26 May 2021

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


BOSTON—Bukie Adebo, Alexis Jackson, Elina Rodriguez, Ronnie Wimberley, Abby Burcham, and Ryan Flamerich, from the Harvard Business School (HBS) MBA Class of 2021, as well as Lumumba Seegars, a graduating doctoral student in the field of organizational behavior, have been named recipients of the School’s Dean’s Award.

These awards celebrate the extraordinary achievements of graduating students who, during their time in their program, have made a positive impact on Harvard, Harvard Business School, and/or broader communities through exceptional acts of leadership. Nominations come from across the HBS community.

“This year’s Dean’s Award recipients are remarkable in every way,” said Dean Datar. “Though they have contributed to the School in myriad ways, across both our MBA and Doctoral Programs, they are united in their desire to make HBS ever better for every member of our community. They mentor and coach, encourage and inspire, champion and promote change—with equal measures humility, heart, and humor. I am deeply grateful for their contributions and the ways they exemplify the School’s values and mission.”

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

Bukie Adebo (MBA 2021) and Alexis Jackson (MBA 2021), Dean's Award recipients

Bukie Adebo and Alexis Jackson
As co-presidents of the African American Student Union (AASU), Adebo and Jackson went above and beyond their club leadership role in partnering with administration to make HBS a better place for people of color and creating a tight-knit AASU community during a difficult year. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, they and Aaron Hancock (the third co-president who deferred this year and is anticipated to return in the fall) led the School in how best to respond. The initial structure of what became the Dean’s Anti-Racism Taskforce (DART) was a direct outgrowth of the set of actions these student leaders identified over the summer.

Throughout this year, Adebo and Jackson have continued to act as partners to the administration on matters related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). As the School has considered issues connected with racial equity, Adebo and Jackson have been approached for input and have responded thoughtfully. Simultaneously, they were able to maintain their usual AASU programming (including a remarkable annual conference featuring outstanding Black women leaders, an expanded diversity career fair, and many social events) and made sure the community stayed close this year despite limited in-person interactions. Adebo and Jackson recognized the importance of information sharing during this time of uncertainty, collaborating with other clubs on best practices and resources, such as the AASU conference platform. They also piloted new ways to strengthen community and fellowship, including AASU pods and several initiatives with HBSAAA and group of MBA Class of 1983 alumni.

Adebo’s time at HBS has served to reinforce the issues that have always been core to her sense of self—addressing racial and income inequality and fighting for those who are often marginalized. Her work on the DART business engagement workstream combined her career focus on Black wealth and the racial wealth gap with her drive to make a lasting difference. “Helping to get DART off the ground reminded me of my own power, my own voice, and how we can make bigger waves than we think we can. We're uniquely positioned as a School, and I as a student, to make a huge impact for the Black community—how do we support Black businesses, how do we make sure that wealth is being distributed equitably?”

Jackson’s work over this time with AASU and DART has been both deeply rewarding and a way to find a sense of control through creating progress. “Coming in as AASU co-presidents last May, it was a tumultuous time both worldwide and personally,” Jackson reflected. “HBS provided a supportive environment that not only listened to our concerns but also helped strategize on how we could create impact. It was important to us to be part of the change and not just spectators. I’m incredibly grateful for my MBA experience, especially considering that I didn’t envision the possibility of attending HBS just three years ago. DART, AASU, and the class of 1983 alumni have allowed me to partake in initiatives to attract Black talent, reduce financial barriers for attendance, and ensure that students have an inclusive experience.”

HBS recognizes Jackson and Adebo as Dean’s Award winners for 2021 because they embody the spirit in which the award was created through their leadership and guidance in the Dean’s Anti-Racism Taskforce, and in crafting opportunities for connection and support during an unprecedented year, in service of creating a better community for all.

Elina Rodriguez (MBA 2021) and Ronnie Wimberley (MBA 2021), Dean's Award recipients

Elina Rodriguez and Ronnie Wimberley
As Student Association (SA) DEI officers, Rodriguez and Wimberley helped others understand why DEI is an important priority for HBS and how the SA can be part of the conversation. Most notably, Rodriguez and Wimberley were the primary drivers in the creation and execution of the section DEI representative position, which has been a game-changer for section leadership and positively affected the entire Required Curriculum (RC) class. They structured the position thoughtfully and have served as tireless supporters of those pioneering the role.

