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New Conflict Lab walks MBA students through the toughest workplace conversations

student in Conflict Lab roleplaying with instructor
Pearly Khare, MBA 23, role plays with his ‘boss’ and course instructor Bree Jenkins, MBA 19 during a class session. Photo: Brittany Hosea-Small.

Pearly Khare, MBA 23, was in a difficult spot. His ‘boss’ was confronting him about taking off early for vacation, leaving his colleagues “in the dust.” “I definitely understand how that impacted the team,” he said, adding that he gave her and his team advance notice. Then he apologized. 

Afterwards, MBA students who had watched the interaction discussed Khare’s apology to Bree Jenkins, MBA 19, who played the role of his boss.

 “If we apologize, and we’re not even sure of what we did or we are not genuinely sorry for what we did, it can be another form of conflict avoidance,” says Jenkins, co-instructor of the new Berkeley Haas MBA pilot course Difficult Conversations: Conflict Lab, where students roleplay tricky situations that are dreaded at work. “We should ask ourselves if it’s just because we want to move past the discomfort.”

From delivering a poor performance review to providing a critical work project assessment to firing an employee, things often got “spicy” during the 10-week session, says co-instructor Francesca LeBaron, MBA 19. But the class isn’t about right or wrong or about debating morality. “It’s about maintaining connection, even when we disagree with the person,” LeBaron said. “What is your objective? Is it to make this person feel heard, to problem solve, or to share your own needs? And how effective were you at achieving that objective?” 

Jenkins and LeBaron kicked off the semester with a speed conflict session (similar to speed dating) where students role-played a back-to-back series of conflicts to get a sense of the discomfort they would experience in the class. The exercise helped students to assess if this style of experiential learning was right for them. 

two students talking during class about having difficult conversations.
The class asks students to address the hardest parts of receiving difficult feedback. Photo: Brittany Hosea Small.

Ten undergraduate UC Berkeley students and a group of Berkeley Haas alumni—ranging from PWC partners to a Google exec to an NYU professor—also joined the class to play roles that would put students in the hot seat. 

In one session, alumna Kelly Deutermann, MBA 17, confronted Mridul Agarwal, MBA 23, about why he wanted to get off a project. Deutermann aggressively questioned Agarwal. “Do you want to be promoted? Do you want to be taken seriously? This is your chance.” When Agarwal explained that “it might not be the best project for me at this time,” Deutermann responded with, “This project needs to happen. Do you just not want to work hard to do it?” In this role play, Agarwal had to balance his own bandwidth and need for support with Deutermann’s demands for project management. 

After the difficult talk, Agarwal took a deep breath, and the two of them laughed and shook their heads. 

Friends coming up with solutions

Jenkins and LeBaron met in their first year at Haas. They were in the same cohort and found they shared a lot in common: They were both Consortium Fellows, student instructors for the Leadership Communications course, and board members for the Haas Center for Equity, Gender & Leadership (EGAL). After graduation, LeBaron went to work as an executive coach and mediator for startups at UC Berkeley’s accelerator SkyDeck; Jenkins runs leadership training courses as a senior leadership development associate at Pixar Animation Studios.

 “I noticed themes and trends with what we were doing at work,” Jenkins said. “There was conflict avoidance and harm from conflict that’s not dealt with effectively. We talked to friends in other organizations and we realized quickly that everyone is dealing with workplace conflict.” 

For example, LeBaron had recently coached startup founder and former Haas classmate Fahed Essa on how to fire someone. “Fahed is brilliant—has three masters degrees and has started three companies,” she said. “If he is still struggling with this, I bet many people are. I want Haasies to have this skill set that balances being compassionate with being honest and clear.”

After discussing the problem, Jenkins and LeBaron did what they were known for doing at Haas: they came up with a solution. With sponsorship from the Center for Social Sector Leadership at Haas (CSSL), they designed a syllabus for a pilot course completely devoted to managing difficult conversations. The class enrolled 32 MBA students, with a waitlist. 

To track their progress throughout the class, students provide one another with feedback, write papers addressing their own conflict styles, and identify conflicts in the media and how they can be improved using lessons from the course framework. “It’s really important that the students find ways to continue to practice this work after the class is complete,” Jenkins said. “They should have a clear understanding of where they are in their conflict journey and what they want to do to continue to grow.”

