2018 Best MBAs: Erin Gums, U.C.-Berkeley (Haas)

Erin Gums

University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business

“Bay Area native in pursuit of a more equitable society through business.”

Age: 30

Hometown: Oakland, CA

Fun fact about yourself: In high school, I spent a month backpacking through Death Valley and turned 16 during a 3-day solo excursion during the trip.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Harvard University, BA in Social Anthropology

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? NewSchools Venture Fund, office of the CEO, Oakland, CA

Where did you intern during the summer of 2017? The Wine Group, Brand Management Intern, Livermore, CA

Where will you be working after graduation? Undecided

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • VP, Diversity, MBA Association
  • Co-Chair, Race Inclusion Initiative
  • Student Representative on the Haas Dean Search Committee
  • VP Academics, Haas Marketing Club
  • Consortium for the Graduate Study of Management Fellow
  • Admissions Student Interviewer

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I’m proudest of my role as the VP of Diversity for the MBAA Association, through which I advocated on behalf of students with the administration and worked with student leaders across campus to foster an inclusive culture at Haas. One major achievement was planning our annual Diversity Symposium, an event designed to showcase our culture to prospective students, in partnership with the Haas admissions team. I coordinated more than 20 student volunteers to participate in the event, including student facilitators for interactive design-thinking workshops centered on issues of race, gender, and sexual orientation in business. I partnered with the dean and leaders on the admissions team to develop content relevant to prospective students primarily from underrepresented groups in business. In early October, we welcomed nearly 200 prospective students to campus for the event. The response from prospective student attendees was overwhelmingly positive. Most importantly, their feedback showed that we gave them a real sense of our culture allowing them to decide whether Haas was a fit for them. I am grateful to have played a part in ensuring every person, no matter their background, could see themselves at Haas and feel welcome in this community.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Prior to Haas, I worked at the venture philanthropy firm NewSchools Venture Fund, which invests in early stage education entrepreneurs. I partnered with the managing partner to launch NewSchools’ Diverse Leaders portfolio, which has since grown to a fund investing over $3 million a year in dozens of organizations advancing black and Latino leadership across the education sector. I developed the initial strategy for the fund, facilitated the due diligence process, and executed $500K in grants for our first set of six new ventures. One of my fondest memories is sitting down with the CEO of a new organization advancing Latino leadership in education, who was overwhelmed with joy as she signed our grant agreement, the first major grant she’d received for her organization. I am proud to have played a role in making the great work of these organizations possible.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Rob Chandra & Toby Stuart, who co-taught my Entrepreneurship course, were my favorite MBA professors. These two made an amazing duo! Toby’s no-nonsense style and very high expectations for our preparation of the cases resulted in significant learning about evaluating the viability of new businesses. Rob shared lessons from his extensive investing experience in some highly successful start-ups, demonstrating incomparable storytelling ability that will stick with me for life.

What was your favorite MBA Course? My favorite MBA course was called Power & Politics, taught by Assistant Professor Sameer Srivastava. I loved that this course was immediately applicable to my life, especially as it related to building a strong reputation as you enter new organizations. Prof. Srivastava impressed on us that even in the toughest of situations, you always have power, even if not in the traditional sense. Utilizing some concrete tools such as power mapping, which entails understanding the personal, relational, and positional sources of power, can help you navigate most situations in business and in life.

Why did you choose this business school? In addition to my long-held love for Berkeley having grown up in neighboring Oakland, I was attracted to Haas because of its values. Of course, you’ve heard about our culture as encapsulated in the Defining Leadership Principles. I loved that everyone at Haas is both pursuing competitive career paths while also demonstrating some aspiration to make a greater impact on the world. I also appreciated that the people I reached out to (current students and alumni) were the most responsive, welcoming, and helpful throughout the application process. One student offered to meet me the same day I reached out to him! This same warmth and empathy has been a constant throughout my experience at Haas.

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Following some advice I got from a Haas alum, I started business school aiming to dedicate 50% of my time to pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and the other 50% reaffirming what I care about. As this approach applies to admissions, you should be able to both articulate what you think you will get out of business school (the first 50%) and what unique passions or talents you will contribute to the Haas community (the second 50%). Also, every single application question and essay is precious real estate, so don’t waste a square inch of it by being repetitive—make sure to showcase a well-rounded picture of who you are!

