 community-based small, college-prep charter schools in California and Tennessee.

Sherman said she’s looking forward to digging into the challenges of the CFO job, where she will work closely with the senior management team, the dean, and the school’s advisory board.

“It’s a very exciting time to see how far the school has come during this really challenging financial time at the university,” she said. “I’d love to capitalize on that and bring in some strategy around what we want our long-range plan to look like—diving into the long-term and where we go from here.”

In a note to the Haas community, Dean Rich Lyons said he was thrilled to announce Sherman’s appointment.

“Delphine brings a breadth of experience ranging from investment management and education consulting, to financial planning and analysis and business strategy,” he said.

A native of New York, Sherman earned her undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College, and moved to Berkeley for the MBA program.

She said her experiences at Haas—and inspiration from classmates—led her to a career in education and finance.

During the Haas interview process she said she was impressed that both Peter Johnson, assistant dean of the Full-Time MBA Program & Admissions, and Dan Sullivan, senior director of academic affairs, both remembered her. “I wasn’t one of those student leaders who was famous on campus, and the fact that they remembered me was so generous and welcoming.”

Sherman has supported Haas in many ways since graduating.

She served on the advisory board of the Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership, now the Center for Social Sector Leadership, and remained good friends with Nora Silver, the center’s director, over the years.  She also spoke on a panel at a Women in Leadership conference, and has hired Haas graduates in her past positions.

She says Haas’ social mission, as well as its Defining Leadership Principles, speak to her—especially Question the Status Quo and Students Always.

“I had heard a lot about the (Defining Leadership Principles) in 2010 and I remember thinking that they completely reflected the experience I had here in 2005 and 2006,” she said. “I thought that it was so smart that Dean Lyons had capitalized on this and made it part of the school’s strategy.”

Sherman replaces Suresh Bhat, who is now CFO of the Hewlett Foundation.

“A big part of why I took this job was because of his enthusiasm and the impact he had on the strategic direction of the school,” she said. “That was really exciting to me.”

Prior to Aspire, Sherman was vice president of client management at EdTec, a finance and professional consulting firm serving over 300 charter schools.

When she’s not working, Sherman said she enjoys running, hiking, and cycling with her family. She lives in Berkeley with her three boys, ages 3, 5, and 7, and her husband, a Berkeley Law graduate.

MBA Students Question the Status Quo on Diversity & Inclusion

This is the first in a series of articles covering diversity and inclusion at Berkeley-Haas. Part 1 looks at the growing number of student-led inclusion initiatives in the full-time MBA program.

Race Inclusion Initiative leaders from the full-time MBA classes of 2016 and 2017

When a group of full-time Berkeley MBA students surveyed classmates on attitudes about race and diversity, they found a marked incongruity: almost 90 percent said understanding racial dynamics is critical to being an effective leader, but less than half said they are comfortable talking about race.

Not so for a group of students who decided to address issues around race and ethnicity in their program head on, launching the research-based Race Inclusion Initiative last spring. They enlisted faculty mentors, scoured admissions and demographic data, and conducted interviews, surveys, and focus groups to pinpoint areas in need of change.

“The Race Inclusion Initiative seeks to understand and improve the Haas experience for full-time MBA students as it relates to underrepresented minorities—African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans,” said Lauren Dugard, MBA/MPH 17, vice president of diversity for the MBA Association and one of the initiative leaders.

Inspired in part by the successful Gender Equity Initiative, which has helped boost the number of women in the program and continues under a third generation of leaders, the RII is among an increasing number of efforts by students to drive a more inclusive culture at Haas.

Haas Gender Equity Initiative leaders after a meeting with Dean Rich Lyons in May

They reflect a generation of students who say they chose the school for its culture, and are determined to make sure it lives up to expectations—and leave it even stronger than when they came in.

“People came in with a heightened awareness of how they want our culture to be, and we all want it to be really inclusive and balanced,” said Neha Kumar, MBA 17 and vice president of social for the MBA Association—which set its three guiding principles for the year as transparency, collaboration, and an inclusive culture. “Everyone’s eyes are very open to these conversations.”

Over the past several years, students have not shied away from confronting issues that can be uncomfortable to talk about—and which they will likely face as managers. Among the activities they’ve started are Hot Topics, a discussion series focused on hot-button issues such as accessibility to firearms; Story Salons, where students can share their personal stories; a Diversity Digest newsletter; a Haas Perspectives Blog, and a Humans of Haas podcast (a recent episode covers the politics of hair).

Affinity groups like Q@Haas, a club for LGBTQ students and allies, host talks such as “Sex, Gender, and the Tax on Being Different”; the Women in Leadership Club has an active group of “manbassadors,” who are leading initiatives to get men to stop seeing gender equity as a “women’s issue” and get comfortable talking about gender dynamics.