During their final class, Jenkins and LeBaron took on a role-play with each other. Jenkins played a manager criticizing an employee for botching a critical client presentation. “I expected more of you,” Jenkins said. “I’m hearing that my actions didn’t meet your expectations. Can you tell me more about what that looked like for you?” LeBaron said. After more back and forth, they drilled down to the core issue: Jenkins was frustrated and disappointed because she wanted to appear competent in front of the client. The two decided to review all future presentations together before going to a client.

LeBaron asked the class to consider what Jenkins felt. “I don’t know if I made typos, but in her mind I made those mistakes,” she said. Her objective, she said, was to better understand her boss’ experience and unmet needs. “I can still hold my experience as true for me, while being curious about understanding her experience,” LeBaron said. 

Student gives feedback during conflict lab
Students practice giving and receiving feedback after role-playing a difficult conversation. Photo: Brittany Hosea-Small.

Working past fear through practice

After the 10-week class ended, students who identified themselves as conflict-avoidant at the start of Conflict Lab said they were starting to work past it.

Daryl Pugh, MBA 23, an executive recruiter before he came to Haas, said he’s learning to be “comfortable with discomfort” and was already using what he learned in class to help a friend through the difficulty of laying off employees. “I tried to talk to her through having that conversation and processing other people’s feelings, understanding what was happening and her interpretation of what was happening. We had a couple of sessions.”

What Pugh said he found most surprising over the weeks was understanding how inaccurately he can interpret the actions of others. “We need to focus on not ascribing emotion to people that could be just wrong,” he said. “That’s how we are trained our whole lives, even in social settings, is to interpret other people’s feelings. The only way to know how a person is feeling is to ask. This class taught me how to get others to express their feelings, then I can move past my observations and interpretations to a new level of understanding.”

Mariam Al-Rayes, MBA 23, said the course provided a set of tools that she plans to use at work and beyond. “I wish we’d learned this earlier in life,” she said. “The role playing was so useful—like when alumni talked to us as our managers. It was realistic and we applied what we learned in class first-hand.” 

On the journey to create a new class of conflict-embracing leaders, LeBaron and Jenkins are well on their way—and plan to offer the class again in Fall 2023.

 

Headspace Health COO Karan Singh, BS 05, on finding purpose

Karan Singh, BS 05,  said his career purpose didn’t become clear until a life-changing event 13 years ago.

“I was on the other end of a phone call after a loved one had tried to take their own life,”  said Singh, COO of Headspace Health, during a recent Dean’s Speaker Series talk. “I’ve always thought of myself as a good read on people and a good judge of character, and I had no idea at all. I realized in a lot of communities of color—my family’s originally from India—that mental health is just the no-go zone. It’s the topic that no one talks about.”

That realization set Singh on the path to founding Ginger, a digital therapy platform that takes a preventative approach to mental health, in 2011. The company merged with Headspace, a meditation and mindfulness app, to form Headspace Health in 2021, a time of global need for mental health care services as the COVID-19 pandemic intensified behavioral health challenges.

During the DSS talk, Singh discussed the increasing level of investment in mental health care, and his excitement that more young entrepreneurs are joining him in mental health innovation.

“I want to say that mental health has made it into the forefront…I think we’re on that journey now. We’re having these conversations in rooms in government, in boardrooms, and in other settings that historically would never have been in the dialogue. So, we’ve come a long way, and still, there’s just a whole lot more we’ve got to do.”

The DSS talk was held with Google, part of a collaboration for The Haas Healthcare Association John E. Martin Mental Healthcare Challenge. The event marked the start of this year’s Challenge, which invites graduate student teams from around the world to develop creative solutions for improving the quality of and access to mental healthcare.

Two Berkeley Haas students chosen for Auschwitz professional ethics fellowship

Kanyinsola Aibana and Danielle Dhillon, MBA 22
Kanyinsola Aibana and Danielle Dhillon, both MBA 22

Kanyinsola Aibana and Danielle Dhillon, both MBA 22, will travel to Germany and Poland this summer to participate in Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics (FASPE), an intensive 12-day program for students studying business, journalism, law, medicine, or religion. 

