27 May 2020

Nine Harvard Business School Students Win Dean’s Award for Service to the School and Society


BOSTON—Rachel Brown, Connor Cash, Robbie Dixon, Holly Fetter, Gaby Goldstein, Alexxis Isaac, Melanie Sperling, Ben Sullivan, and Billy Tabrizi, all members of the Harvard Business School (HBS) MBA Class of 2020, have been named recipients of the School’s Dean’s Award.

These coveted and prestigious awards celebrate the extraordinary achievements of graduating students who during their years of study have also made a positive impact on Harvard, Harvard Business School, and/or broader communities through exceptional acts of leadership. Nominations come from the HBS community, and Dean Nitin Nohria makes the final selections.

“This year’s group of Dean’s Award winners—student leaders in several respects on campus —exemplify the School's mission of making a difference in the world," said Dean Nohria. "Their focus on making the School even more inclusive spurred important dialogue and learning across our campus. And, as we have responded to the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have unified their fellow students and the community in a really remarkable way. They worked so seamlessly together throughout the year, and I am personally grateful for their partnership and delighted to see each of them honored in this way."

This year’s recipients will be formally recognized during Commencement Week. Information on their achievements follows:

Rachel Brown

Rachel Brown
As the chief events officer of the Student Association (SA), Rachel has gone above and beyond her elected position to ensure that existing events are inclusive. Among the changes she made this year were moving the annual EC Newport Ball to Boston to substantially lower the cost of attendance, creating the Spangler Night Live series (with fellow Dean’s Award winner Billy) including family-friendly events like the Super Bowl and Oscars Watch Parties and Silent Disco, and working closely with Operations on the Student Life Taskforce.

These events have had an important impact on the HBS community and address an important campus pain point—socio-economic inclusion. Creating a way for students to have fun, meet other students, and network without the need to purchase a plane ticket makes all the difference for those with less discretionary income. These events are also inclusive to partners and families, and unite first year Required Curriculum (RC) and second year Elective Curriculum (EC) students, providing opportunities for the two to meet and engage; this is important, as EC mentorship and guidance is both helpful and comforting during the intense RC year.

Her nomination noted, “Rachel truly loves this school and has done her part in making the HBS experience more inclusive and providing opportunities for people to make and deepen connections. Future students have Rachel to thank for her part in making Spangler a hub of campus life.”

A fellow classmate agreed, stating, “The passion, grace, and incredible diligence with which she has approached all of these events and the endless hours dedicated to RC leadership to ensure successful outcomes of these events have made an everlasting impact on the student experience at HBS. And to have done this basically by herself, I think this shows how selfless she is and how much she cares about fostering the HBS community.”

Rachel consistently drove an ongoing collaborative conversation with the administration about student events space access, economics, and key policies.

“The magic of HBS for me is in the HBS community, so all the leadership roles I took on were focused on bringing people together and making the most of the HBS community experience,” said Rachel. “So much of what I’ll remember is the time spent engaging with classmates. I am so thankful that we took this year to focus on building up Spangler Night Live and other community events, because that increased sense of community from campus helped us pull together even more closely when we moved to a virtual world.”

Rachel will be returning to Deloitte Consulting in the Chicago office this fall as a senior consultant.

Connor Cash & Gaby Goldstein

Connor Cash & Gaby Goldstein
Nominated together as SA co-presidents, Connor and Gaby worked together to assemble and support a leadership team that was more aligned, effective, and collaborative than ever, and handled exceptional challenges and opportunities admirably, including the HBS community’s grief following the death of a classmate, the coronavirus pandemic, and socioeconomic inclusion.

Connor worked with the SA and the administration to set examples of model behavior and was the voice of student concern in a very challenging year. He has demonstrated how quiet leaders can be agents of change.

Gaby exemplifies that model behavior, making her equally deserving of the Dean’s Award. As the women’s representative of her section last year she created an inclusive environment, and as co-president has made inclusivity the mission of the SA. With Connor, she has encouraged the leadership team to start numerous incentives, going above and beyond their positions to make them a reality.

When assembling the SA Leadership Team, Gaby and Connor actively decided to seek out individuals who exuded a deeply rooted interest in the SA and were equally in tune with both the student body experience and the pillars they laid out as their platform. Early on, they made it clear that one of their goals was to make the student experience more inclusive to all. Too often in their first year they saw missed opportunities to lower socioeconomic barriers, and are grateful that the SA Leadership team agreed and worked tirelessly to find solutions.