What is the biggest myth about your school? Given our emphasis on culture, one myth is that we’re overly nice. There’s some truth to this – Haasies are great people and our culture is very collaborative. We approach most conversations with empathy and we place a lot of value on building deeper relationships through sharing personal stories. At the same time, we don’t shy away from the tough conversations when they’re needed. In formal and informal ways, we encourage conversations between people with different perspectives and backgrounds, even if there are disagreements, so we can learn from one another.

Last year, along with a classmate, I piloted a small group discussion about race over dinner at a classmate’s house. This went well, so we expanded the idea through our work on the Race Inclusion Initiative team. We formalized these dinners into our “Dialogues over Dinner” series. Around 100 students across Haas participated in the small group dinners grounded in an article they’d all read. Their feedback showed that all participants felt more comfortable engaging in discussions about race and felt more positively about the Haas culture as a result of the dinners.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I have fully accepted that one simply cannot do it all, especially not in business school. I do wish I’d been able to study abroad for a semester while at Haas. Studying abroad (a semester in Spain and summer in Brazil) was one of my favorite parts of my undergraduate experience, as it pushed me outside my comfort zone, allowed me to learn about different cultures, and gave me a fresh perspective on my life back home. I would’ve loved to have had this experience now as a more seasoned professional. With a year-long leadership commitment with the MBAA, I was not able to be in two places at one time, but I’m looking forward to an intensive design thinking course in Amsterdam over spring break.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? The classmate I most admire is Om Chitale. I admire Om for his ability to connect with classmates on a deep level, pursue his goals of advancing education equity relentlessly, deliver and receive feedback with grace—and somehow still make time to play basketball at the rec center multiple times a week! I don’t know how he does it all! I’ve been able to partner with Om in founding Teachers of Oakland, a platform designed to uplift the stories of teachers who are so often underappreciated. It has been a joy to watch him make connections with leaders in my hometown and to learn how to start something from scratch together.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? The person who has most influenced my decision to pursue a career in business and my MBA, specifically, is my mentor and former manager, Frances Messano. I worked closely with her for a number of years and always admired her ability to weigh in on key decisions of our organization at the highest, strategic level and quickly understanding processes on a more tactical, in-the-details level. I know that her MBA helped lay the groundwork for this and this inspired me to spend two years investing in my own professional development. She was the most supportive throughout my application process, helping me craft my essays, writing my recommendations, and encouraging me to believe in myself.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…continuing to invest in early-stage education ventures focused on increasing diversity of leaders across the field.”

What are the top two items on your bucket list? Top two things I’d love to do in life: to learn Chamorro, my mother’s native language, and to travel to Brazil for Carnival–I just attended in Trinidad & Tobago and it was so much fun!

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I’d like my peers to remember me as someone who loves to laugh and doesn’t shy away from having tough conversations when needed.

What would your theme song be? E-40, “Tell Me When to Go”

Favorite vacation spot: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Hobbies? Cuban salsa dancing, hand lettering, and cooking as much as possible!

What made Erin such an invaluable addition to the class of 2018?

“I’m honored to have served as advisor and staff partner to Erin Gums in her leadership role as VP Diversity for the Berkeley Haas MBA Association. Erin lives her values with a clear focus on the pursuit of a more equitable society through business. In doing so, she not only embodies our Defining Leadership Principles, but has contributed to the leadership development of her classmates through her commitment to facilitating their learning and engagement with diversity and inclusion as critical components of business success.

Erin is both an advocate for diversity and inclusion as well as a catalyst. She led programming such as Hot Topics, where students share experiences and perspectives on controversial subjects. These events help build students’ capacity for empathy, stimulating their curiosity and compassion in learning from others from different backgrounds with unique stories to tell. Erin has the courage to be vulnerable and authentic in sharing aspects of her own life story with her classmates. She also demonstrates leadership in her willingness to facilitate and engage in difficult conversations in launching Dialogues Over Dinner, discussions about race.

Erin’s impact and achievements extend beyond the experiences of students in our program. She planned and hosted Diversity Lunches, which are part of our visitation program for new admits. She also partnered very successfully with admissions in planning our annual Diversity Symposium, an event designed to showcase our culture to prospective students. Erin played a key role in planning interactive design-thinking workshops centered on issues of race, gender, and sexual orientation in business. These helped to bring the Berkeley Haas culture to life, were very well received, and demonstrated the ways in which students from all backgrounds are welcome in our community.”

Amy Hornstein

Director of Student Affairs


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