Fellows learn about the roles played by people in their professions in Nazi Germany, and explore the ethical issues facing those professions today. Daily seminars are led by specialized faculty who engage fellows in discussions and critical thinking about both the historical and the contemporary.

We interviewed both students about the fellowship.

What led you to apply to the FASPE Fellowship? 

Kanyinsola: I applied to the FASPE Fellowship because it would allow me to go beyond my core Ethics course and explore practical ways to address ethical issues as a business leader. I was intrigued by the structure and setting of FASPE, which provides a unique opportunity to delve into topics in business ethics, both historical and contemporary, and a forum to engage and learn from fellows from different graduate programs to create a genuinely enriching and impactful experience. FASPE will serve as a great capstone to my MBA.

Danielle: I applied to the FASPE fellowship because I truly see it as a culmination of my educational journey. I’ve always enjoyed my ethics and philosophy classes in undergrad and here at Haas. In college I minored in German and had the chance to study parts of the German economy via my finance and international business major. Being part of the FASPE Business Fellows community will give me a community to share with and learn from as we examine the role of business and capitalism in making the world a better place through a lens of the harm that it once contributed to.

What do you hope to take away from the trip?

Kanyinsola: I hope to take away tools to help me resolve, avoid, or prepare for the nuanced ethical issues I will face as a business leader. In addition, I hope to leverage the multidisciplinary discussions and different perspectives of other fellows to examine and better understand the actions and complicity of business executives during Nazi Germany and other contexts to reinforce my professional responsibility to promote ethical and moral decision-making.

Danielle: I hope to take away a renewed sense of what business ethics can and should look like, particularly given the ambiguity created by context and time. I hope to walk away with a better understanding of how systemic evil can make it impossible to make the right choices, especially for businesses. But I also am eager to hear stories of businesses that did the right thing—because we don’t tend to focus on those or have good, accessible examples of what ethical business leadership looks like.

How does the fellowship align with your career goals?

Kanyinsola: I aspire to be a business leader in the sustainable food and agricultural space. I am driven by a desire to promote individual well-being by facilitating access to nutritious food products while minimizing the detrimental impact of large-scale food production on the climate and environment. While I hope to be an innovator in this arena, I anticipate tension will sometimes arise in balancing my ultimate mission with the fiscal responsibilities of running a business. I want to be a business leader who continuously reflects upon and confronts ethical issues in all aspects of my business operations. FASPE will provide a great foundation to accomplish this goal.

Danielle: I came to Haas to pivot to a career in impact investing, where I will be responsible for advising and structuring investments that have a double or triple bottom line. In July I’ll be joining the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation where I’ll source, evaluate, and select early stage, high impact social entrepreneurs to support via the model of venture philanthropy. This fellowship will give me an additional lens to truly become a prudent impact investor because business isn’t inherently ethical or unethical: business will always have the ability to perpetuate good or harm. An ethical capital allocator needs to be able to dissect and understand the potential harms as well as see the bigger picture if they choose to go forward.

Boba dreams: Undergrad student to open Aura Tea in downtown San Francisco

Photo of Kashish Juneja, BS 22
Kashish Juneja, BS 22, is opening Aura Tea shop in downtown San Francisco at the end of March.

Kashish Juneja, BS 22, is learning about running a business in real-time as she prepares to open startup Aura Tea’s first shop in downtown San Francisco on March 27. In between juggling a mid-term and going to class she’s taking calls from her contractor and interviewing for counter help at the shop that will serve boba tea with a twist: It’s sugar free, made with plant-based milks, and under 100 calories. 

“It’s insane from the operational side,” said Juneja, whose first shop is strategically located on Spear Street across from Google and Databricks offices, where employees are starting to trickle back. “We need to make sure there’s a demand and that we’re making sure the product is good enough so that people will continue showing up.”

In many ways, Aura Tea has been a team effort from the start. Juneja recruited 22 interns from the UC Berkeley community who help with marketing, TikTok, and Instagram, where she’s drawn support from NFL players to local musicians. Students and Cal athlete ambassadors helped her host on-campus events that offer “boba for de-stressing”—and she recently held a pop-up on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, giving away Cal-themed boba tea drinks.

