Humans of Haas: Eliot Hwang
Eliot Hwang is a junior transfer majoring in Business Administration with hopes to also pursue studies in Data Science. Originally exploring fields ranging from Management Consulting to Product Management, he expressed a recent interest in Accounting as a potential career field. Eliot is the Marketing and Fundraising Director for We Live, a non-profit organization centered around suicide prevention for college students, and a member of Core Consulting Group, one of the primary consulting clubs on campus. I had the pleasure of sitting down with one of the first Haas students I met and learning more about his background and insights as a fellow transfer.
Why did you choose Haas?
I have an interesting relationship with UC Berkeley because it was my dad’s dream school, but not just that, it was his dad’s dream school too. My family has always wanted to create a Berkeley graduate. However, I never believed that I would get into Berkeley Haas, especially since I didn’t come from the most spotless academic background. Once I was accepted I knew that I could go nowhere else. For one, Berkeley is such a unique environment, but on top of that, the Haas culture was really all that people talked about. It’s simply a different quality than you’d get in another program, and it’s so connected. Plus, knowing that I’m getting the best public Business education just sold me.
Could you expand more on what you mean by “not the most spotless academic background” and provide some words of advice you have for students that might be in the same position as you?
I dropped out halfway through my Sophomore year of high school due to factors including but not limited to the pandemic starting, my mom losing her job, and also just other social factors in school. After dropping out, I worked manual labor jobs until I was able to get my GED. After I got my GED, I kept working to support my family while I started Community College.
One word of advice I would give to people of non-traditional backgrounds would probably be to stop drawing comparisons. Your race to the top really has to be done with horse blinders, not only because you’re in different shoes than everyone else, but also because it’s really easy to get disheartened looking at where everyone else is. I feel like once you can acknowledge that your position is as much a result of your strength and efforts and not just your failures, that’s when you can really decide what you want to do and how you want to do it. I also think it really, really matters that you take a look at yourself, because I had to really internalize that there’s no changing the past in order for me to start walking that road.
What activities are you currently a part of at Haas/UC Berkeley and how have they helped further your career plans/goals?
The main thing I’m part of is Core Consulting Group, which is a Haas-sponsored Business consulting club. CCG has been really great for me because it’s designed to be equitable for the groups of students that don’t get into management consulting jobs, like transfer students, and students from unique, non-traditional backgrounds. I think the reason it has been so helpful in my career development is because the club teaches you everything you need to know, and also gets you connected to successful Business students who share more in common with you than the average Haas student. I’ve been able to learn all sorts of interdisciplinary skills and build a really, really strong network of both friends and professionals. In my opinion, that’s a very helpful environment for the success of non-traditional students.
What has been the most challenging part of being a transfer at Haas?
I don’t want to go to the cliché and say I have imposter syndrome, but I feel like I must because of how strong that feeling is when you first come to Haas. For example, many of my classmates have internship experience from their underclassmen years that I don’t have, because underclassmen at a four year university get to focus on career orientation, whereas underclassmen in a Community College focus on building a pipeline to get to a good university. So, it was definitely hard for me to feel like I deserve to be here, and it’s still a work in progress. But I will say I’m working toward forging a path here, notwithstanding anything I feel. Again, it’s just the concept of the horse blinders. I guess another challenge for me has been living independently. There’s a lot of time and financial management that goes into being on my own. Especially as a commuter, I also feel like there’s a whole other dimension of life that I lose by not being able to integrate to the whole Cal culture right away. So, these are some of the emotional challenges that I’ve been working through, but I think they’re welcome challenges.
For anyone that’s a commuter or thinking about commuting, whether they’re a current student or an aspiring transfer, what are your thoughts on how to feel like you belong at the school and integrating into school culture as a commuter?
I think what’s important is that you make the time to be with people. If you can’t do that, you will never feel like you’re part of the culture. I never knew how much of a difference living three blocks vs. three miles from campus was, as someone who is accustomed to short drives. But I realized that if I compound that with prioritizing work and success, everything gets off balance. You feel like an outsider no matter how hands-on you are with your education. I think the social aspect is an equally important part of your education, and networking is an important part of your career development, so it’s definitely not to be ignored. Also, I think it’s a matter of self dialogue. For example, I also get certain advantages as a commuting student, such as absolutely tranquil nights. Additionally, I live a stone’s throw away from lots of conveniences and amenities that you wouldn’t necessarily get by living in and around UC Berkeley’s campus. In order to feel like you’re a part of the culture, you need to be invested in it, and if that means taking late nights to spend time with people or even watching a Cal football game or two, I think it’s worth it.
Outside of school, what is something interesting you’ve learned or realized since coming to Berkeley?
I think an interesting thing that I’ve learned is that the more I study Business, the more I realize it’s less about the money and it’s really about driving change. The Haas motto “becoming a changemaker” really sums up what I’ve been learning. It’s a very different approach in mindset compared to other places. A lot of times when people think about Business, they think of it as a study of money and operations. After coming here, I’ve realized that there is so much more to that. I think my biggest learning outside of school has been how important my faith is to me. Spreading my wings and leaving home has made me realize how grateful I am for every little thing, and that gratitude has helped me appreciate my creator a little bit. That’s definitely been very profound in my life.
Any words of advice for students thinking about transferring to Haas?
Do it. Studying at Haas is an opportunity unlike any other, and if you’ve been taught to segregate schools simply based on something like ranking, I would say to throw that out the window. There are intangibles that a school can provide for you that are worth infinitely more to, not just yourself, but genuinely to your career. Haas provides you with that opportunity for not just unlimited advancement, but also self-discovery and unforgettable memories that you’d absolutely be pressed to find at another university.
Fun Short Questions!
Early Bird or Night Owl?
I try to convince myself that I’m an early bird, but I’ve been embracing my inner night owl this semester. Next semester is going to be different because I have three 8:30 am classes, so we’ll see what the future holds.
Current song on repeat?
Someone in CCG just put me on this really amazing song called “Rainin’ in LA” by Reggie Becton (shout out to DJ!) and that’s been my favorite song this week. But before that, I’ve been listening to “Impossible” by Wasia Project.
I like building keyboards, and I also like building computers. One’s slightly less cost inhibitive, although they’re both expensive hobbies, but it’s so therapeutic to just build. I also run a business building computers from used parts. It’s environmentally friendly and also very cost friendly, so if there are any students who want to take advantage of their cost of attendance adjustment waiver, they should definitely reach out to me.
Best study spot on campus?
I like Moffitt, and I also like the Long Business Library at Haas. Honestly, my favorite is the Undergrad lounge because there’s a microwave. I’ll just microwave my home packed lunches and study there, and everyone who hangs out there is super chill.
Go-to food spot?
Cafe Think at Haas! I love their crispy chicken sandwich. I also love Ippudo Ramen in Downtown because it’s near my BART station.