Humans of Haas: Yifan Gong
Written by Asha Culhane-Husain.
During our time as undergrads, we hear a lot about the four defining principles. We hear that our Haas culture is defined by them, but have you ever taken the time to consider how these principles will influence your life after graduation? Yifan Gong is a recent graduate and proud transfer student to Cal. During his time at Cal he was active in the campus dance community and co-led the student giving campaign for the undergraduate program. He is an active Haas alumnus and member of the Haas Leadership Society. After having the time to sit down with Yifan, I learned quite a bit about him as a person and about how he embodies these principles on a daily basis. Here are a few excerpts from our interview that I hope will encourage you to think about how the Four Defining Principles influence your life now and post graduation.
What’s an experience or memory that you have at Cal/Haas that you’ll always remember?
One day when I got out of class, I saw a call from a 415 number. I ignored it thinking it was unimportant. They called again and this time I answered. They said that I had to come to the general hospital because my mom was in critical condition.
Following a freak accident, my mom passed away and my dad had had a stroke. Attempting to cope with my grief, I posted on Facebook about the event. The outpouring of support from classmates to give food and support was truly overwhelming. I didn’t go to school for two months. I talked to the undergrad office and Barbara Felkins, and they told me to take the time that I needed, we will be here afterward. Without my knowing, my classmates started a “go fund me” to help with funeral costs. They gave me a check of $4000 raised from seniors and juniors. People I had met once or twice were knocking at my door for weeks. When finals came around, they would reach out and say “let’s study together.” They shared notes and had helped walk me through what I had missed so that I could take all of my finals. The kind of people that I met here (at Haas) are so genuine, giving. They truly went “beyond yourself.”
Why do you give back as a donor to Haas? Why do you volunteer your time to Haas?
I was interested in giving back because of my experience at the school. I also took advantage of LinkedIn’s corporate matching program. Also, time is what I have the most of to give right now. If I can improve someone’s experience, I will. Seeing someone else succeed is fulfilling and so is helping others find success. In general, getting into Haas is hard. If I can help someone develop and fulfill their potential, I think that benefits both the school and the person. I’m really proud of my time at Haas and the reputation that comes with the name. It is easy to take those things for granted. It is easy to forget the people who came before you who that helped to launch your career. It is up to us as recent graduates to continue our Haas legacy. I want the people who come after me to have the same experience I had once I was here (at Haas). You don’t have to give $10,000 right out of undergrad. Give anything, use your free coffee machine at work, and give the $20 you save from it. Giving creates a lineage of pride.
Do you have any advice for current Haas students and soon to be graduates?
First, identify your strong points – those are the things you sell, highlight those. Then identify your areas of improvement. Work on those but not at the expense of improving your strong points. Second, the things you build alone are not going to be as good as things you build together. Third, your personal and professional brand are not separate.
How have you found your experience as an HBSA alumni mentor? Why did you choose to participate in this program?
Right now I have three mentees. It has been tough trying to balance this with time at work. I want to do more of the outreach and work on checking in more. Despite the time constraints, I chose to participate because you (the students) are the future and Haas is not the end all be all of your career. It is important to set expectations for some of the underclassmen. Even if you don’t get into Haas, you’re going to be fine and I think it is important to try and find ways to engage.
Was there anybody at Haas who was a mentor and or inspiration for you?
My entire pre-core class.
Do you remember when you got your acceptance letter?
Oh yes! Berkeley is the last one to release their acceptance decisions. I was in Monterey because a friend was running a half marathon. We went to have drinks and I just looked at my phone, to see that the acceptance page had gone down to be updated. When I checked it again, I saw the seal of congrats and all the blood rushed to my head. I called my mom and it sounded like she was on the car phone, she started crying and in the background I could hear my dad saying, “Watch the road!” Apparently, my mom, pulled off to the side of the road. I felt lucky, humbled, overwhelmed, and excited.
A brief note from the writer: This interview occurred over breakfast, at 8 am on a Saturday morning. Yifan drove all the way from San Francisco to meet Drew Ollero, Associate Director of Development & Alumni Relations, and I for breakfast. Aside from this early commute, Yifan’s selflessness and sincerity pervaded the entire interview. His gratefulness to and for Haas and for our community was obvious. I felt honored to have the chance to speak with him and to have the opportunity to hear his story, feel his excitement, and connect with his gratitude first hand. I hope this brief glimpse into his world and time at Haas encourages you to live the defining principles on a daily basis, as Yifan does so well.