UGBA 24: Exploring the Meaning of Meaning at Haas
Written by Vedika Dayal.
If you walk into Cheit Hall on a Wednesday morning, you may stumble upon a room of college freshmen in a circle making strange noises while tossing around what appears to be an imaginary ball. I’m proud to say that I would be there too, diligently following the course of this mythical ball as part of Haas’s freshman seminar, UGBA 24.
“Passion and Purpose: Exploring the Meaning of Meaning.” I remember seeing the title for the seminar and immediately being skeptical—it seemed a little dramatic for a 1 unit, Pass/No Pass class. But with my skepticism came curiosity and the desire to try something new, so the next thing I knew I was sending an email to the professor, Cort Worthington, describing my interest in the class. He was forgiving about the fact that my interest in the course seemed to center around the fact that I found the description frustratingly ambiguous and accepted me into the class.
Going in, I was expecting long, impassioned philosophical discussions about the meaning of life. Instead, I walked into the first class and was asked to tell my life story in one minute to one of my classmates, who was a stranger to me at the time. Finding that I struggled with picking significant milestones in my life in such a short time frame, I was surprised with myself. It became clear to me that I may actually need some help figuring out the meaning of my life.
The class after that has been a whirlwind. We certainly have had our fair share of impassioned philosophical discussions about the meaning of life. But we’ve also brainstormed long lists about all the things we find meaningful in life and have tried our hand at improvisation and story-telling. And yes, some of our leadership exercises involve tossing around imaginary balls and making strange noises. Each of our activities has pushed me a little outside my comfort zone, whether by getting me to be open about my feelings or just letting loose and doing something that seems silly at face value.
One of the coolest things about the class, though, has been its size. With just 12 people, we’ve really gotten to know each other over the weeks. One of my classmates, Meghana Kumar, sums it up really well when she says, “It’s wonderful to be in a class where everyone genuinely gets to know one another—not just names, but personalities, interests, passions, stories. The class made me reevaluate how I approach relationships in general—I try harder to take the time to really get to know people and hear their stories now.” Large lecture halls with hundreds of students definitely have their place at Berkeley, but experiencing a smaller, intimate classroom setting has been immensely valuable in developing meaningful connections.
The small size of the class has also been great for having interesting conversations. My classmate Michael Bryan describes the discussions as “very open and honest because we are at the point where no one is really reserved or nervous about what they say.” Part of what has fostered our super open discussions is the professor. Professor Worthington’s willingness to candidly talk about his own feelings and his openmindedness to our ideas has made our classroom a vibrant hub for conversation. While it’s easy to imagine business solely as a place for polished presentations and groundbreaking innovation, UGBA 24 is a reminder for me that getting grounded in one’s personal “why” for studying business is a critical first step for choosing any life direction. It’s been refreshing to realize that candid discussions and philosophical ponderings about the little things in life also have a place in business, and certainly a place at Haas.