Meet the MBA Class of 2025: Fengan Li (Phannel), UC Riverside

Fengan Li (Phannel)

Artist of life, feminist journalist, yogi, polyglot, and sustainable lifestyle supporter!”

Hometown: Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China

Fun Fact About Yourself: To feel the freedom of my body and spirit, I’d like to wear yoga clothing all day with everything, including practicing my cello and performing pipa with my flow in a state of Zen.

Undergraduate School and Major: The University of Hong Kong, postgraduate diploma in consumer psychology and intelligent marketing; Dalian University of Foreign Languages, B.A., Korean language and culture

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Independent consultant for digital transformation strategy consulting firms

What word best describes the UC Riverside MBA students and alumni you’ve met so far?
I would choose the word “supportive” because our alumni and faculty provide me with the strongest support and personal connections that I really need. Due to the difficulties posed by the pandemic, I was forced to spend three-and-half years isolated from the rest of the world—more than 100 days being locked down in my 570-square-foot apartment in Shanghai 2022, from early spring to summer, with limited food and supplies, and harsh restrictions on freedom of action. It was a challenging period with little in-person interaction, and I worked remotely with my global team, communicated online with my friends on the other side of the globe, practiced yoga, and worked out with coaches through fitness apps to help maintain wellbeing during some difficult times. But, as soon as I began chatting with my cohort in person and shared my worries about the new life and study flow, they responded with the great empathy and offered many helpful suggestions, alleviating my concerns. I am very happy that I have set off on a life-changing journey in which I can connect and build a network of exceptional and genuine peers from around the world.

Aside from classmates, what was the key part of UC Riverside’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you?
I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that the MBA program at UC Riverside has been my top pick throughout the entire application process. I did thorough research before deciding to apply for the UCR MBA program and got to know the school through my first round of MBA interviews. I appreciate that all the graduate programs have a STEM-designation. In contrast with conventional MBA courses, STEM-designated MBA programs go one step further by focusing on technical skills, data analytics, and approaches for innovation management, which was training I was really looking for. The benefit of a 36-month optional practical training period is also crucial to international students who want to immerse themselves in American culture and secure legitimate employment opportunities at graduation.

What course, club or activity have you enjoyed the most so far at UC Riverside?
I have so far enjoyed taking Professor Rich Yueh’s course because, besides the content, it is designed with a strong personality that comes from the professor’s taste in style, his keen grasp on the tech industry, and his perspectives on how to make the “information system” more chic and human. He knows how to create an atmosphere for brainstorming in his classes tailor-made for MBA students.

As a former journalist and corporate PR professional, I’ve interviewed and worked with numerous top-notch global tech industry leaders. Some of them were incredibly geeky, while others were versatile and compassionate. Dr. Yueh, who teaches at a university, is part of the group I appreciate and feel a connection with because he perceives the value in setting the trend and linking technology with changes in life, people, and society.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far:
My biggest accomplishment in my career so far is my work and aspirations to be an advocate for minority groups and the global climate change crisis. As an independent brand strategy consultant and columnist since COVID-19, I try to concentrate more on identifying potential brands that could affect social change to increase public awareness in the mass consumer market. One of the important co-operations was the branding strategy and marketing campaigns with the RELIEF team, an all-female-run brand that offers period plastic-free underwear for women who care about their comfort and the environment. During my market research as a consultant for a digital transformation strategy consulting firm, I came across this innovative female brand as I was writing a special article for my column about menstruation, including the origin of the female products that were created in ancient times, industry development, and the social impact of the deeply ingrained “period shame” in girls’ schooling and women’s social engagement. I soon had the chance to get to know the brand’s founder and ended up joining the team as its brand strategist. Together with my coworkers, I conducted an interview with the Shanghai International Women’s Football Club (SWIFC), and we released an article and a brand clip interview to highlight how female athletes are frequently undervalued for their athletic prowess, treated disrespectfully, and mistakenly deemed unfit for playing soccer or not putting in the same amount of effort as male athletes while they are on their periods.

On top of that, due to the severe lack of disposable menstrual products during the unexpected Shanghai Lockdown in 2022, I heavily engaged in social media marketing of recycled period underwear products, which could be quickly washed and dried to lessen women’s anxiety. In this way, the products became a lifesaver during the shortage of supplies. From the experience working with this brand, I learned how I can meaningfully connect business to social good while interacting in a women-centric environment. It made a significant impact on my professional career and where I want to go next.

Describe your biggest accomplishment as an MBA student so far:
My greatest accomplishment as an MBA student so far has been my ability to remain positive in the face of difficulties that I could not predict. Even though I had a solid social network and some respect within my industry circle, I was unable to see any light during the social and economic downturn during the pandemic. However, when I applied to the MBA program a year ago at UCR and received the offer, I felt immensely relieved. I use it as a daily inhale-exhale breathing exercise to build my resilience. I avoided communicating with statistics and numbers throughout my life, but I now understand that it is an ongoing practice that requires constant effort to eventually reach a certain level of proficiency. It is similar to my change in careers from journalism to the tech industry to consulting and then back to college. I am also proud to be an A. Gary Anderson Graduate School of Management (AGSM) Student Ambassador for the 2023-2024 school year. I would love to support more cohorts with diverse backgrounds and prospective students who, like me, have never stopped pushing themselves in new paths and have come to understand how brilliant they are.

What is your class’s favorite hangout away from school? Why do you gather there?
My favorite activity outside of school is signing up for AGSM Student Association activities. We gathered at Mt. Rubidoux for the sunset hike and the bonfire at Newport Beach, which gave the international students a more intimate and genuine encounter with Southern California. The core of an MBA program is meant to be the experience itself. “Study hard, work hard, and play harder” is my philosophy. Therefore, after finishing the assignments, I spend time having fun with my cohorts so that I can get to know them better. For example, I met an Armenian student through a carpool, and I got to know another from Albania at the bonfire, and I played beach volleyball with a bunch of Taiwanese friends.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point and what do you hope to do after graduation?
I want to become a strong female role model in business and leverage my abilities to advance society. I have gained years of work experience at internet and technology companies and consulting firms, and I have held a variety of professional roles, including those of an investigative journalist, an international corporate public relations manager, and a brand strategy consultant. These experiences have bolstered my belief that socially responsible businesses should embrace business ethics, explore diversity, solve inequalities, and serve the public good.

When I started my professional career in corporate communications at Alibaba Group and later at other start-ups, I noticed businesses were inconsistent in their claims of social responsibility. They were concerned with the well-being of society except when it meant sacrificing profits. I also noticed that although we live in a modern age, significant female inequality still exists in the workplace. For these reasons, I hope to explore sustainable business strategies and professional career development for women by pursuing an MBA.

After graduation, I want to work for a multinational corporation and promote social innovation in the field of marketing and guide businesses toward sustainability and social responsibility. Long-term goals include becoming a thought leader in marketing and international business promoting gender equality, sustainable fashion, and cross-cultural understanding.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.