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Fridays from the Frontline: Getting Involved at Booth – What it Means to Lead and to Serve

Three Chicago Booth MBA students share insights into b-school life and what it’s like to be student group co-chairs in this week’s Fridays from the Frontline.

Getting Involved at Booth – What it Means to Lead and to Serve

By Kailin Fu, Chicago Booth MBA ’21

When talking with prospective students, I am often asked about leadership opportunities at Booth and time management. When I share information about demonstrating leadership as a co-chair, there are even more questions about the value of that role and balancing that with classes and recruiting. That’s why I decided to talk with three Boothies who, in addition to being very involved, have served as student group co-chairs in the past year, to share their perspectives and wisdom. You’ll hear from Class of 2021 members Michael Henry, Yiran Huang, and Bhavna Patny.

Please briefly introduce yourself and your current leadership role(s) at Booth.

Michael: I’m a current second year MBA Candidate in the Full-Time program. I grew up here in Chicago on the Northside of town. Prior to Booth, I spent the majority of my career in cloud computing consulting space and will be joining Anheuser-Busch InBev in NYC after graduation.  In my current leadership roles, I am a co-chair of the African American MBA Association (AAMBAA), a LEAD Facilitator, Admissions Fellow, and founder of the ‘A Conversation With…’ Series, which is a forum to enable students of diverse backgrounds to share their lived experiences in a small-group setting.

Yiran: I’m a current second year original from China. Before Booth, I worked as a product manager at UBS Asset Management in Hong Kong. I will join McKinsey Los Angeles after graduation. I am the co-chair of Innovation and Design Club (IDC) and the Greater China Club (GCC). I also conduct Booth admission interviews as an Admissions Fellow.

Bhavna: I’m a current second-year full-time MBA student, graduating this summer (can’t believe it’s almost over!). I grew up on the East Coast before moving to the land of the deep-dish pizza (NY pizza >>>). Prior to Booth, I spent four years at Amazon in Operations and will be joining Apple in the Bay Area upon graduation. At Booth, I am a LEAD Facilitator, Admissions Fellow, First Day co-chair, and South Asia Business Group co-chair, amongst other things. In my free time, I love watching Disney movies, solving clues to get through escape rooms and scavenger hunts, playing board games, and keeping my apartment squeaky clean.

Why did you want to become a co-chair?

Michael: I wanted to be an AAMBAA co-chair because I saw the position as the greatest opportunity to make a direct, positive impact on the Black and Brown community at Booth. In so many spaces in my life, I was the token African-American. From my undergrad and study abroad programs to my work in tech consulting to the neighborhoods I lived in, it was rare to find people who looked like me. When I advance in the corporate world, I realize that I will encounter this again. Yet, my time at Booth provides me with an extraordinary chance to meet with brilliant, intelligent, talented people who look like me—and have allies that support us—that will be able to influence organizations in hiring and advancing people of color. As a co-chair, I wanted to do my part in making sure that people could succeed while they are here, feel supported in their endeavors, and know that they will never have to feel alone as we rise through the ranks in the future.

Yiran: As a Chinese student, becoming a GCC co-chair was a no-brainer for me. I hoped to promote the Chinese culture and strengthen the bonds within the Chinese community at Booth. For IDC, one of the highlights of my first year was the Design Thinking Bootcamp and I wanted to lead it in my second year.

Bhavna: I knew I wanted to be a co-chair almost immediately at the start of my first quarter at Booth. The two student groups I was most involved in right away were Booth Technology Group (BTG) and South Asia Business Group (SABG). BTG played a huge role in my recruiting journey as a first-year student, and I cannot emphasize enough how useful their PM/PMM Workshop was in helping me prepare for (read “survive”) the internship interview process. On the other hand, SABG immediately introduced me to a community I call “my second home.” Connecting with others who I share a similar background and culture with has been one of my most invaluable experiences at Booth. I continuously counted on this community through the ups and downs of the MBA journey, and I knew I wanted to pay it forward, in true Booth fashion, by being a part of shaping the next year’s SABG vision. Also, who doesn’t want to work with and get to know a group of amazing Boothies who are passionate about the same things as you are?

