‘The world needs more change-makers’: UC Berkeley class teaches students to make their mark

Courtesy of Haas School of Business faculty member Alex Budak.
Alex Budak/File
Led by Haas School of Business faculty member Alex Budak, a new summer course titled, “The Berkeley Changemaker,” aims to teach students about self-discovery, humble influence and effective leadership.

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Persuading someone to act like a bear on film may seem more like a quarantine prank challenge than a homework assignment, but not according to a new summer course titled, “The Berkeley Changemaker,” which aims to teach leadership to campus freshmen.

Led by Haas School of Business faculty member Alex Budak, the three-week application-based class is composed of a wide range of coursework, from watching speeches and reflecting on past experiences, to skill-based tasks such as the aforementioned Golden Bear assignment. It culminates in students creating a detailed strategy plan to tackle a need for change they see on campus or in their communities.

The course will build on UC Berkeley’s entrepreneurial tradition and teach students about self-discovery, humble influence and effective leadership. Budak said he plans to teach a brand of “beyond yourself” leadership, focusing on helping students make a positive impact on their teams and the people around them.

“I don’t know exactly what the world needs,” Budak said. “But I do believe the world needs more change-makers.”

The course, which has an enrollment of about 400 students, is part of a campuswide initiative to promote entrepreneurship and innovation at UC Berkeley.

Former business school dean Rich Lyons, who was appointed in July 2019 as chief innovation and entrepreneurship officer, said Berkeley’s unique Silicon Valley-adjacent location and culture of research make it ripe for the promotion of innovation.

Budak said he starts classes with stories of UC Berkeley alumni change-makers — including Nadine Burke Harris, California’s first surgeon general, and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak — to encourage students to add to this “legacy of questioning the status quo.”

Rising campus senior Aurora Lopez took a version of the course last fall when it was taught at the Haas school. She said the class inspired her to be bolder in everyday life and reach for opportunities she never would have considered in the past.

“I’ve truly embraced the concept of failing forward,” Lopez said in an email. “I’m no longer as scared to bring ideas forward, and I go out of my way to show appreciation.”

Both Lopez and Erel Saul, another former student, said their favorite part of the course was when Budak told them to leave the classroom for 15 minutes and instructed them to fail.

“We were supposed to leave the classroom and with 15 minutes ask someone around the Haas Courtyard for a favor that would be rejected,” Saul said in an email. “This was a scary yet enlightening interaction for me to become comfortable with rejection and develop some highly applicable social skills.”

Beyond “The Berkeley Changemaker” course, Lyons pointed to the introduction of a program of study for biology and business similar to the existing Management, Entrepreneurship and Technology program, which fuses engineering and business.

He also hopes to develop connector courses to follow up the “Changemaker” course, including those that fulfill other requirements on campus such as quantitative reasoning and American Cultures.

“How do we transform (Berkeley’s) enormous intellectual creativity into even more societal benefit?” Lyons said. “We do that well already, but we want to do that even more.”

Contact Annika Rao at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @annikyr.