Ds Scholarship

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

“I love learning and not learning by playing, and I take the fun very seriously.”

hometown: Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia

Fun fact about yourself: I fell in love with musical theater after I stopped playing rugby due to a torn ligament in my knee. I joined a local local music theater school in Malaysia (mondayshowschool on Instagram) in 2016. I moved from being afraid of singing on my own to overcoming my fear of stage and growing as a player and human being by supporting this wonderful music community.

Undergraduate school and major: University of Oxford, Major: Chemistry (undergraduate); University of Uttara Malaysia, Postgraduate Diploma in Education (Graduate)

Latest Job Title and Employer: Alam for Malaysia, Senior Director of Education Ecosystem Engagement

Berkeley Haas is founded on four defining principles of leadership: Question the Status Quo, Trust No Situation, Always Students, and Beyond. What principle resonates most with you and why? Students always resonate with me a lot. It’s an important lesson because we’re all always learning and not learning, and it’s okay to fail because there is so much that can be learned from the process. It’s an incredibly humble and empowering approach.

What is the best word to describe the Haas MBA students and graduates you have met so far and why? Care. Haas MBA students and graduates care incredibly about their fellow people and the world around them. Everyone I spoke to was warm and kind, and it helped me so much in adjusting to a new life halfway around the world away from my home.

Aside from your classmates and outlining leadership principles, what was the key part of your MBA programming at Berkeley Haas 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 student-led and how receptive and enthusiastic the faculty are to co-create a meaningful MBA experience with students. This is important to me because my previous teaching experiences have been more negative, and my hands-on experience has shown me how more can be gained by collaborating with each other rather than taking a top-down approach to programming and working.

What course, club or activity excites you the most at Berkeley Haas? I look forward to learning a lot about impact investing by practicing impact investing. I am also very excited to learn more about the concept of people development after a gourmet session moderated by Mike Katz during Days @ Haas. As an educator, people development is very close to my heart and always worth investing in.

Describe your biggest career achievement to date: I have overseen the development and support of the Education For Malaysia alumni community, which consists of 450 individuals. I am particularly proud of the strong sense of community and the alumni’s support for one another. For example, our alumni community has come together virtually and organized over 100 events to network and show care for each other during the pandemic.

How has COVID-19 changed your view of your career and life in general? What prompted you to pursue an MBA at this point and what do you hope to do after graduation? COVID-19 has 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 have not been able to reach many of their students because they lack mobile phones.

Amidst this, a young teacher I was working with committed suicide. Her death affected me and others in her school community. She supervised communications about her death and distributed letters to the Ministry of Education and the school community. I also organized her memorial service to allow the school community to mourn her passing. The teachers and students in her community are left with limited ways to process their grief.

Discussions about education inequality tend to focus on measurable aspects such as grade disparity or students’ Internet connectivity. However, it is equally important to consider less realistic factors such as mental health support for teachers and its impact on students. The impact of COVID-19 on education in Malaysia and the departure of my colleague are an important reminder to me of the urgency, complexity and scale of the issue of inequality in education, and the urgent need for innovation to bridge these gaps. These experiences led me to pursue an MBA. I want to gain the experience I need to become an influencer investor specializing in education and workplace innovations in Asia.

What other MBA programs have you applied to? Stanford, University of California

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

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