2nd-year students at a full-time MBA diversity session during orientation week

While some of the efforts are based around specific groups, students are also talking about “intersectionality”—the concept that race, class, gender, and other aspects of identity are interconnected and can’t be looked at in isolation. At a diversity session during MBA orientation in August, 2nd-year students spoke about parts of their identities that are both visible and unseen: one spoke about growing up gay in Texas with Vietnamese immigrant parents; a Chilean student spoke his split identity as both Jewish and Catholic, and of the assumptions people make about him since an accident in his 20s left him confined to a wheelchair.

“There is plenty of fertile soil, we just need to plant more in it,” said Dugard (left), who led the session. “Learning how to have open conversations about the diversity we bring to Haas each day is important to foster empathy, build deep relationships with individuals from different backgrounds and perspectives, and prepare us to lead diverse teams.”

Even so, it’s clear from the research done by the Race Inclusion Initiative that there are still topics that are hard to talk about for many—and race is at the top of the list. In one of the surveys the group conducted, students said they feel more comfortable talking about gender or sexual identity issues than race. Many international students said they feel like they didn’t have the right tools to approach the debate.

“Eager to learn, yet uncomfortable to discuss—bridging the gap between those perspectives around diversity is critical to our success as a top public institution in one of the most diverse states in the country,” said Monica Stevens, MBA 96, a senior vice president at Wells Fargo Bank who chairs the Haas Alumni Diversity Council.

And while non-minority students say Haas does a better job of talking about race than the business world at large, underrepresented minorities feel there are still too few discussions about racial diversity at the school. Perhaps not for long, as students continue to lead the charge on conversations about diversity and inclusion. This week, for example, the Black Business Students Association—which recently organized a Black Lives Matter demonstration that attracted more than 200 students, staff and faculty—is hosting a lunchtime session called “Ask Me Anything: An Open Discussion with the BBSA.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Questioning the Status Quo for People with Special Needs

If there ever was a dynamic duo, recent Haas grad Stanford Stickney and his younger brother, Daniel, are it. Together, they collaborated with the team that won the Big Ideas@Berkeley prize this past May in the Information Technology for Society category.

Led by UC Berkeley undergraduate students Tomás Vega and Pierre Karashchuk, with Stephen Frey, Kelly Peng, and John Naulty, the team won first place for creating a Brain Computer Interface (BCAPI).  Stanford, BS 15, lent his business development skills as a team member, and Daniel, 21, who has cerebral palsy and is visually impaired, tested the technology and provided feedback.

(l-r: Stanford and Daniel Stickney, with Tomas Vega, Pierre Karashchuk, and Stephen Fry. Photo: Roman Decca)

“Growing up, both Daniel and I had a belief that you can do anything,” says Stanford, a Los Gatos native, one of four children raised by a single dad. “Technology is one platform that’s enabling us to do that together. My mission in life is to help my brother and I am with him every step of the way.”

For their project, the Big Ideas team – whose members have backgrounds in software engineering, cognitive neuroscience, signal processing, and machine learning – equipped a helmet with electrodes that combine electroencephalography and computer algorithms. The device, which connects to a laptop in Daniel’s backpack, enables his thoughts to interact with a computer to move his wheelchair to the left or right.

A Perfect Match

Stanford met Vega, now a senior studying computer and cognitive science, last semester in a New Media graduate level class taught by electrical engineering and computer science Professor Eric Paulos. The class focused on rapid prototyping at the CITRIS Invention Lab at UC Berkeley.

The two became friends and Stanford shared background on the work he and his brother were doing to help Silicon Valley companies improve technology for people with disabilities. Vega, who was on the team that won Cal Hacks last year for building a MindDrone, a flying drone maneuvered by neurological signals, described his BCAPI project to Stanford and his interest in human-computer interfaces. Suddenly, everything clicked. “It was very exciting,” Stanford says. “I said ‘This is a perfect match’ and we were able to put the two together.”

They set up a meeting at Karashcuk’s apartment, where Daniel tried on the helmet for the first time (photo below). Trouble was, the program was designed for someone in a wheelchair who could see a computer screen. Stanford instead touched Daniel’s right or left arm to trigger him to think “left” or “right.”

(Photo: Daniel tries on the helmet, which is connected to the team’s laptop.)

Observing Daniel, the team decided to change the design of its prototype. In its next upgrade, they will add arm vibrations to alert a visually impaired person to think “left” or “right.”

The $13,000 Big Ideas grant the team won will be used to improve the BCAPI technology and to conduct a long-term study of its effectiveness.

Daniel currently measures 40 percent accuracy with the brain-computer interface in controlling the functions of his chair.  As he continues his work with the device, the neuroplasticity — or the pathways to his brain — is expected to strengthen. “Learning to use the device is like learning a new language, and as Daniel gets more proficient, it gets easier,” Stanford says.

The team’s vision is to provide an open-source platform that enables the creation of a community of technology software and product developers who contribute to the independence of millions of disabled technology users.

“It’s been so exciting to be one of Daniel’s advocates in this journey,” Stanford said. “I hope that we’ll be questioning the status quo for a long time to come.”

By Kate Madden Yee and Kim Girard

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