Meet UCLA Anderson’s MBA Class Of 2021

Ariana Cernius 

University of California Los Angeles’ Anderson School of Management

“Passionate, methodical, underdog-oriented, health-and-fitness-loving, Greek, rap-listening, sister, advocate, and student, with a hopeless sweet tooth.”

Hometown: Newport Beach, CA

Fun Fact About Yourself: I am an author! I tripped and fell into the land of academic publishing when I was in my junior year of undergrad. A cherished mentor first put the thought in my mind, and it opened up another dimension of advocacy for me – a new way to be a voice for issues I care about. Looking back, I was so naive in my process when I first started – I knew next-to-nothing about writing a cover letter or abstract or how to pitch to journals. I had to do a lot of internet research and go through several rounds of trial-and-error. But I’ve been blessed to always find amazing support and encouragement in my academic experiences. I really picked up some momentum in law school and published a few more pieces there. Now writing is just something I’m in the habit of doing. Most recently I finished my first book! It’s called The Full Benefit and is a resource that explains the Social Security Administration to individuals with developmental disabilities and their caregivers. To pay it forward, I also have a small consulting business on the side where I help others get their work published.

Undergraduate School and Major: Harvard College, Philosophy, 2013; UCLA Law School, J.D., 2017

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Skadden Fellow Public Interest Attorney at Bet Tzedek Legal Services

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Becoming a Skadden Fellow. Prior to coming to business school, I worked for two years as a public interest lawyer, representing low-income developmentally disabled adults in benefits appeals against the Social Security Administration through this program. Run through the Skadden Foundation and funded by the firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, the fellowship program sponsors a class of 25-30 lawyers and judicial clerks from all over the country each year to implement projects providing direct legal services to indigent populations for two years. You decide which population you want to serve, identify an unmet legal need, find an organization to be your home base (I chose the incredible Bet TzedekLegal Services), and get to work trying to improve things for people. It’s a wonderful way to start a career. I consider it my biggest accomplishment so far because it allowed me to give a voice to a community I care deeply about and be aggressive about pursuing economic independence for them.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Energy and drive. Everyone I’ve come into contact with here so far has such a positive attitude, with an interest in exploring new ideas, paths, and concepts, and a dedication to growth and self-improvement. There are so many opportunities at UCLA, and the general sense I get on campus is that it is a place where things move forward. The people are smart and very competitive go-getters who don’t hesitate to take the initiative, but also very friendly and have a lot of heart.

UCLA Anderson is founded on three pillars: Share Success, Think Fearlessly, and Drive Change. Which pillar resonates most with you and why?  Share success. Most everything I have been able to achieve in life so far has been the result of teamwork. From teachers and professors who took the time to develop my intellectual voice and identify opportunities for me, to bosses who mentored me, to friends and parents of friends who hosted me for the holidays during times of familial discord, much of my personal and professional success I owe to the people who I’ve been fortunate enough to have populated my life. And that inspires me to pay it forward when I can, too. We are all indelibly linked by our common humanity, and I think it is important to remember that life is not just about you, but also giving back and lifting others up around you as much as you can. Whether it’s the corporate and public interest worlds coming together to form partnerships to make a difference in society or men working together with women to bring about a more gender-equitable world, I believe in taking a genuine interest in getting to know the people around you. You never know who you might meet, what you might learn, whose life experience and decision-making processes might reach you, or what you might succeed at together.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? The Ziman Center for Real Estate and all it has to offer. Specifically, what made me really excited about the school is the Levine Program in Housing and Social Responsibility. The real estate industry is such an interesting, rigorous, ever-evolving environment, but it also presents some of the biggest challenges to an equitable existence in our society. Coming up with resolutions to the lack of affordable housing is one of the most widespread public interest issues today. I think the fact that something like the “Housing as Health Care Initiative” exists is amazing. Some of the greatest minds and resources available are being put to work finding feasible solutions to real-world problems. UCLA is really special in that it has such a strong academic presence and manages to so skillfully balance that drive for intellectual and professional success with giving back. The fact that the school has such a prominent space for public service says something about the ethos and so impresses me. That’s been a running theme in my experience here.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? Challenge for Charity, Anderson Real Estate Association (AREA), Net Impact, Women’s Business Connection, Anderson Wine Club, and Anderson Tennis Club!