Can you tell us how much time you spend working on your group – how many hours per day, per week, etc.?  Are there busier or slower times?

Michael: It certainly depends on the time of the year—it comes and goes in waves. I would say two hours per week during downtime; six to eight hours when things get hectic. Things are very busy at the beginning of the school year as we plan our welcome and community building events. Activity dies down a bit in October and November as people are busy with recruiting. Then the wave picks back up in January and February as we have events for Black History Month. The spring is typically busy for the DuSable Conference. However, last spring, with everything that happened with the Amy Cooper incident and George Floyd protests, handling AAMBAA’s responses, addressing the student body, and working with the administration, alumni, and leaders at other schools became a full-time job.

Yiran: My engagement in IDC concentrates in the Autumn Quarter because of the flagship program, Design Thinking Bootcamp. I spent one to two hours per week in the summer in preparation and three to four hours per week in Autumn when it started running. Winter and Spring Quarters are lighter, around one hour per week. For GCC, as a social co-chair, I have the flexibility to adjust the events’ timeline and aim to organize one big event for each quarter. Each event could take three to four hours to organize.

Bhavna: For the most part, I don’t spend more than two to four hours per week fulfilling co-chair responsibilities. At the start of each quarter, the co-chairs team brainstorms what events we want to host, in addition to the recurring or staple events already planned for that quarter, and then we split the events amongst ourselves by assigning each event to a pair of co-chairs. This allows us to balance our schedules effectively and also enforces accountability within each pair in ensuring details don’t fall through the cracks. The busier and slower times are dependent on which events are coming up and how much preparation they require. For example, in a pre-COVID-19 world, planning an event at a venue with catering would likely take more time to plan compared to an event on campus.

As someone who is quite involved in the Booth community, how do you manage your time efficiently?

Michael: Time management is always a key topic in business school! Having an up-to-date calendar and ‘Things to Do’ list has helped me. Because LEAD facilitator and AAMBAA responsibilities, along with the start of classes, all happen at the same time during the Fall, it can be fairly difficult to balance. Therefore, it becomes very important to stay on top of all the work that needs to be done, in order to prevent a call or an assignment from falling through the cracks. Thankfully, after a couple of weeks, it is possible to settle into a groove and the juggling act becomes much more natural.

Yiran: As I have more flexibility with GCC social events, I’ll let the other social co-chairs know my IDC schedule to insure the events don’t overlap.

Bhavna: I live and die by my calendar. I would definitely say that’s my secret sauce for managing multiple responsibilities across my different leadership roles. Prioritizing by deadlines, or by setting my own if need be, helps me stay proactive and minimizes the last minute pressure. I’ve also found that color coding both my to-do lists and calendar by category (classes, student groups, recruiting, social life, etc.) has helped me stay organized and efficient.

What has this virtual environment looked like for you leading your group?  What are the challenges and opportunities you have experienced throughout?

Michael: For AAMBAA, the biggest challenge has been to simply stay connected! Normally, on top of informal social gatherings, we would have monthly General Body Meetings (our GBMs) where we would all come together over great food and conversation to give updates on the status of the group and a temperature check on how people are feeling. That has been difficult to replicate virtually—Zoom fatigue is real. However, I am thankful to have creative minds within the group that continue to think of ways to bring each other together. I have my fingers crossed that as we head into the final weeks of Winter Quarter and into Spring, we’ll continue to build up momentum and have some fun times together.

Yiran: The virtual environment has brought many challenges, especially to social events. We can only host gatherings through Zoom. For educational programs such as Design Thinking Bootcamp, we could not visit the offices of innovative companies as we used to. The virtual format also had opportunities. For example, it pushed participants to learn to use tools such as MIRO for online collaboration.

