2021 Best & Brightest MBAs: Kelly Yu, University of Washington (Foster)

Kelly Yu

University of Washington, Foster School of Business

Nonprofit fundraiser turned MBA passionate about people-driven strategy and inclusive business operations.”

Hometown:  Fremont, CA

Fun fact about yourself: I worked at Levi’s Stadium during Super Bowl 50. It was a fun and hectic day that gave me a deeper appreciation for all the people behind the scenes who make those types of large events possible.

Undergraduate School and Degree:  BA Biology, Minor in Public Policy, University of California – Berkeley

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Director of Individual Giving at Juma Ventures, a national nonprofit social enterprise based in San Francisco, CA

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? Premera Blue Cross, Seattle, WA

Where will you be working after graduation? Corporate Operations Manager (Executive Immersion Program) at Centene Corporation

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Consortium (CGSM) Fellow

Forte Fellow

Fritzky Leadership Fellow, first-year student and core team coach

MBA Association Vice President of Diversity

MBA Association First Year Diversity Representative

UW Board Fellow at the Robert Chinn Foundation

Foster Research Partners, Analyst (student investment fund)

Dean’s List Winter 2020

Student Ambassador

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of the work that I have done to push diversity and inclusion forward across not only the entire Foster MBA program (including students, faculty, and staff), but also the University of Washington and the broader Seattle community.

I am part of the first Consortium cohort at Foster, and coming into the program, I knew it would be challenging to be ‘the first’. My parents were ‘the first’ to come to America and I am ‘the first’ in my family to go to college in the US and now pursue an MBA. But I also knew that alongside the struggle, there was power in being ‘the first’: I broke through the mold and could now pave the way for others. As one of ‘the first’ at Foster, I was going to do whatever I could to make the program better for current and future students – especially those with underrepresented identities. I became a trailblazer for diversity and inclusion:

* Students: I created spaces for people from underrepresented identities to come together and elevate their voices. I built a coalition of diversity leaders (who all used to work in silos) and facilitated quarterly meetings for the group. I pushed for the creation of the ‘Diversity Update’ that now kicks-off every Foster Forum (our monthly all-student meetings) and I use that space to highlight campus initiatives and spotlight diversity leaders and their clubs – whether veterans, international students, and LGBTQ. I challenge my Fritzky leadership cohort to bring intention into their first-year coaching and have become a trusted resource and sounding board for my classmates who are on their learning journey. And finally, following the murder of George Floyd, I organized a student-only town hall that gave my Black and brown classmates a platform to share their perspectives and experiences. This event was attended by 165 students and had a ripple effect: students were now empowered to take a more active role in building an inclusive experience for each other and not just look to others to do so.

* Faculty: I have been a panelist on several faculty workshops on the importance of inclusive teaching. Within Foster, I met with fall core professors and provided them with tangible changes they could incorporate in their respective courses, many of which were implemented. And I continue to advocate for changes to curriculum and the data sets and cases used, with the end goal that ALL students feel seen in the classroom, not just a few.

* Program Office: I advocated for the formal integration of DEI into the MBA Program. Now, MBA Orientation includes workshops on community building and identity. After fall quarter, students participate in quarterly trainings about microaggressions, DEI definitions, and allyship. This programming did not exist in my first year at Foster, and I am proud to have worked with the Programs Office to institutionalize this change.

Equity work and systemic change take time, but I am proud that as one of ‘the first’ at Foster, I became a catalyst whose impact will last beyond the MBA. I am proud to know that I am leaving the Foster program better than when I arrived, that I have empowered my community to keep inclusion top of mind rather than an afterthought, and that I have already seen changes in how my classmates speak up for one another and carry intention into what they do. That is my legacy, one that I am extremely proud of and one that I hope ‘the next’ build on.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of Juma’s 25th Anniversary Gala: a fundraising event I led that raised $500K to support Juma’s programming. Fundraising events are already high stakes for nonprofits, since they are one of the largest sources of revenue for the year. Additionally, Juma was celebrating 25 years of impact, major supporters were flying in from around the country to celebrate, over 350 guests were expected (100 more people than usual), and for all you football fans out there: the headline speaker was Steve Young (Go Niners!). The gala was critical to our organization and there were a lot of expectations riding on it — and I was responsible for every last detail. I was a team of one and the only staff dedicated to the event full-time, so it was a crazy year-long marathon to the finish line. But all in all, the event was the most successful event in Juma history. We raised $500K – (1) exceeding our ambitious $350K goal, (2) becoming the most money raised at a Juma event ever(!), and (3) setting a new precedent for Juma events moving forward.

Why did you choose this business school? The people. I knew I wanted to go to a school partnered with the Consortium (CGSM) and to be part of a smaller student body. I didn’t want to be just another face in the crowd and valued being in an environment where I could meet all of my classmates and Foster staff and faculty, and genuinely know them. I found that and so much more at Foster. A lot of my decisions are guided by intuition and something just felt right when I visited Foster during Welcome Weekend. I just knew that those were my people – people who value community and care about the world. It’s unfortunate that my class will have spent 2/3 of our time in business school physically separated from one another, but I am thankful to have gone through this crazy experience alongside them.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? It’s tie between Crystal Farh and Ryan Fehr, who teach the core leadership classes. I loved the energy that they both brought to the classroom and their passion for organizational culture and inclusive decision-making. Their courses challenged me to think critically about my life experiences and how they informed who I am, my values, and how I lead and work with others. I also appreciated that they structured class to give us time to connect with our classmates, and those small group discussions have been so invaluable in my growth throughout the MBA.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? I recommend any event that the Foster Creative club puts on such as Foster Idol (talent show) or Foster Connects (open mic night). Don’t get me wrong, I love going to tailgates (also Sailgate, which is a tailgate on a boat) with my classmates… but the Foster Creative club creates respectful spaces for classmates to be vulnerable and share what matters most to them – whether it’s by singing their favorite song, doing a culturally symbolic dance, or storytelling the crucible moments that have shaped who they are today. These events are so special.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I wouldn’t change a thing – and let me tell you why. I started business school with two goals: (1) go after the academic and professional opportunities that would push me outside of my comfort zone; and (2) connect with as many classmates as possible, despite the social anxiety I would inevitably feel. And I really did put myself out there, whether serving on student government or taking challenging classes. But all the while, I made sure that every decision I made at business school was because it was something I wanted to do — rather than something that I felt like I was expected to.

