Q&A WITH BERKELEY HAAS DEAN ANN HARRISON
Poets&Quants: Thank you for taking the time to talk while you’re on vacation! Tell us why this is such a big deal.
UC-Berkeley Haas Dean Ann Harrison: Berkeley has always been a really good, highly ranked program. But I think this will take us to the very top. Moving from a two-year experience to a four-year experience is just going to allow us to create that much richer, deeper, longer experience that the students in the other top undergraduate business programs in the United States do have access to. Clearly they’ll have a lot more opportunities for summer internships. Right now it’s really just one summer, right? Whereas they will be able to start off as freshmen thinking about their co-curricular and work opportunities, and they’ll have more opportunities for co-curricular and other experiences.
So I think as far as student experiences, it’s really going to change. And it will also make a huge difference to the atmosphere of the program. Because right now what happens is, first they have to work so hard just to get into Berkeley. And then once you’re in Berkeley, if you’re interested in business, you spend the first two years doing all the pre-reqs not knowing whether or not you’ll get into the program. And it creates a lot of stress and a lot of anxiety, whether or not you’ll get in as a junior.
This will allow students who apply as seniors in high school to know whether they are going to attend Haas. So, if you’re high school junior right now, this would be the time to think about applying as a senior. So you’ll still take those same courses as freshmen and sophomores, but you’ll already be in. You won’t be spending time stressing about whether or not you’ll get in. You’ll be building relationships, building your experiences, your knowledge. And it’ll just be a much more pleasant experience.
One of the interesting things about the Haas undergraduate experience is that across Berkeley, which has such wonderful programs for juniors and seniors at Haas, they basically are the happiest students on campus. They’re really happy. They love the program. They feel like they learned more — learned the most. They feel like it’s just been so wonderful. But the freshman and sophomores who are trying to get into Haas are recording some of the most unhappy experiences on campus. So it’s a complete contrast. And so, this will really, totally change that. So, we’re really, really excited about this opportunity. We think it’s wonderful. And we’re are just so grateful to Ned and Carol Spieker for making it possible, because we wouldn’t have been able to do it without that tremendous game-changing gift.
When you came in as dean in 2018, was this something that was on your mind? Did you think about what it meant that the program was one of the few elite programs remaining that was a two-year program?
When I came in four years ago, I went on a listening tour. And this did, actually, come up as one of the challenges of the program. So we’ve been thinking about this for a long time. As we strive to make all our programs better, this was an issue that had come up. And one of the things that really worried me personally was the stress levels of the freshmen and sophomores, which of course, as you can imagine, were exacerbated all over the country with the pandemic.
So, the fact that this would make it a really much stronger program, give students much a deeper, richer experience, and at the same time address these kinds of anxiety issues really was very compelling. And also, some of our other new programs at the undergraduate level have been very, very successful, and some of those are in fact four-year programs. One real eye-opener is the success of our M.E.T. program, which is our degree where you get the four-year engineering degree and you get the Haas business degree. And I spent a lot of time talking with the lead donor for that program, and it’s clear that a program where students apply as high school seniors, and which gives them a real opportunity to think about Berkeley and how great Berkeley is — that program has been a real success. And we’re just getting the best of the best to apply as seniors. So that was also an eye-opener.
Is it logical to assume that this could lead to an expansion of the undergraduate program? It’s one of the smaller programs. Is that something that could be on the horizon?
Well, it’s interesting, because the program has continuously grown over the last several years. It’s bigger than it was, partly because of the addition of this M.E.T. program, and we just added another program which gives you a joint degree with the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology. This year we just graduated our first 12 students who have a great degree in biology and business. So they’re going into all these amazing biotech jobs. We also started the Global Management program, where students start their undergraduate experience in London.
So, over the last 10 years the program has actually grown. And so we’re probably going to stay with that 450 students graduating every year for a while, because this is doubling our program overnight. We want to make it really great before we think about anything else. And in general, Berkeley’s professional schools are in fact smaller than the other elite universities. Our MBA program is actually quite small relative to the other top schools.
The Spiekers’ big gift will also establish a Spieker Scholars program. That’s going to be a big deal for a select few students every year, isn’t it?
It really is. One of the important uses of this very generous $30 million gift is the establishment of a premier scholars program. And of these three or four Spieker Scholars who will be coming in as freshmen will get a full ride to Berkeley. And we’ll be selecting them with an eye towards the broad criteria. Ned Spieker, of course, was a Berkeley undergraduate. His four children went to Berkeley. And he was a great athlete in addition to being a great scholar, and so it would be nice to find students who also might be athletes, for example, or a more diverse group of students.
But yeah, it will be a great program. It will also be using some of the funds to expand scholarship opportunities for the program as a whole. So, that’s exciting as well.