Bhavna: Leading a cultural and mostly social group in a virtual environment has definitely been challenging. A majority of SABG’s events are focused around building community and forming new connections amongst peers while sharing a common passion or interest. As we’ve all experienced over the past year, COVID-19 has definitely made this difficult. However, I found that there were still certain events we could easily translate to a virtual environment, such as themed movie nights and trivia events. Although the random one-on-one conversations that would occur during in-person events were missing, mastering the art of breakout rooms on Zoom helped to continue building those random connections in a virtual world.

Who do you consider to be partners in your mission, and how do they influence the work you do? 

Michael: First and foremost, my fellow co-chairs are my partners. I will sing their praises for the rest of my days. Brian, Jillesa, Kene, and Mike Hoyos are an insanely talented, thoughtful, collaborative group, and with all that we have experienced in our year as co-chairs, there is not a better team that I could have asked to be by my side. They inspire me everyday to keep thinking of ways to make Booth the best place in the world for Black and Brown MBA students. Outside of AAMBAA, the Hispanic American Business Students Association (HABSA) is our closest partner. Much of the programming we do—retreats, workshops, social outings, etc.—is done in collaboration with them. The other partners we work closely with are our sponsors. We have been extremely fortunate to have had an outpouring of support from firms across multiple industries, which has allowed us to build deep corporate relationships that we did not previously have.

Yiran: In IDC, I work with fellow co-chairs, Career Services, and other student groups including Booth Technology Group and Corporate Management Group. I also work with external partners, such as the Art Institute of Chicago, design consulting companies, and innovation groups within big tech.

What do you wish you knew when you accepted the role that you know now?

Michael: I wish I knew that I would have to become a civil rights leader a month after becoming a co-chair. Though, understandably, that was a bit difficult to predict. Mild facetiousness aside, I wish I knew that I and the co-chairs would become the face and de facto representatives of the Black at Booth experience. Given all the events of the last 12 months, we have had to take an outsized role in communicating with people around the world—prospects, alumni, news outlets, politicians, and current students, alike—about what we see and experience here at Booth. It has certainly been a surprising lesson in public relations and tactful communication.

Bhavna: Being a co-chair has definitely been a fulfilling and fun experience! I play a part in shaping opportunities for the community to come together in different settings and also enjoy those experiences alongside everyone else. It’s exciting to help plan events based on what the community wants by using the resources we have access to as a student group. From a teamwork standpoint, learning to make decisions quickly and efficiently was challenging at first, and this was something I had not thought of beforehand. Relying on each other and gently enforcing accountability were keys to our success. Also, on a more positive note, I didn’t realize that along the way, I would form these close, lifelong bonds!

What was the most rewarding part of being a co-chair over the past year?

Michael: Doing good for my people. For my Black classmates and alumni in standing up for and supporting them during difficult times, working just as hard when things are going well. For AAMBAA’s allies in providing the forums and education necessary for them to go out in the world as better informed, empathetic leaders. For the Booth student body in facilitating much-needed conversations about diverse life experiences and connecting people in ways otherwise untapped.

Bhavna: The most rewarding part of being a co-chair has definitely been seeing new connections and bonds blossom during events. It’s fulfilling to bring the community together and give them the space and opportunity to meet people they may not have met before. On a different note, I also now have a bucketload of fun stories and memories from all the experiences I’ve shared with my fellow co-chairs, from randomly grabbing lunch together to staying up late to finalize last minute details for an event the next day. And lastly, being a co-chair has taught me a lot about teamwork and leadership, and I know those skills will go with me to the next chapter of my career.

Anything else you would like to share?

Michael: The impact I will leave at Booth, enabled by AAMBAA and supported by my peers, is by no means unachievable for anyone else who attends this school. When driven by purpose, we proved that positive change can happen. Yet, we cannot let initial success be the demise of ongoing progress. It will soon be on a new batch of student leaders of Booth to take the mantle and guide the next generation. To them, I implore: Do not forget the work to still be done. Push for it and do not take “later” for an answer.

Posted in: Fridays from the Frontline, Weekly Columns

Schools: U. Chicago Booth

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