“Early on in our RC year Connor and I realized that we had a mutual understanding and appreciation for what the support of a community can mean to an individual,” Gaby said. “While we believed our time as co-presidents would be a rewarding experience, I’m not sure anyone could have put into words just how meaningful this time would be for us both. We are so grateful for the incredible team of peers, faculty, and staff we’ve gotten to spend these past two years with. When I look back at the defining experience of my time at HBS, it is undoubtedly that of being a part of the Student Association alongside our dream team.”

“When Gaby and I set out to be co-presidents, we had no idea that our team would need to be built to handle a crisis,” Connor commented, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Over time, we realized how important it would be for our team to not only be cohesive internally, but to develop a close knit relationship with the faculty and staff, and to earn the trust of the student body. These relationships and the trust we had for one another brought us closer, and allowed the SA to best serve the student body as truly collaborative team. My time at HBS is forever linked to the time we spent together with our SA leadership team, and I couldn’t be more proud of this group of people and what we were able to accomplish in a shortened amount of time.”

Connor will be working on his sustainability reporting startup, Caesar, after graduation this summer.

After graduation Gaby will be spending the summer enjoying time as a new mother to baby boy Theo alongside her partner, Adam. In Q4 2020 she will join Wayfair, a leading home goods e-commerce technology company, as a senior manager on the marketing team in Boston.

Robbie Dixon

Robbie Dixon
As head senator, Robbie reconceived the relationship between the Senate and broader SA organization, adjusting the by-laws to give the Senate greater ability to execute the SA’s mission. He encouraged senators to think deeply about large issues that impact the student experience and created lasting pathways for community-building.

Under Robbie’s leadership, the senate published a fall newsletter highlighting key accomplishments and worked very closely with other student leaders in the SA. The Senate Clubs, Capital Planning, and Budget & Oversight Committees worked hand in hand with their counterparts in the SA to ensure that various initiatives were accomplished, including launching the first ever HBS Clubs Summit, reimagining what physical spaces look like on campus, and ensuring that part of each year’s operating budget will continue to be earmarked for inclusivity initiatives, which was a major SA priority.

Robbie was also recognized for his work as Co-Chair of the 2020 Class Day Committee, one of the key responsibilities of the head senator. He led the working group that reimagined what Class Day would be during the coronavirus pandemic, ensuring that the Class of 2020 was still able to virtually celebrate the occasion in a way that was befitting all of the hard work they put in over the past two years. He also helped secure the distinguished alumni speakers, Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli, MBA 1999, and Mezuo O. Nwuneli, MBA 2003 and select the student speaker, Claire Wagner.

“He did a great job in organizing several events, including the Black History Month My Takes (a student-run event that allows two to four students to share personal stories),” a sectionmate said of Robbie. “We all knew him as someone that was not afraid of asking or answering questions related to tough topics.”

“Robbie has been very quiet about his accomplishments—he is not boastful,” another classmate commented. “He’s a reserved leader who doesn’t try to be in the spotlight, but he cares deeply about the HBS Community and is someone who has a vision and can execute on it.”

“The most exciting part about being head senator is the other student leaders I’ve gotten to know over the past year,” Robbie commented on his time at HBS. “I met weekly with the broader Senate and SA executive team and it was one of the highlights of my week. I’ve never been a part of such a productive, yet fun group and it’s an experience that I will never take for granted.”

Robbie will be the head of product at Beli, a startup co-founded by two of his close friends at HBS that provides personalized restaurant recommendations.

Holly Fetter

Holly Fetter
Holly embodies the spirit of the Dean’s Award with her deep concern for social justice. As the co-chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council, she led an effort to understand what prevents marginalized students from feeling fully included in the HBS community in order to improve the school’s programs and practices. As the co-president of the Social Enterprise Club, she helped create a community of students committed to social impact at HBS.

As the co-chair of the Socioeconomic and Inclusion Task Force (SITF), her work with classmate and fellow Dean’s Award winner Alexxis laid the groundwork for future students to fully participate in the MBA experience regardless of their socioeconomic background. The task force collected data on the state of socioeconomic diversity at HBS and issued a report with recommended solutions to key challenges.

“She is constantly bringing the conversation away from the theoretical and/or people just complaining, and asks what we can realistically do,” a classmate commented.

