Student Spotlight: Nikita Mitchell, Full-Time MBA Class of 2015 President & Diversity Leader

Nikita Professional optionIt was the scariest thing she could think of doing as a new MBA student.

When Nikita Mitchell arrived at Haas in the fall of 2013, her top goal was to develop her leadership skills—which she knew would require stepping outside her comfort zone. So instead of heading up a club or organizing a conference, she decided to run for class president.

“I’ve never been in a big public role. I’ve never had to be the face of something, and the idea was terrifying,” says Nikita, MBA 15. “Ultimately, I decided I should do it because I didn’t have anything to lose.”

A few months into her first semester at Haas she was elected, and in 2014 she served as the first African-American woman to head the MBA Association. She also served simultaneously as a liaison to the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, which works to bring more under-represented minorities into top MBA programs. Along with co-liaisons Kory Vargas-Caro and Dan Wong, both MBA 15, she led the Haas group to win the Consortium’s highest honor and $10K to build on their work.

Just after passing the mantle to the 2015 MBAA President Dan Fishman, Nikita spoke with us about her leadership style, her accomplishments, and what she learned.

TEAMwin

Nikita and Kory Vargas-Caro, MBA 15, celebrate winning the T.E.A.M. (Together Everyone Achieves More) trophy from The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management in June 2014. Not shown: Dan Wong, MBA 15

Team spirit

“I’ve grown a lot,” she says. “Most importantly–both personally and professionally—I’ve also learned how to ask for help when I need it.”

Nikita is up front about the fact that balancing outside leadership activities with the rigorous academic demands of the MBA was the biggest challenge she’s faced. During her first semester as president, she took on some big issues for the program, including how to make changes in the academic culture.

She credits the support of her classmates, and former MBAA President Stephanie White, for going out of their way to support her. “It was really incredible what people did to help me, often without even being asked.”

Her approach to managing it all was to build a strong team.

“I feel I created a high functioning team where everyone has been able to accomplish a lot in their own roles,” she says. “And I feel like I’ve been a strong voice for students.”

With the Berkeley MBA members of The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, Classes of 2015 and 2016

With the Berkeley MBA members of The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, Classes of 2015 and 2016

Making choices

As a natural collaborator, she knew being at the top of an organization would sometimes mean making tough calls.

“Being at the point of making a decision, where you know not everyone is going to be happy, was the biggest development area for me,” she says. “I think my biggest lesson was the realization that being in a leadership role among my peers wouldn’t harm my friendships. In fact, the relationships I built fueled my leadership.”

Though Nikita says the experience underscored how critical it is to not go at decision-making alone, she also learned that sometimes people don’t want to have input.

“That’s part of leadership too—knowing when people want to be brought to the table,” she says. “It started to become more instinctual toward the end.”

On a student trek to Morocco, spring break 2014

On a student trek to Morocco, spring break 2014

The importance of community

As the daughter of Caribbean immigrants, Nikita is proud that she was the first African-American woman to serve as Full-time MBA class president—and it was important to her family in the tight-knit community around Howard University where she grew up.

Her father came from Trinidad on a soccer scholarship to Howard, and her mother immigrated from Barbados. They met in the 1980s at Howard, where both worked as accountants. Nikita and all four of her sisters earned their bachelor’s degrees at Howard as well.

After graduation, she landed a position at Deloitte Consulting. She later earned a fellowship through ProInspire, which matches young professionals with nonprofits, as she explored careers in social impact.

She applied to MBA programs through the Consortium, which offers full scholarships to students who get into their top-ranked school. At the last minute, she ranked the University of Michigan’s Ross first, which has a large and active minority population. But in a twist of fate, she visited Haas during the Women in Leadership conference weekend, and knew it was the right place for her.

“I was so surprised by how right the culture felt. The warmth was there. The connections I made with people felt authentic,” she says. “I felt included immediately, and I thought ‘that’s somewhere I’ll continue to grow.”

As she looks toward graduation in May, Nikita summed up her biggest takeaway:

“What this leadership experience taught me is that I like to run things,” she says.

No doubt she will.

Update, March18: Nikita has accepted a job as Chief of Staff for Cisco Consulting Services.

43% Strong: A First-Year Student Perspective (Part 2)

In Part 2 of a series on gender balance, guest blogger Ryann Kopacka, MBA 16, describes what it’s been like for her so far in a class with 43% women. Next up: a male student shares his perspective on gender balance at Haas. 