Aura Tea space on Spear
Aura’s new shop will open March 27 on Spear Street in San Francisco. Photo: Kashish Juneja.

Kaitlin Dang, BS 24, an intern who serves as business growth lead at Aura Tea, said her favorite Aura flavor is mango pineapple.

“Before I started working here I was an avid milk tea connoisseur, trying new places,” said Dang, who is in  her second year of the Berkeley Haas Global Management Program. “My taste has changed from sweeter teas and now I drink a lot of fruit teas. Most fruit teas are very sweet and not refreshing. Aura tea has a refreshing taste.”

Solving her own problem

Juneja, who grew up in Cupertino, has always loved boba. “Our high school was boba central, with a boba shop across the street that was open during lunch every day,” she said. “I played tennis every day so it balanced out.”

Photo of Kaitlin Dang drinking boba
Kaitlin Dang, a sophomore in the undergraduate Global Management Program at Haas, is Aura’s business growth lead.

Her boba addiction continued at Berkeley, but drinking those 500 extra boba calories without her usual tennis playing led to an unwanted 30-pound weight gain. Aura Tea, she said, was founded in part to solve her own problem.

The idea to start making healthier boba tea emerged during a Plant Futures course that she took with Will Rosenzweig, the faculty chair of the Center for Responsible Business at Haas who co-founded the Republic of Tea.

She’d already taken an entrepreneurship bootcamp and was interested in starting a company. Plant Futures, a collaboration between Berkeley Haas, Public Health, Engineering, Public Policy, and the Berkeley Food Institute, pushed her idea forward.

Throughout the pandemic, Juneja could be found crafting tea in her apartment, testing different oat, almond, and pea milks, which make her tea drinks vegan, and sweeteners, using fresh loose leaf green and black teas from the grocery store. (Boba pearls are naturally vegan, as they’re made of tapioca starch, which comes from cassava root.)

Juneja tested her teas on friends and classmates. In the early recipe days, she conducted a blind taste test: her milk tea against the Boba Guys’ tea and others. (Boba Guys was co-founded by Andrew Chau, MBA 11.)  “We didn’t win but it was a good start,” she said. “Our taste was nowhere that it is now.” 

It took time to get Berkeley-based impact investor David Jiang to take a chance on her venture, she said. Jiang’s wife’s father was a tea farmer in China, and they all shared an interest in tea. “There was a lot of making it and taking it back to them,” Juneja said. “I was taking what I learned in class and bringing them my tea and my pitch deck.” 

I was taking what I learned in class and bringing them my tea and my pitch deck.

Valuable startup experience

The shop, which will take to-go orders online, will offer a combination of grab-and-go and fresh-brewed drinks with boba tea in flavors including strawberry, matcha, pineapple, and mango. Aura will offer coffee drinks, too, and a masala chai with infused with spices and CBD for relaxation. (Aura’s boba pearls are made by US Boba Company in nearby Hayward, Calif. Her tea is sweetened with Purecane, which she says she chose for its lack of an aftertaste.) 

Students drinking boba at an Aura Tea rooftop party.
Students sample the tea on a campus rooftop last week during Aura Tea’s launch party.

Dang said she’s getting valuable experience working for Aura. “There’s a lot of creativity involved,” she said. “I have the space to try the things I want to try. We’re appealing to a certain wide demographic: corporate employees, health influencers, healthcare professionals, and foodies. I like to try things I’ve seen work in other industries, casting a wide net.”

Juneja, who will work in the shop part-time until graduation, said she’s grateful to her entire community of classmates, professors, and advisors for all of their help with Aura’s creation.

 “When I wrote my essay to get into Haas I said I wanted to solve a problem,” she said. “My dream came true.”

California Surgeon General Nadine Burke Harris on being a changemaker

Every semester, Berkeley Haas Lecturer Alex Budak kicks off his class on Becoming a Changemaker with examples of changemakers who inspire him. For the past two years, he’s led with childhood trauma expert Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, California’s first Surgeon General.

On Nov. 9, his students got to hear directly from Burke Harris, who answered their questions virtually as a guest during class.