Additionally, Rodriguez and Wimberley were instrumental in helping faculty prepare for the Tulsa Massacre and the Call for Reparations case, which was taught to the entire RC class in March. Both Rodriguez and Wimberley are deeply passionate about DEI and have been thoughtful and graceful in educating others across forums, including, for example, Wimberley’s notable work moderating a panel discussion on political differences prior to the 2020 presidential election. They are part of a small group of DEI leaders, including Adebo and Jackson, who are regularly approached by administration to provide perspective on matters related to DEI.

A staff member who worked closely with Rodriguez and Wimberley said, “Elina is a calm, constructive, level-headed advocate for DEI issues, and a great trusted partner. She has been an excellent teammate with Ronnie, who is one of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking students with whom I have ever worked. The leadership that they have demonstrated is exemplary. They are the perfect example of being the right leaders at the right time.”

“Elina goes above and beyond,” said a classmate. “Outside of her own work, she spends time on community, building bridges, and helping others in some way, shape, or form. Elina is very passionate about DEI efforts, and doesn’t allow roadblocks to stop or deter her. She is never scared of the challenges ahead.”

Reflecting on these past two years, Rodriguez feels particularly grateful to work with Wimberley. “We're really on the same page about many things, like how to put DEI on the map, institutionalize DEI efforts and push on various frontiers. This work was especially meaningful for us in 2020 given the pandemic and the racial injustices that highlighted inequalities across our society,” she said. “We didn't expect these issues to skyrocket to the forefront of HBS's agenda, so it was great to use that momentum and work with other students and administration to accomplish so much.”

For Wimberley, it was working with Rodriguez on efforts to push administration on issues of DEI that was particularly meaningful. “It was great to have that direct ear of the administration to say how I would think about that particular issue as someone who is steeped in these kinds of conversations and frameworks,” they said. “We were able to have a really big impact on the way that the administration thinks about inclusion and the kinds of programming that they want to implement. Establishing that channel of communication and adding an extra bit of pressure to move the School forward was an honor for me and something I really appreciated having an opportunity to do.”

A classmate who nominated Wimberley said, “It is very difficult to overstate the degree to which Ronnie Wimberley has, in the short span of two years, moved the needle on diversity and equity across this campus. They are a visible, vocal, Black, queer student running countless DEI initiatives and events across campus and for the alumni community and prospective students. These actions are crucial and important. But Ronnie's true contribution to the HBS community has been their tireless (and thankless) advocating and even agitating for a more equitable community.”

“On dimensions of human difference ranging from race and sexual orientation to class and politics, Elina and Ronnie led the way in helping our community have open, honest, productive, and respectful conversations,” said a faculty member. “They know how, and why, to talk about tough issues when others are tempted to remain silent.”

Through their work in bringing awareness to the breadth of experiences across campus and in creating lasting positions within the Student Association that will affect inclusion for years to come, Wimberley and Rodriguez are 2021 Dean’s Award winners.

Abby Burcham (MBA 2021) and Ryan Flamerich (MBA 2021), Dean's Award recipients

Abby Burcham and Ryan Flamerich
As SA chief community officer and SA head senator respectively, Burcham and Flamerich have gone above and beyond in their SA roles in bringing people together under challenging circumstances. They leave their roles loved and respected by faculty, administration, and students alike. As chief community officer, Burcham has been a ubiquitous, tireless, and level-headed influence in working to support the entire community, and has served as a strong advocate for partners and families. As head senator, Flamerich is a trusted partner to his peers and to the MBA program, and has provided leadership on the SA endowment, socioeconomic inclusion, and the decision to refund SA dues due to COVID interruptions. Flamerich has been a stalwart in all conversations about managing through COVID and on community values issues.

On top of their individual leadership roles, Burcham and Flamerich stand out for the way they are managing the challenges of a pandemic-constrained graduation and in honoring the trust the student body has placed in them as advocates and representatives. In their graduation planning roles, they have advocated for equity, anticipated and addressed student concerns and complaints, and pushed the School to stretch the boundaries of what is possible.