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? Definitely “Who are your personal heroes?” – because I have so many! In my life, I have learned the importance of authenticity, diligence, and being well-organized; the value of taking the time to get to know the people around you; and the power of positivity and vulnerability. I’m also a HUGE proponent of mentorship. I have been graced with the most incredible support from so many people who appeared at just the right time and became strongholds. From dynamite high school teachers and college and law school professors to generous work supervisors, to insightful and caring friends and their parents, I was raised by a village in the truest sense. It’s precisely because of the love and encouragement of my communities that I’ve been able to pursue a path that I love that challenges and invigorates me. The folks who have so graciously extended their time to mentor and develop me inspire me to try to be that person for others.  Though I sometimes fall short, that’s what I aspire to be.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I have spent the majority of my life working in various capacities to get the world to see how much disabled people are capable of and to create a space for them. Society has more or less adjusted for people with invisible disabilities when they are children – we have special education, programming, and other activities and services – but there is a huge drop off in what’s available for people when they transition to adulthood, almost no employment opportunities and limited appropriate housing models. Individuals who don’t have the advantage of extended family to help support them in their adult lives end up dependent on government benefits. Even then, many are unjustly denied or terminated. From there, they begin to contribute to the homeless population through no fault of their own due to a lack of income.

I spent the past two years working as a lawyer in the trenches of the direct services, trying to prevent the homelessness pipeline. What propelled me into business school was the realization that while that will always be critical work, somebody has to build some infrastructure tailored to this community. Specifically, the industry I see myself in is real estate. I am hoping to use my time at Anderson to pivot more solidly into affordable housing, with the long-term goal of developing one solid, replicable, supported housing model for one slice of the adult developmentally disabled population. While I have lifelong experience with the population and the need – and a knowledge of the law – I have no real estate finance, development, or management know-how. ’m looking to business school to try to supplement my skill set, and use the resources and more experienced brains here at Anderson to inform my next steps.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? None! UCLA Anderson was my one and only – it is such a good fit for me in all aspects, and I really feel like I will achieve maximum growth in my personal, academic, and professional life here over the next two years.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? I am very much a planner-type personality and considered a lot of different things when it comes to fit. Here are a few factors:

1) I had a fantastic experience in law school at UCLA and was already familiar with the liveliness and collegiality of the campus as well as the surrounding area.

2) Anderson has robust offerings in terms of real estate academics and professional development, which fit well with both my short-term and long-term career goals in affordable housing (I feel lucky to be entering this experience with some direction about the industry I’d like to pursue).

3) Anderson also has a lot to offer in terms of personal growth and leadership development – I like to look at things on a global level to see how other people solve familiar problems in different nations, so the fact that there are international study and immersion options was big for me.

4) I also liked the array of clubs and other activities and the fact that there is a visible and active space for public service.

Basically, I could see a place for myself here and the potential of what I could accomplish, how I could further develop my skill set to be more well-rounded, and also what my role could be in contributing to the community.

Where do you see yourself in ten years? I’ll be living somewhere in Socal – probably still LA, because I love it so much – and fully entrenched in the affordable housing industry. Public service and sensitivity to marginalized populations will always be the main feature in my life, so hopefully I’ll have made significant progress on developing a scalable model for one slice of the “invisibly disabled” population that can be replicated by other families and developers from state-to-state. I’ve always loved school so I’d like to remain in touch with academia on some level, maybe teach part-time. On a personal level, I’d like to eventually settle down and have a few kids and make sure they’re high-achieving do-gooders with strong character who are friendly to the disability community.

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