“She charts her own path in everything she does,” Budak said. “From being the first-ever Surgeon General for the State of California to championing a crucial-but-overlooked aspect of childhood health, she doesn’t have a playbook to follow. She invents it herself, every day—and she does so in a way which is empathetic, humble and tenacious.”

Burke Harris, who has established early childhood, health equity, and toxic stress as her key priorities, is the author of The Deepest Well, which addresses how deeply bodies can be imprinted by or Adverse Childhood Experiences—or ACEs—like abuse and neglect. The ACEs Aware initiative is a first-in-the-nation effort to screen patients for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) to help improve and save lives.

The pandemic has worsened mental health for many, and Burke Harris pointed to the American Academy of Pediatrics, which just announced a national mental health emergency for children.

“We recognize that (the pandemic is) also this massive, massive stressor and there’s never been a more important time for us to implement trauma-informed systems and trauma-informed care at scale,” Burke Harris said. “A lot of my focus, in addition to helping with vaccines and thinking about our rollout, is our strategy for equity, which is another huge thing right now because when you have a public health emergency, it doesn’t effect everyone equally.”

Being a changemaker is about more than working hard and being intense, she said. “I work hard, that’s no joke,” she said. “But it’s really that ability to replenish ourselves, that ability to nourish ourselves and take breaks and be joyful and really integrate the work we do and our purpose, also with our lives, I think allows us to sustain the work we’re doing and it also cultivates creativity and innovation and all of things that help us be more successful and change-making.”

Asked about a changemaker she admires, Burke Harris described a Google-organized dinner she attended, where she met lawyer Bryan Stevenson, the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative. Stevenson worked on Supreme Court decisions to prohibit sentencing children under 18 to death or to life imprisonment without parole. “That was a total changemaker moment,” she said. “It was so joyful to talk to someone who was similarly passionate about caring for our vulnerable community members.”

This video is also listed as a Dean’s Speaker Series talk.

Poshmark’s Manish Chandra, EWMBA 95, on how clothing creates community

As CEO of Poshmark, Manish Chandra, EWMBA 95, constantly questions how and why people shop, and the journey clothing takes from the supply chain to closets to resale.

Manish Chandra, MBA95
Manish Chandra, EWMBA 95

A decade after he graduated from the evening & weekend MBA program, he started the pioneering social shopping platform Kaboodle, which he sold to Hearst two years later in 2007.  Poshmark, a social marketplace for new and used clothing and accessories that he founded in 2011, focuses largely on extending the life cycle of clothing.

In a Dean’s Speaker Series event on April 9, MBA students and Robert Strand, executive director of the Center for Responsible Business at Haas, interviewed Chandra about how he embeds sustainability into the core of his business, his journey as a leader, and his vision for the future of capitalism.

Here are a few highlights from the interview.

On the meaning of clothing: “Clothing really binds people together. It brings a sense of community, it empowers people, it makes people feel good, proud. It can uplift people.”

On Poshmark’s rise in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic: “Covid 19 was a seismic shock and a very sad shock for all of us. We’re still reeling from it. We’re isolated and we’re not physically connected. The circular economy and the resale really was in many ways a connector. When you bought and sold things from each other it connected you to another human being. It gave you something that was very powerful, that took energy to do. We saw the rise of second hand.”

On capitalism in the post-pandemic world: “We’re at a very powerful moment in our history…As we come out of hiding places and the world reintegrates over the next few months, I feel like everyone is looking at their life and looking at their values in a very different way. And as we go out and truly experience both the wonder of human connection and the misery that people have had, it’s a really important time to transform how we feel about consumption, how we feel about capitalism, and how we feel about sustainability. I think all three things can exist in a meaningful way.”

On getting an MBA: “Haas is, for me, one of the most transformational experiences, particularly because it happened after I’d worked for a few years and I was looking at finding that next level of growth for me.”

Watch the full interview:

 

Prof. Adair Morse joins Biden administration as a treasury department deputy

Adair Morse, an associate professor of finance at the Haas School of Business, has been named to the Biden Administration’s treasury department as deputy assistant secretary of capital access in the Office of Domestic Finance.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury, led by Prof. Emeritus Janet Yellen, announced the appointment today.

