2015 MBA To Watch: Venita Sivamani

Venita Sivamani

Venita Sivamani


University of California-Davis, Graduate School of Management (GSM)

Dancer…Teacher…Volunteer…Entrepreneur…Leader. Those are all labels that Venita Sivamani carries. At UC-Davis, she was president of the Women in Leadership Club, where she has been instrumental in developing board training for future students. She also co-chaired Davis’ Diversity and Retention of Underrepresented Students Committee and worked on the school’s Recruitment Advisory Committee. In her spare time, she has opened the Northern California Chapter of Visions Global Empowerment, where she has volunteered internationally. Winner of Davis’ Mary Jeanne Gilhooly Award for the most outstanding graduating senior woman, Sivamani earned a Newberry Distinguished Fellowship for Leadership from the school in 2015.

Age: 30

Hometown: Sacramento, CA

Undergraduate School: U.C.-Davis

Undergraduate Degree: BS in Human Development

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? 1st grade yeacher, Teach For America (2007-2009) and associate director of the Business and Leadership Department, UC Davis Extension (2010-2013)

Where did you intern during the summer of 2014? I completed my internship during my second year of business school at the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls (January – June 2015). Over the summer, I participated in London Business School’s Occasional Student Programme.

Where will you be working after graduation? I’m starting a company as CEO. Dermveda is an online resource hub integrating research, education, allopathy, and alternative medicine. We aim to personalize a holistic approach to wellness.

Favorite Courses: Small Business Ventures, Social Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Cost Management

Which academic or professional achievements are you most proud of? Those that have created opportunities for others have been most rewarding. As a first grade teacher, for example, I had a student who was new to the country and had never been to school before. I worked closely with him and his parents to provide additional instruction and remember the day he began to read. Although his family did not speak English, he had learned how to sound out words and began developing a new vocabulary. It was a significant turning point for us both, and an experience I will never forget.

More recently, I have helped lead new initiatives for our school as president of Women in Leadership. In partnership with career services, our team has designed a management skills series. We are also in the process of launching a program to provide the incoming class and future years with opportunity for board experience. Through social, educational, and professional activities, we have brought students together from all three campuses, created leadership opportunities, and increased public awareness. My work with Women in Leadership has further led to an internship with the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls where I am able to engage in statewide efforts to impact policy and long-term change.

Who would you most want to thank for your success (and why)? My family. The experiences they created shaped my passions and the support they provided enabled me to pursue them. Childhood summers in Sri Lanka introduced me to the classical arts, where I developed a love for dance. Those summers also exposed me to the realities of adversity, where I developed a commitment to service. Starting from the age of five, my parents drove me to dance classes near and far and even abroad so I could complete high school a semester early and train full-time. In college, I directed a dance team and developed an accredited course to share the art with others. As an undergraduate Bonner Leader, I founded a student organization focused on aftermath relief and education which received a proclamation from the city’s mayor in recognition of its service to the community. Much of my professional endeavors since have focused on education reform, where I have had the chance to meet incredible friends and mentors for whom I am also truly grateful.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose U.C.-Davis for several reasons:

  1. Small classes and collaborative learning environment
  2. College town with a vibrant campus community
  3. Ideal location with close proximity to Silicon Valley and the state capital
  4. Emphasis on “Ideas into Action” – “helping you become a leader with the toolkit, perspective, and experience to have a global impact”
  5. Focus on sustainability, thought leadership, and corporate responsibility
  6. Capstone IMPACT project integrating theory and application

What did you enjoy most about business school? The myriad of ventures I have been able to pursue at the GSM is a testament to the school’s supportive and innovative environment. I have greatly appreciated collaborating with students, staff, and faculty to create and implement new ideas and initiatives locally and abroad.

What is your most memorable moment from business school? Studying and volunteering overseas broadened my perspective and international experience. On a class trip to Chile in the spring, we studied emerging markets and cultural exchange. At London Business School, I was the first from my university to participate in their summer program. Volunteering with Visions Global Empowerment, I taught classes on leadership and entrepreneurship to deaf youth and young adults faced with discrimination and poverty in Ethiopia. We have launched a Model Regional Deafness Center (the first of its kind in the country) and are working with local schools to provide sign language training, educational resources, and ongoing support. Traveling abroad this summer was definitely one of the highlights of my business school experience.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I met business leaders and entrepreneurs who were doing the kinds of things I wanted to do.” 

“If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…reaching the limit on my toolkit. Although the learning never ends, I now feel more confident and optimistic in my ability to use a broader range of skills and strategies to help find solutions for broader impact.”

What are your long-term professional goals? I hope to expand access to resources and educational opportunities that enable others to transform their lives and communities around them. By blending entrepreneurship and education, I strive to develop and lead innovative organizations that impact change.

Fun fact about yourself: In my spare time, I can be found on the dance floor. Professionally trained in classical South Indian dance, Bharatanatyam, I also love Kathak, Bollywood, Salsa, and Polynesian dancing.

Favorite book: Half the Sky by Kristof and WuDunn (introduced me to an amazing organization called Ashoka)

Favorite movie: “Freedom Writers”

Favorite musical performer: I am a big Bollywood fan – Rahat Fateh Ali Khan

Composer: A.R. Rahman

Favorite television show: Dancing with the Stars

Favorite vacation spot: Mauritius

What are your hobbies? Dancing, hiking with my dogs, and traveling abroad

Twitter Handle: @VenitaSivamani


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