Harvard College, Sociology, 2012
Google; The Movement/Pforzheimer Service Fellow
Design Club, Entertainment & Media Club, SEC, Education Interest Group, Beyond Dance Team, Sunshine Committee Lead
“I want to be the next Ellen DeGeneres.”
As an undergraduate at Harvard College, Willa Zhou consistently participated in the Social Enterprise Conference across the Charles, at HBS. "I thought, it would be so cool to go to school there!" says Willa. She applied for and was accepted into HBS 2+2, a deferred admission program.
For the first of her two pre-HBS years, Willa worked on The Movement, a free outdoor exercise and community health program in San Francisco, based on her undergraduate research on health and well-being. "I had interviewed over seventy people," Willa says, "to learn what motivated productive change in their health." She uncovered three critical factors—peer support, encouragement from authority figures, and access to coaching—that she incorporated into her program. After a year, Willa sought a way to "make a bigger impact and learn more about the corporate setting" and moved on to Google, where she helped entrepreneurs use online tools to grow their businesses.
Embracing ever larger ambitions
When Willa arrived at HBS, her driving ambition was to "change the way people work. The way we work—sitting still for long periods of time—is incredibly bad for health, both as individuals and for society." But once she settled on campus, and considered possible ways for pursuing her mission, her ambitions grew larger still. "Business school has given me bigger ideas," she says. "I want to be the next Ellen DeGeneres, the next top talk show host in America. There was Oprah, there is Ellen—now there should be an Asian host."
HBS provides multiple avenues that help Willa pursue her dream. On campus, she is a go-to choreographer for HBS events. "Dancing has been a huge part of my experience," she says. "It's been a great way to get to know people from different backgrounds. After each show, you have all these new friends."
Coursework has given Willa a practical foundation for a media career. "To create a successful show, you have to understand business development," says Willa. "In Strategic Marketing in the Creative Industries, we learned how television shows make money through targeted ads. We read inspiring cases on how to make them work."
Instead of delaying her broadcast debut until after graduation, Willa has already launched her first talk show, "The Willa Show," via YouTube. "I've recorded seven episodes; six of them are a series on fitness that incorporates my background in health and wellness. In general, the plan is to create a fan base that we can monetize to make the show a blockbuster."