What UC-Irvine’s Commencement Speaker Has To Say To Future Biz Majors

The University of California-Irvine Merage School of Business. UC-Irvine Merage photo

At just four-years-old, Kristina Yosifova moved with her family from Bulgaria to the San Francisco Bay Area. Moving almost 7,000 miles away from her home wasn’t easy — even as a young child — but Yositova says she’s grateful her parents kept her and her younger brother culturally close to their Bulgarian roots.

“One thing I will never forget about my childhood is that it was a household rule that we have family dinner together every night during which time we were only allowed to speak Bulgarian,” Yosifova tells Poets&Quants. “At the time, I found that very frustrating to spend all day speaking English and playing with my American friends and then having to switch when I got home.”

Working through the frustration and learning to switch and adapt to people depending on their needs and expectations is a skill that has helped Yosifova during her time at the University of California — Irvine’s Paul Merage School of Business. The third-year student who is graduating early with a double major in Business Administration with an emphasis in Operations and Decision Technologies, as well as Criminology, Law, and Society with a focus on prevention and early intervention of juvenile delinquency, is also the student commencement speaker for the school’s Class of 2019.

Yosifova’s ambitions began when she attended Northgate High School in Walnut Creek, California where Yosifova says she was persuaded to run in a Mock Trial election to become Majority Party Leader for the senior class. She won that election and later on ran in other and won again to become President Pro Tempore to lead the Senate sessions for the entire senior class.

“Ultimately, the biggest lesson from this high school experience is — just shoot your shot,” Yosifova says. “If it doesn’t work out, then you didn’t really lose anything because you end up in the same place that you started if you hadn’t gone for it. But if things do happen to work out… then it can lead to some of the best experiences in life and you don’t want to miss out on that.”

Kristina Yosifova of UC-Irvine. Merage School photo

P&Q: What was it like for you growing up?

Yosifova: I am a first-generation immigrant from Bulgaria. Growing up, we had a very tight Bulgarian community made up of multiple families that would get together every weekend and celebrate major holidays together. It was really cool that most of the community was made up of families like ours who had immigrated to the U.S. around the same time as my family so all the children were around the same age.

Both the middle and high schools I was assigned to go to in my neighborhood were very low ranking and known for having gangs and lots of drug activity, so both times I applied to transfer to higher-ranking schools in “good” neighborhoods as they say. That definitely had a large role in helping me get to where I am today because it put me in an environment that taught me to be more academically competitive and it pushed me to set higher goals for myself.

Going into high school was also the time that I began to branch out on my own and I was very fortunate to find a super close group of five friends whom I am still close to. We were all very involved in our school’s cross-country and women’s lacrosse teams together. It was during those years that I also discovered how much I love kids. I volunteered as a Link Crew Leader that mentored incoming high school freshmen and as a Youth Educator that visited local middle schools to teach kids about drug and alcohol safety and awareness. I also spent three summers working as a summer camp counselor.

What did you need the most when you first stepped onto the University of California-Irvine campus?

I lacked a support system. This was made more difficult by the fact that I hadn’t yet learned how to reach out and ask for help when I needed it. So my first year in college, I did not take advantage of professor hours, academic counselors, and all the various programs hosted by Merage that could help me grow professionally. I was trying to figure it all out on my own, but I didn’t have a clue about what I was doing.

However, as time went on, I got more comfortable in college and began putting myself more out there and that’s when I feel that my true college experience began. I am amazed by the amount of help I have received on creating my resume, the networking opportunities Merage has given me, and I am most grateful for all the life advice I have received from various professors.

Now I know exactly where to go depending on the type of help I need, or I at least feel comfortable enough reaching out to ask. I just wish I had learned this sooner so I could take full advantage of it.

What did you want to be when you first arrived at college and has that changed?

Coming into college, I was 100% set on pursuing a career in management consulting and I felt so confident knowing that I had a plan on what steps I needed to take to get there. There was no swaying me from this goal I had set for myself. However, all that changed when I randomly ended up taking a C7 Introduction to Criminology class to fulfill my GE (general education) requirements. The funniest thing is that I only chose to take that class because it fit best with my class schedule at the time. Little did I know that class would be the catalyst for changing my entire career path.

That class engaged me in a way that previous classes had not even come close to doing. It sparked my interest in the justice system, social inequality problems, and politics. That single class ultimately made me rethink my entire career choice. I was left confused because my business classes were teaching me all of the skills I seemed to need to have a successful career, yet I didn’t feel the same passion for those classes as I did towards the topics I was learning about in my criminology classes. Wanting the best of both worlds, I ended up declaring a double major. For a long time, people would ask me how I planned to combine my two majors in the future and questioning if I was wasting my time. The honest answer was that I had no idea. All I knew was that I really enjoyed taking classes in both fields and I didn’t want to give up either one.

That all changed when I took a class on Social Enterprise with Professor Jay Connor. That was the first class that focused on the social injustice issues discussed in my Criminology classes that I was passionate about, but also applied a business perspective on how to utilize the business skills we had acquired during our time at Merage to start a social venture to address these injustices and make a lasting meaningful impact. My two worlds had found a way to complement each other.

I do aspire to one day combine my passion for social injustice, business skills, and love for kids all in one by starting my own social venture focused on the prevention and early intervention of juvenile delinquency in low-income, high-risk neighborhoods. Until then, I will be taking a gap year following graduation to work full-time on a 2020 Presidential campaign before attending law school to pursue a career in public policy.

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