I definitely felt imposter syndrome, particularly as a first year and in trying to navigate an internship search during the start of the pandemic. But all in all, those struggles helped me realize my resilience and the impact that I can and did have on the MBA community and the Foster School of Business. Those experiences, adversities, and decisions led me to who I am today, and I am proud of the legacy I am leaving.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Business schools have a bad reputation for being self-serving — i.e. Elon Musk’s comment last year about how MBAs are ruining corporate America. I fundamentally disagree, and I think Foster is a great example of that. We genuinely care for each other and for shared learning; we love the outdoors and thereby want to preserve it; and we care about equity and want to leave the world better than how we left it. My full-time class has also grown more comfortable having conversations around inclusion and racial equity. I’m proud to be part of Foster’s Class of 2021 and look forward to seeing the impact they make beyond Foster.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I met as many people as possible so that I could get a better sense of the school and its culture, whether it was through admissions conferences or chatting with current students and alumni. The MBA program is only two years — and my personal opinion is that the journey will be a lot more fun if you like the other people along with you for the ride. It also helped me hone in on my ‘Why Foster’. I could speak to the school’s culture and values, and how they aligned with mine.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Preeyel Dalal. She has become one of my rocks in this program. We were both nonprofit fundraisers prior to Foster and share similar life experiences and values. She is one of the hardest-working people I know and I love that she stays true to herself, even when the churn of business school might pressure you otherwise. She’s positive and always up for the challenge, and is doing incredible work as UW’s Social Entrepreneurship Fellow to make financial institutions more inclusive and accessible to entrepreneurs of color (a cause I am also passionate about). Alongside that work, she is the co-President of Women in Business, co-runs the Net Impact Service Corps program, and all in all is an incredible human being and mother to the sweetest 3-year-old boy.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? The abrupt shift to virtual was not fun. Neither students nor faculty and staff knew how to navigate online learning and we all had to adjust to this new normal and its pain points together. We had to navigate Zoom fatigue and synchronous and asynchronous learning, as well as learn how to set boundaries between our school and non-school lives. My laptop was also not a fan of all of the time on Zoom: my computer fan broke and I had to send my laptop to the repair shop for three weeks! I’m sad that the virtual environment has meant that my classmates and I were not able to study abroad – something I was personally excited to do – but I’d like to think that once this pandemic subsides, we’ll plan some post-graduation activities together to make up for the time lost.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business? It’s too difficult for me to pick one person, so I’ll say this: I am at business school because of Juma. The leadership team taught me about the double- and triple- bottom line and the different types of businesses (i.e. social enterprises and B-corps). Juma’s board made me curious about ways to enact change beyond working at a 501c3. Corporate volunteers exposed me to CSR and corporate philanthropy. Juma staff taught me to be scrappy and resourceful, all the while keeping impact at the forefront. And finally, the young people in Juma’s program reminded me time and time again about what really matters: that all people deserve an opportunity to reach their highest potential, and businesses have the ability to help transform the communities in which they operate. I pursued an MBA to reach my highest potential, and in turn use what I’ve learned to make the greatest impact I can and challenge others to do the same.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

(1) Work and live in another country

(2) Speak at a conference in front of my peers and be seen as an industry leader

What made Kelly such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2021?  

“Kelly’s passionate, people-centered approach to leadership has made her not only a well-respected classmate, but also an active change-maker here at Foster. In her role as VP of Diversity, she has spent hours deeply listening to the concerns of her peers and organizing opportunities for all members of the community to share, listen & learn. In May of 2020, Kelly (in the span of a few days) organized a large MBA town hall meeting, in an effort to address the long-time racialized injustices that were now bubbling up into the general consciousness of the country. In typical Kelly fashion, storytelling was a strategy she employed to build not only awareness, but connective tissue between her classmates.  She used this platform to amplify and center voices that had often been silenced or relegated to the margins.  After the event, many of her peers commented that that was one of the most powerful moments of their MBA experience thus far.”

Melissa Uyesugi
Associate Director, Diversity & Inclusion

“Kelly Yu has made an outsized impact on the Foster community and she embodies the characteristics of modern, effective leadership; she is empathetic, courageous, dedicated, and values-driven. She brings to Foster a rich history of social advocacy and activism and has used her skills to create a more inclusive community in big and small ways, from facilitating conversations about the racial unrest in the US, to using her position to center the voices of students most deeply impacted by these events, to looking for unique ways to create belonging in our virtual environment. In discussing Kelly, a fellow Foster MBA student remarked “She is making us all better”—which to me is the most resounding accomplishment of any leader!”

Christina T. Fong (she/her)
Associate Dean for Inclusion and Diversity
William D. Bradford Endowed Professor of Management 


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