A staff member who worked regularly with her said, “Holly is amazing and an example of a thoughtful leader who is able to gather others around her. People are naturally drawn to her. If there is a group effort, Holly is behind it and she keeps important conversations going, linking forces as needed.”

“I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to be an active member of the HBS community, and for all the phenomenal students that I’ve been able to learn from and lead with,” Holly said. “I hope my classmates and I will leverage our experiences at HBS to ‘make a (positive) difference in the world,’ putting people before profits and creating cultures and institutions committed to inclusion and justice.

Holly will be joining the asset stewardship team at State Street Global Advisors.

Alexxis Isaac

Alexxis Isaac
Alexxis, the SA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion co-chair, helped spearhead two important activities on campus this year: the Socioeconomic Inclusion Task Force, with fellow Dean’s Award winner Holly, and a Perspectives series with fellow Dean’s Award winner Melanie. The initial fall Perspectives event brought together staff, faculty, and students in a new type of community-wide conversation about listening and respecting those with different views. The spring Perspectives event was cancelled, but the work begun by Alexxis will continue for years to come.

“Alexxis was persuaded that HBS could be better with more competition of ideas, and wanted to make sure that different ideas were also represented,” said one faculty member. “She saw how some backgrounds, opinions, and ideas were downgraded in terms of importance or legitimacy and decided to do something about it. She’s entrepreneurial, loves HBS, and wants it to be better. Perspectives was her and Melanie’s idea and it was a pure service act.”

A fellow student commented, “Alexxis not only works towards extremely worthwhile causes on our campus but she is a leader who truly understands how to make others feel empowered and seen. She makes sure that everyone has a voice as well as all the resources needed to succeed. She doesn’t search for the spotlight but deserves every bit of it. Alexxis is the epitome of a leader who makes a difference in the world.”

“This past year at HBS has been one of tremendous growth for me. I have begun to find my voice, and have discovered ways to use that voice to push for change,” said Alexxis. “With Perspectives, we wanted to catalyze more open discourse about invisible differences and create a space to do so. With the SITF, we wanted to highlight socioeconomic difference as an important lens of inclusion and lay the groundwork for institutionalized change. I am grateful for the support we have had from the community and friends in pushing forward these efforts, and I hope that we can serve as inspiration for others to use their voice and privilege to catalyze change.”

Alexxis will be an HBS Leadership Fellow working in a one-year role as advisor to Mayor Martin J. Walsh in the Boston Mayor's Office.

Melanie Sperling

Melanie Sperling
Melanie, the SA chief community officer, has been singled out as a role model for the class. She went above and beyond in guiding and supporting the Community Values Representatives Program, writing the first “CV Representative Handbook,” creating events for her classmates such as wellness initiatives and HBS Got Talent, and running programs such as Community My Takes and Eat & Engage.

Melanie, along with Alexxis, envisioned and delivered the Perspectives event in Klarman Auditorium, which engaged faculty, students, and staff in a new form of communication and sharing. This event pushed the entire community to open their minds, share their own political perspectives, and be open to differing opinions. Perspectives will now be held each semester in the upcoming school year.

Along with Robbie, Melanie also served as the Class Day co-chair, running the student speaker selection process, faculty teaching award process, and working with staff to re-envision commencement and class day in virtual form, a much heavier lift than the already substantial class day committee leadership role usually entails.

With small and large gestures that knit together her section and community, Melanie exemplifies the behavior worthy of the Dean’s Award.

“Melanie is wonderful, has lots of good ideas, and has worked really hard within her section to create a cohesive atmosphere,” said a staff member who worked closely with her. “She is constantly trying to improve the student experience and has gone above and beyond in her role as Chief Community Officer. She has really tried to make a difference and has spent a lot of time trying to make HBS a more positive experience for students.”

“I’ve always been particularly curious about how people come to be who they are. My most memorable experiences at HBS came from my peers’ and professors’ willingness to share their stories—whether in ‘My Takes,’ class discussion, or chats over meals,” said Melanie. “This sharing so clearly beaks down walls and helps people to connect. It’s given me an invaluable education about vulnerability, courage, and what it means to lead with true authenticity. During my time at HBS, I hoped to create and institutionalize spaces conducive to these discussions, so that others could benefit from the learnings that I personally found so valuable.”

In July, Melanie will start as the chief of staff at the One Love Foundation, the nation’s leader in relationship health education. The organization focuses on primary prevention education to save lives and change the statistics and social norms around relationship abuse, investing in the relationship health of the next generation.