Women In Leadership Retreat_Small GroupBy Ryann Kopacka, MBA 16

I attended an undergraduate engineering program with less than 30% women. I was often the only woman on project teams and even in the classroom.

Now, I am fortunate to attend classes where almost every other seat is occupied by a female classmate, and I work through group cases with female voices at the table.

In just my first few weeks at Haas, I feel a noticeable difference in our class dynamics compared to my previous college experiences. My Haas female peers are more vocal during classroom discussions and are becoming a driving force in the student community—over half of our recently elected cohort representatives are women.

Coming into Haas, I was sometimes uncomfortable sharing my thoughts about controversial topics, especially about gender equality and women in business. However, being among this larger group of women has accelerated my personal development. I am already more confident speaking up when I would have remained quiet, more assured in sharing my opinion when I would have kept it to myself, and more assertive in seeking leadership opportunities that I otherwise would not have considered. I feel a strong support system building among the women in my class, and I can only imagine how we will continue to grow as we progress through the program.

This community of women offers a diverse set of skills, experiences, and perspectives that we can all leverage. For instance, when I am practicing being a more assertive leader, I know I can ask for constructive feedback from my classmate Mor Goldberger, who managed a team of 16 people (14 of them men) working on economic development in post-earthquake Haiti. When I am negotiating a salary, I know that I can depend on coaching from classmates KC Simon and Sonya Hetrick, who achieved the highest results during an in-class negotiation simulation.

Ryann (2nd from left) and classmates with Haas alumna and Citibank CEO Barbara Desoer, MBA 77. Desoer spoke at the Forte Foundation Annual MBA Women's Leadership Conference this summer.

Ryann (2nd from left) and classmates with Haas alumna and Citibank CEO Barbara Desoer, MBA 77. Desoer spoke at the Forte Foundation Annual MBA Women’s Leadership Conference this summer.

When I have questions about managing a career and personal life, I know that I have a large community of like-minded women to ask for advice.

I am also supported by more formal resources. The Women in Leadership (WIL) Club provides skills workshops tailored for women, facilitates networking events to connect members with women alumnae, and organizes mixers to build a stronger community among women AND MEN—who are also engaged members of WIL. I am especially excited to be part of Professor Kellie McElhaney’s course, The Business Case for Investing in Women.

Ryann and classmates climbing Half Dome on an MBA camping trip last weekend.

Ryann and classmates climbing Half Dome on an MBA camping trip last weekend.

As I become armed with this knowledge and these skills, I feel an increased sense of responsibility to be a leader in the movement toward gender equality.

Haas is in a unique position as the Class of 2016, 43-percent-women strong, begins the Full-time MBA program. We should celebrate this achievement, but understand that we are not done. We as the Haas community have a responsibility to invest in women, to continue to develop a culture that welcomes and supports women, and to be leaders in achieving gender equality.

It is my hope that when women and men graduate from Haas, we are all equipped and driven to establish gender equality within our future organizations. I look forward to a world where 43% of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women—and why stop there?!

Summit celebration

Summit celebration

Ryann1_sizedRyann Kopacka is a member of the Full-Time Berkeley MBA Class of 2016. From Atlanta, Georgia, Ryann worked as a consultant in Deloitte Consulting’s Strategy and Operations practice, focusing on supply chain operations and analytics. She also worked as a marketing intern at Osmo Nutrition, a sports nutrition startup company with a line of products specifically formulated for women. Ryann earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Industrial Engineering at Georgia Tech, where she competed on the Varsity Swim Team and held three school records. Now a member of Team USA, Ryann recently competed at the 2014 World Triathlon Championship held in Edmonton, Canada.

Warm Buttered Pretzels: Insights from International Consulting Trips

nutrimental1

Brazil

From Kenya to Kazakhstan to South Africa to Singapore, full-time MBA students crisscrossed the globe this summer on International Business Development consulting trips.

All told, 23 teams traveled to 18 countries to complete projects they had spent months preparing for.

Their projects were as diverse as the countries they visited. A sampling: introducing mom-and-pops in India to SAP’s modern retail systems; developing a go-to-market plan for a cloud encryption product, improving distribution for a leading lab equipment vendor in China, and building market strategies to combat diarrheal disease in Tanzania.

