2015 Best MBAs: Nikita Mitchell

NikitaMitchell2 - Cal Berkeley-PoetsAndQuants

Nikita T. Mitchell


University of California-Berkeley, Haas School of Business

Nikita Mitchell isn’t afraid to probe and push, to have difficult conversations or hold people accountable (especially herself). That makes her a true leader – and one of the top MBAs from the Class of 2015. Elected by Haas students as class president, the former Deloitte consultant and social media maven has spearheaded efforts to establish classroom best practices based on student feedback. Not surprisingly, she has earned accolades that range from the 2015 Leadership Scholarship to the 2014-2015 Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award. She will be joining Cisco Consulting Services as chief of staff after graduation.

Age: 28

Hometown: Beltsville, MD

Undergraduate School: Howard University

Undergraduate Degree: International Business

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? National 4-H Council, Social Media Consultant, ProInspire, Digital Communications Manager, Deloitte Consulting, Consultant

Where did you intern during the summer of 2014? SYPartners, Strategy Intern

Where will you be working after graduation? Cisco Consulting Services, Chief of Staff

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I read Michael Porter’s Creating Shared Value article in the Jan/Feb 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review. I was working in the non-profit sector at the time, and it was a relief to me that I didn’t have to avoid a corporate career simply because I was committed to building a career that would have social impact.”

“If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…buying time in the non-profit sector while I figured out what else I wanted to do. I really enjoyed helping non-profits like 4-H grow their brands online. I might have continued on that path to see where it led me.”

What are your long-term professional goals? My ultimate career goal right now is to become a CEO of a socially conscious, stakeholder-driven company. For those unfamiliar, “conscious capitalism” was coined by Whole Foods CEO John Macke, and includes companies like Patagonia, Container Store, and Starbucks

Favorite Courses: Storytelling for Leadership, Power and Politics, and Business Case for Investing in Women

Which academic or professional achievements are you most proud of? I’m most proud of winning the T.E.A.M. Trophy for Haas while serving as an elected Liaison for the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management (CGSM), which is the country’s largest and oldest business diversity organization. We were also awarded $10,000 to continue our diversity and inclusion initiatives—making it the first time CGSM has ever provided financial support for any winner. This win was not only significant because it was the first time Haas qualified as a finalist, but also because we beat out 16 other CGSM member schools, many of which have much larger student bodies than ours. One of the main reasons we were selected was because we created opportunities for the broader Consortium student community, by organizing professional treks and inviting students from other schools to participate.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? My partner, for being my rock through this experience. We’ve been together since I started the business school application process, so she has seen me through all of the highs and lows— and there have been lows. She is always there, whether it’s as my number one encourager, a source of emotional support, or a thought partner for some of my best ideas. More importantly, she has fully embraced this experience with me despite how strange MBAs can be to people who don’t find business models and strategy as exciting as we do!

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Haas because of its culture and tight-knit community. The four Haas Defining Principles—Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself—truly articulate the value system that is core to the student experience. While I didn’t fully understand how deeply students embody these values when I was making my decision, I could sense it in my interactions on campus. I was also impressed by how well students knew their classmates and how easy it was for me to meet students with similar backgrounds and career interests. It was clear to me that, given such small class sizes, this was a place where people invested time to get to know one another.

What did you enjoy most about business school? I came to business school with the goal of discovering and developing my leadership style. Running for class president in the fall of 2013 was one of the scariest things I’d ever done, and each day after winning the election was quite overwhelming for me. But it was also exhilarating. What I enjoyed most about business school was the supportive environment at Haas—everyone from staff to classmates who provided support when they may not have realized I needed it most. This has played a critical role in my growth over these past two years.

What is your most memorable moment from business school? Without hesitation, I’d say the Consortium orientation program, which is when Consortium students from all member schools get together for a conference during the summer before the first semester of business school. It’s an incredible opportunity to begin thinking about what you want out of your MBA experience, build connections with students at other MBA programs and, most importantly, build community among your own school’s Consortium students. After these five days together, the Berkeley-Haas Consortium bond was incredibly strong, and we arrived on campus in 2013 as a family of 24. I will never forget that experience.