Ben Sullivan

Ben Sullivan
Ben is the chief operating officer and chief financial officer of SA, and has leveraged his positions to form a strong partnership with the Student Senate to realize the SA mission of inclusion. A core member of the SA executive leadership team, Ben defines servant leadership. Also a section president in this time of unprecedented challenge and complexity, Ben served in all of these roles above the level expected of any single individual. He partnered with many others to deftly handle major challenges and cultural shifts in a year when managing finances was not business as usual due to changes in SA and the coronavirus crisis.

A classmate who nominated Ben said, “He went above and beyond in taking on dual roles. I have seen Ben bring a huge passion to make the SA an effective organization that truly serves the interests of students. He took on the least fun and visible parts of supporting the organization and contributed many great ideas on how to further develop the SA in future years to support recent goals such as socioeconomic inclusion.”

“Ben is incredibly thoughtful and reflective, and has his finger on the pulse of the student experience,” replied a staff member when asked about Ben’s impact. “When he comes forward with feedback on a topic, it doesn’t just reflect his opinion or that of one or two people, it really is feedback from a critical mass. He is a tremendous advocate for the student experience.”

“I’m honored to be recognized as part of this fantastic team that cares so deeply about the HBS community,” said Ben. “It was great to find areas like the redevelopment of START, where there was passion from students, faculty, and staff to reimagine the experience. I’m proud that we created a partnership that both improved the student experience and built tighter bonds throughout the community. The success of this partnership led to more opportunities to work together and build trust in the SA to represent the voice of the HBS student to the school.”

Ben will be returning to McKinsey Consulting’s Atlanta office as a senior associate.

Billy Tabrizi

Billy Tabrizi
It is difficult to pick just one or two reasons why Billy has been nominated for the Dean’s Award. Part of the SA executive leadership team that has moved the needle in so many ways, Billy stands out for his initiatives that have already made a lasting impact on the HBS community. His campaign to open more space for students on campus, his collaborative approach to working with faculty and staff, his behind-the-scenes work with club leadership to rethink the club experience, his work with Ben and Rachel to make social events more inclusive, and his virtual breakfast and lunch community events in recent weeks are just some of the ways in which he has changed the HBS community.

The SA team overall was an incredibly successful and motivated group. Their weekly meetings were energizing for all of them, though the issues they grappled with were not easy. They had tough conversations with each other and ultimately made each other better—and became closer—as a result.

“I love community and am incredibly energized by interactions with others and the buzz of a group,” Billy said. “I saw a few opportunities to make a difference and strengthen the great culture we have, to build in some new traditions. I tried to invest my time in efforts that would bring people together and make our campus feel like one. Our SA team was the single most effective team I’ve been a part of—we each made each other stronger and more impactful. Together, it was magic.”

Billy is also one of the co-founders of Dear Harby, a satirical Instagram account for the School that has over 3,000 followers —faculty, students, and staff—and has been a source of much-needed humor and morale in a difficult year.

“I don’t think we ever imagined that a pandemic was one of those things we’d need to think about, but here we are. We have tried to use it to say, ‘we are all together, even while apart.’ And you forget to be sad about the pandemic if you’re laughing!”

“Billy has been committed to HBS from the moment he stepped on campus,” a sectionmate said. “He was the person that took the lead on anything that would make our section stronger. From social events to professor roasts, he was always making sure that we were spending time with each other laughing and getting to know each other better. At the same time, he was also the first person to learn every janitor's name and say hello to them every day. More than anything else, I admire that he truly believes that he can leave HBS a better place and community than he found it, and his optimism in that regard is infectious; I don't know a single person that thinks Billy isn't working to make this place better.”

Billy will be returning to Chicago to work full-time for PricewaterhouseCoopers in its consulting practice.


Mark Cautela

About Harvard Business School

Founded in 1908 as part of Harvard University, Harvard Business School is located on a 40-acre campus in Boston. Its faculty of more than 250 offers full-time programs leading to the MBA and PhD degrees, as well as more than 175 Executive Education programs, and Harvard Business School Online, the School’s digital learning platform. For more than a century, faculty have drawn on their research, their experience in working with organizations worldwide, and their passion for teaching, to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. The School and its curriculum attract the boldest thinkers and the most collaborative learners who will go on to shape the practice of business and entrepreneurship around the globe.