Meet the MBA Class of 2023: Melissa Kong, U.C. Berkeley (Haas)

Melissa Kong

University of California Berkeley, Haas School of Business

“I love learning & unlearning through play, and I take fun very, very seriously.”

Hometown: Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia

Fun Fact About Yourself: I fell in love with musical theatre after I stopped playing rugby due to a torn ligament in my knee. I joined a local musical theater community school in Malaysia (@mondayshowschool on Instagram) in 2016. I went from being terrified of singing on my own to overcoming my stage fright and growing as a performer and human being through the support of this wonderful musical community.

Undergraduate School and Major: University of Oxford, Major: Chemistry (Undergraduate); Universiti Utara Malaysia, Postgraduate Diploma in Education (Graduate)

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Teach For Malaysia, Senior Manager of Education Ecosystem Engagement

Berkeley Haas is founded on four Defining Leadership Principles: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself. Which principle resonates most with you and why? Students Always resonates with me most. It’s an important lesson as we are all always learning and unlearning and it is more than OK to fail because there is so much that can be learned from the process. It is both a humbling and incredibly empowering approach to take.

What word best describes the Haas MBA students and alumni you’ve met so far and why? Caring. Haas MBA students and alumni are incredibly caring about fellow Haasies and about the world around them. Everyone I’ve spoken to has been warm and kind, and that’s helped me a lot in adapting to a new life halfway around the world from my home.

Aside from classmates and the Defining Leadership Principles, what was the key part of Berkeley Haas’ MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? I really like how many aspects of the Haas MBA experience are led by students and how receptive and eager the faculty is to co-create a meaningful MBA experience with students. This is important to me because my previous learning experiences have been more passive, and my work experience has shown me how much more can be gained through collaborating with one another instead of having a top-down approach to programming and working.

What course, club or activity excites you the most at Berkeley Haas? I’m looking forward to learning a lot about impact investing through the Impact Investing Practicum. I am also very excited about learning more about the concept of people development after the taster session run by Mike Katz during Days@Haas. As an educator, people development is something very close to my heart and is always worth investing in.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I oversaw the development and support of Teach For Malaysia’s alumni community, which consists of 450 individuals. I am especially proud of the strong sense of community and support the alumni have for one another. For example, our alumni community came together virtually and organized more than 100 events to connect with and show care for each other during the pandemic.

How did COVID-19 change your perspective on your career and your life in general? What led you to pursue an MBA at this point and what do you hope to do after graduation? COVID-19 had a devastating impact on education. In my home country, teachers and students have been out of school for more than a year since the pandemic began. They struggled to adapt to remote lessons; some teachers could not reach many of their students as they lacked cell phones.

Amidst this, a young teacher I worked with took her own life. Her passing impacted me and others in her school community. I oversaw communications about her death and distributed messages to the Ministry of Education and school community. I also organized her memorial to allow the school community to mourn her passing. Teachers and students in her community were left with limited avenues to process their grief.

Discussions on education inequity tend to focus on measurable aspects like grade disparity or students’ internet connectivity. However, it is equally important to look into less tangible factors like mental health support for teachers and the impact it has on students. The impact of COVID-19 on education in Malaysia and my colleague’s passing are important reminders for me of the urgency, complexity, and scale of the issue of education inequity, and the dire need for innovation to bridge these gaps. These experiences led me to pursue an MBA. I want to acquire the expertise I need to become an impact investor who specializes in education and workplace innovations in Asia.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Stanford, UCLA

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into Berkeley Haas’ MBA program? What I found most helpful was thinking deeply about myself and my journey with people from my community – from essay writing to interview prep to connecting me with other Haasies because I didn’t know any personally when I was applying. This mirrors the supportive resourceful community at Berkeley Haas.


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