Fun fact about yourself: I played the steel drums for seven years while growing up. I took my first lesson the summer of 1996 in Trinidad, while spending the summer with my grandmother.

Favorite book: Black Girl in Paris. My favorite quote from this book is a constant source of inspiration in my life:

“Before I left home I cut my hair close to my scalp so I could be a free woman with free thoughts, open to all possibilities. I was making a map of the world. In ancient times maps were made to help people find food, water, and the way back home. I needed a map to help me find love and language, and since one didn’t exist, I’d have to invent one, following the trails and signs left by other travelers. I didn’t know what I wanted to be, but I knew I wanted to be the kind of woman who was bold, took chances, and had adventures. I wanted to travel around the world. It was my little-girl dream.”

Favorite movie: Legally Blonde (1 not 2!). I fell in love with this movie back in high school because of Elle’s sheer determination to prove to herself that she could succeed.

Favorite musical performer: Beyoncé. Enough said.

Favorite television show: Scandal. Both Olivia Pope and Shonda Rhimes are inspirational women for me.

Favorite vacation spot: Brandons Beach in Barbados. It’s where I’ve spent many days relaxing while visiting family.

What are your hobbies? I spend a lot of my free time reading and running (I’ve completed seven half-marathons).I’ve also recently picked back up sewing. Oh and I love brunch! I consider that a hobby.

Twitter Handle: @NikitaTMitchell

What made Nikita such an invaluable addition to the class of 2015?  

“I knew Nikita well from my previous role overseeing admissions, and saw how well she brought our Consortium liaisons together to develop a strategy that would build community within Haas and across Consortium schools. But I was blown away when I saw her present last spring to our core faculty and senior administrators on how we can work together to strengthen our academic learning culture.

Like all business schools, we’re navigating a changing learning environment. Our students learn differently than previous generations, having grown up as digital natives. Their favorite companies have invited them to be co-creators in designing products and experiences. They want a markedly different learning experience in the classroom, and the faculty and administration needed to understand the student experience so we can create the strongest possible academic culture.

At the faculty’s request, Nikita led an intensive data-gathering effort, leveraging these characteristics of our students to identify the root causes of differing expectations in the classroom, so we could develop cultural norms to strengthen the learning experience. This included working with the president of our Design and Innovation club to hold an idea jam—-an interactive session based on design thinking-—to dig deep into the strengths of our academic culture, the barriers to meeting expectations, impact of negative student behaviors, [and] root causes and solutions. Using insights from this session, Nikita then developed and conducted a survey to gather broader feedback from students on which behaviors most impacted their experience, and to generate solutions. She then presented the findings to core faculty and school leaders, and managed controversial discussions with faculty and students around behaviors and accountability, always driving the conversation forward. She compiled “Best Practices” and “Non-negotiables” in the classroom, and we worked together with faculty to pilot their integration into our core classes. We also developed a cultural-norm-setting workshop for orientation to build the foundation for incoming students. We are now evaluating the results from faculty and students, and developing the next phase of this work. Faculty and senior leadership view Nikita as the gold standard for student leadership and tackling tough issues.

With every challenge that has arisen, Nikita has been fearless and thoughtful in her efforts to be a fair, transparent and compassionate leader. She fully embraced the responsibility to hold difficult conversations and make tough decisions. In the wake of events in Ferguson and Staten Island, I saw Nikita struggle with her personal feelings and her perception of her role as a leader in the community, ultimately finding a way to authentically hold both spaces and encourage her classmates to have difficult but necessary and meaningful conversations. She pushes everyone around her to see things differently, to be vulnerable and take risks, to be authentic. She embodies leadership in action and I am so proud to have seen Nikita’s growth in stepping into and owning a role that initially terrified her. It has been an honor to work with her. She inspires me every day and reminds me why I have the greatest job in the world.”

Stephanie Fujii, assistant dean, FTMBA Program and Admissions

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