While the content of their work varied widely, all the trips had a common theme: students picked up fascinating insights on international business culture. For example, the team working with SAP Labs in India blogged about the surprises they found from start to finish:

haas-at-the-taj“We walked into Bangalore anticipating another version of Silicon Valley on the other side of the globe. We were not prepared for what we came across, a city that was both developed and yet steeped in so much tradition, both modern and yet traditional, and altogether unpredictable. What we learned over the next three weeks was that this would be a theme rippling across our experiences in India.”

Pretzels, not muffins, at meetings in Munich

Pretzels, not muffins, at meetings in Munich

Another team, which stopped to meet with a strategic partner in Munich on the way to advise a startup in Moscow, found warm buttered pretzels waiting for them in a conference room. They were impressed when the CEO leading the meeting left the room, returned with a small toolkit, and repaired a malfunctioning air-conditioner knob—all without stopping the conversation.

“I guess the idea that no task is too small when you’re the CEO of a small company is cross cultural,” the students wrote.

Students found that in Thailand, clients prefer to build a relationship before getting to the task at hand, while in Moscow, it’s straight to business. Even so, Muscovites take lunch seriously, and would never eat at their desks unless it’s absolutely necessary.

To read more of the teams’ blog posts on their projects and adventures, visit Haas in the World.

MBA students bring home gold for diversity T.E.A.M.-work

TEAMwin

Kory and Nikita show off the T.E.A.M. trophy.

Berkeley MBA students working to increase minority representation and leadership at Haas and beyond have brought home the highest honor from the country’s largest and oldest business diversity organization.

The group also won $10,000 to build on their work for the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management.

Nikita Mitchell, Kory Vargas Caro, and Dan Wong, all MBA 15, accepted the T.E.A.M. (Together Everyone Achieves More) trophy earlier this month on behalf of Haas Consortium students. The three students served as liaisons to the organization this year.

“We were determined. For us, it was the way to prove to the Consortium that Haas is very serious about this work,” Mitchell says.

Established in 1966, the Consortium is an alliance of schools and corporate partners committed to reducing the under-representation of African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans in the ranks of upper management. It provides merit-based, full MBA-program fellowships to top candidates who have proven records of promoting inclusion in their schools, jobs, or personal lives.

Haas has been a longstanding member of the Consortium. There were 43 Consortium fellows in the Haas MBA program last year. Twenty-eight more will arrive this fall, bringing the total to 52.

The Haas group competed against 16 other b-schools for the hefty gold trophy.

Consortium fellow selfie

Consortium fellow selfie

To win, the group had to demonstrate their success in fundraising, community building, and fulfilling their duties as Consortium liaisons. They did much more: starting with a strategy meeting at the beginning of the school year to determine their goals and priorities as a group. Their activities included organizing school-wide social events; building a new leadership model for the group; organizing treks with other member schools; and taking an active role in the admissions process to increase the number of fellows who chose Haas.

In addition, the last two Consortium cohorts have stepped into more Haas leadership roles than ever—including Mitchell, who is the first African-American woman to serve as president of the MBA Association.

Mitchell said the race for the T.E.A.M. trophy is a different kind of competition.

“Everyone is happy for whoever wins, since we’re all working for a cause that we all believe in,” Mitchell says. “But at the end of the day, you want to prove that you are the school that is working the most passionately toward the Consortium’s mission.”

A Look Back at 2012-13: Berkeley-Haas Defining Principles in Action

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Berkeley MBA students won the MIT EdTech Case Competition in November with strategy recommendations for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on a new online tool that helps parents to help children with schoolwork. 

Razoring their way to raising funds, students donated $12,500 to Challenge for Charity through the annual tradition of No-Shave November.

Creativity is a matter of course in Managing the New Product Development Process. For nearly 15 years, this joint Berkeley MBA/Mechanical Engineering course has guided inter-disciplinary student teams from concept generation through prototype development in a semester-long project.

Berkeley MBA students won the Michigan Renewable Energy Case Competition with a portfolio approach to helping a Michigan utility generate more electricity with renewable energy technology.

First-year full-time MBA students Elsita Meyer-Brandt and Jens Uehlecke were just two of the aspiring Haas entrepreneurs to benefit from expertise offered by the Lester Center’s Entrepreneur’s Corner.

Full-time students won the IBM/Novartis Non-communicable Disease Challenge with a pharmacy membership program in Mexico that will provide access, community, and encouragement for improving the health of pregnant women with diabetes.

Evening and weekend MBA students used tools from Problem Finding Problem Solving on their way to semi-finalist status in the global Innovation Challenge.