Adair Morse (Photo by Genevieve Shiffrar)

“I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to serve in the Biden Administration and to join the team at treasury, serving the people of this great country,” said Morse, the Soloman P. Lee Chair in Business Ethics, who is taking a leave from the Haas Finance Group to commit to her new role.

“We will miss Adair at Haas, where she has conducted groundbreaking finance research and launched the Sustainable and Impact Finance (SAIF) initiative with (former Haas Dean) Laura Tyson to train many new leaders in the field,” said Dean Ann Harrison. “She has already made an impact in helping small businesses in California through her work on the California Rebuilding Fund. I have no doubt she will have an even greater impact on a national scale.”

The Office of Domestic Finance develops policies and guidance in the areas of financial institutions, regulation, capital markets, and federal debt finance. Its community and economic development division coordinates small business finance and development, housing policy, capital access, and issues related to underserved communities.

Morse, who holds a PhD in finance from the University of Michigan’s Ross School and two master’s degrees from Purdue University, joined Haas in 2012 from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. Her research interests include equity issues in financial services and algorithms, small business survival, sustainable investing, discrimination and corruption, venture capital, and pension management. The unifying theme in her work, she has said, is “leveling economic playing fields.”

“Adair’s groundbreaking research has looked at important issues, like small business survival in the city of Oakland, consumer lending discrimation in fintech, and the pervasiveness of corporate fraud,” said Prof. Catherine Wolfram, associate dean for Academic Affairs and chair of the faculty. “As a pioneering, creative thinker in so many areas, she will have plenty of opportunity to bring her financial and social impact leadership to the table.”

As a pioneering, creative thinker in so many areas, she will have plenty of opportunity to bring her financial and social impact leadership to the table. —Prof. Catherine Wolfram, chair of the faculty

Morse has spent much of the pandemic using her finance expertise to try to help small businesses. Last spring, Morse and Tyson began working on a strategy to use public capital to attract private lenders to provide low-interest credit to help vulnerable small businesses get through the crisis. They first helped develop a program with the City of Berkeley, and then worked with others—including Yellen, who was then on Gov. Newsom’s Task Force on Jobs and Competitiveness—to implement an innovative public-private loan structure at the state level. Their work helped launch the California Rebuilding Fund, run by the Governors’ Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) and aimed at some of the state’s smallest businesses in under-resourced communities.

At Berkeley Haas, Morse also ran the Haas Impact Fund and Sustainable Investment Fund curriculum, managing two endowment funds with Haas students. The Sustainable Investment Fund is the first and largest student-led Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) fund within a leading business school.Until recently, Morse served on the Governance and Allocations Committee of the California Rebuilding Fund, as well as on the expert panel for the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund, advising on issues of sustainability and innovation.

Haas Voices: Luis Alejandro Liang on being “paperless, not powerless”

Haas Voices is a new first-person series that highlights the lived experiences of members of the Berkeley Haas community. Our first perspective is by “double Bear” Luis Alejandro Liang, BS 12, EWMBA 23, who is among the approximately 644,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients granted special immigration status because they were brought to the U.S. as children. Liang’s path to Berkeley was challenging—he’s been accepted three times. He shares his story below.

Liang and his motherxico when Liang was 14, celebrate at his 2012 Haas undergraduate commencement.
Liang and his mother, Rosario Garcia, celebrate at his 2012 undergraduate commencement.

Many times over these past four years, I’ve woken up in fear. Fear of deportation. Fear about what was going to happen to our community. Fear that ICE could knock on my door and take me away.

I grew up in Sinaloa on the Pacific coast of Mexico. I’m half Chinese, half Mexican. I grew up multicultural—going to Catholic church on Sundays but celebrating Chinese New Year. I started helping my family in their Chinese restaurant when I was six years old. I was surrounded by entrepreneurs.

When I was 14, my mom moved me and my three little sisters to Orange County because she wanted to provide us with better chances. I entered high school as a sophomore without knowing any English. It was a culture shock, but I wanted to honor my mom’s sacrifices by excelling academically. I was put back in algebra, even though I was taking calculus when we left Mexico. As a senior, I got into a couple of UCs, but my first scholarship was taken away because I didn’t have a social security number.

Liang, an advocate for undocumented immigrant communities, marching to defend DACA at San Francisco’s City Hall in 2017.

So I decided to go to Fullerton College. In high school, I had been really shy because I was new, so I didn’t know anything about things like AP classes or honor society. When I got to community college, I decided to get involved. I joined the Puente Program, which is mostly for Latino students to help get us into four-year colleges. I was really active, working long days because I was also a tutor. The Puente Program gave us a tour of all the UCs. That was the first time that I actually went to visit the campuses.

When I visited Berkeley I fell in love. I remember the Campanile, Sather Gate and thought of all the famous people who went there, including Mexican presidents.

I knew that I wanted to study business. I also knew that I was gay by that time too, and that San Francisco was LGBTQ friendly. I knew I could be myself at Berkeley.

My dream came true when I got accepted to Haas as a junior and received the prestigious Regents’ and Chancellors’ Scholarship, given to the top 2% of students. But when I went to the financial aid office, they again took away my scholarship because I still didn’t have a social security number. I was crying, and the woman who broke the news to me was crying too.

They again took away my scholarship because I still didn’t have a social security number. I was crying, and the woman who broke the news to me was crying too.

I remember seeing the César E. Chávez Student Center in front of me and I just went in and I started walking around. I thought, “If this is César Chávez’s building, there’s going to be a Latino person here who can help me.” I ended up meeting Lupe Gallegos-Diaz, director of the Chicano Department at Berkeley. Lupe became a support for me when I returned to community college more determined to achieve my dreams.

I became more politically active, creating the Fullerton College Dream Team to support undocumented students. In 2010, I got into Berkeley Haas for the 2nd time, having raised $70,000 to cover my tuition.

When I graduated, I was a first-generation Berkeley Haas grad deemed ineligible to work in the U.S. I felt lost, but by then I knew I wasn’t alone. My life took a turn when President Obama passed DACA in 2012, extending opportunities previously unavailable to those of us brought to the U.S. as children. A door of possibilities opened up and led me to a job at Salesforce, helping non-profit organizations leverage technology to amplify their impact.

My life took a turn when President Obama passed DACA in 2012.

Being the first DACA employee at Salesforce motivated me to use my voice in a space where underrepresented groups lack a sense of inclusion. I worked with the chief equality officer on a podcast about diversity and inclusion, served on the leadership board of multiple employee resource groups, and came out of the shadows by sharing my story on a video called “Proudly Me.”

Liang, second from left, with President Obama at the White House in 2013.

In 2013, another dream came true when I traveled to the White House and met President Obama after I received the LGBT DREAMers Courage Award, which honors individuals who have shown courage and perseverance in the face of injustice.

Still focused on social impact at my current job at Twilio, I decided it was time to go back to school for an MBA. I applied to the Berkeley Haas Evening and Weekend MBA program and got into my dream university for the third time, starting last fall. My focus is to become a chief social impact officer and a social leader at a company. In my classes, surrounded by fellow Type As, I’m learning things that I put into practice at my job. I love the community and I can’t wait to get back to campus.

Luis Liang with family
Luis Liang with (left to right) sisters Jeniffer Liang and Marisol Looper (with daughter, Isabella); mother, Rosario Garcia, and sister Janette Liang.

Growing up, I thought  that life would change the day I could finally get my residency—that something would change inside of me and that things were going to be better. But as the years passed, thinking that way made me believe that I was incomplete and something was missing. But being paperless doesn’t make us powerless. We have purpose and an eagerness to give back, by creating communities, by finding the power in helping people. I now find so much joy in helping other “Dreamers” get into school and finding their dream jobs.

But being paperless doesn’t make us powerless. We have purpose and an eagerness to give back, by creating communities, by finding the power in helping people.

There are 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., not by choice, but because we needed to survive. I hope to highlight the narrative of joy, love, and pride that comes from living a life dedicated to serving our families’ and communities’ dreams.”

Luis Liang, an account manager in social impact at communications company Twilio, is passionate about advocating for human rights and supporting Latinx, LGBTQ, and undocumented immigrant communities. Liang has served as a board member for the Association of Latino Professionals for America, The Greenlining Institute Alumni Association, and on several corporate Employee Resources Groups.