Coming into the role as chief community officer, Burcham sought to empower the community through opportunities to connect and engage. She continued the community-building activities established during the prior year, including Perspectives and Community MyTakes (student-run personal story-sharing events), recreating them on a virtual platform. Recognizing that students’ partners and family members—essential connections during a pandemic—were also isolated and feeling disconnected, Burcham worked to more fully embed them into the HBS community. They now have greater access to information through a collaboration with the Partners Club and a push for partner credentials, and recently participated in the first-ever HBS Partner MyTake.

“As the chief community officer during a pandemic, when the community had to be built on Zoom, Abby managed to help lead and hold together the sections, and to advocate for partners and families,” said a faculty member who worked closely with Burcham.

A fellow student noted, “Abby has safeguarded our community as it faces its largest challenge since World War II. She has gone above and beyond her role and has made herself available to opine on the community impact of every health and safety decision to ensure that no member of HBS is treated unfairly. Her work has been vital to keeping both EC and RC classes inclusive and engaged over the last year.”

Working with Flamerich to create a meaningful graduation event, Burcham has called upon a lesson from her Leadership and Happiness course: the distinction between compassion and empathy. “Compassion is doing what has to be done, and empathy is understanding someone else's emotion,” said Burcham. “Throughout this experience we've had to learn compassion, to go a step beyond understanding what people want and do what needs to be done on both sides.” Seeking to advocate for students while communicating transparently so as to manage expectations, Burcham acknowledges that it has been a difficult balance. “We very much want to make this event special for this class, for whom this year has been so hard. We have class members who have lost family members, who have struggled, and we want to bring a moment of light to them.’

As RC senator, Flamerich focused on making the community one that he wanted to live in. He worked to increase socioeconomic inclusion by rethinking some of the traditional events throughout the year to reduce cost and ensure that all were accessible and equitable. By negotiating volume discounts for ticketing platforms, Flamerich ensured that SA clubs—vital for a dispersed community—had the financial means to continue to hold events and support its members.

“Ryan has been a terrific leader in the Senate, advocating for student needs, helping work well with administration, and showing true poise and thoughtful leadership during COVID,” said a fellow student. “His welcoming and steady presence as a leader has been terrific in these isolated and uncertain times.”

A faculty member noted, “Ryan has served in many ways. He helped our community manage through COVID, tackle tough issues related to community values, and safely celebrate our graduating students in the midst of the pandemic. Whenever the community needed someone to step up, Ryan did.”

HBS recognizes Flamerich and Burcham as 2021 Dean’s Award recipients for their unflagging commitment to creating, upholding, and growing a strong sense of community, and for imagining and bringing to fruition a memorable, meaningful graduation ceremony.

Lumumba Seegars (PhD 2021), Dean's Award recipient

Lumumba Seegars
Lumumba Seegars’ research explores the reproduction and the contestation of intergroup inequality, particularly around race, gender, and class—how organizations reproduce intergroup inequality around those issues, and the various ways in which people can contest them. In his doctoral dissertation, Seegars studied employee resource groups (ERGs); what it means to organize through such authorized groups and how the authorization and resources ERGs receive from organizational leaders are often embedded within the same gender and racial hierarchies that ERG members are working to contest.

During his time as a doctoral student in Organizational Behavior at HBS, Seegars found time to mentor and encourage his fellow students, to ensure that all of the program’s students felt welcome and valued, and actively worked to help increase diversity in the doctoral program at HBS, as well as nationwide.

As Professor David Scharfstein, the School’s senior associate dean for the Doctoral Programs, noted, Seegars “exemplifies the qualities we seek in our Dean’s Award recipients—he is a leader, a scholar, a teacher, and a community builder.”

Seegars joined the Doctoral Program’s administration on recruiting events with the PhD Project, encouraging people from all over the country to consider applying to doctoral programs, and this year spoke on a panel about his experiences as a doctoral student. He served as president of the PhD Project’s Management Doctoral Students Association, providing mentorship to junior doctoral students of color at business schools across the country.

“As a Black man, and an OB scholar, Lumumba doesn't shrink from engaging issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” noted one nominator. “Given Lumumba's passion for both rigorous research and superb organizations in which all employees can thrive, I have no doubt that he will exert leadership in DEI for both scholars and practitioners throughout this career.”

Seegars weaves his lived experience as a Black man with his research on and passion for diversity and reducing inequality into every aspect of his life as a scholar, a student, and a future faculty member—over the summer, Seegars will join HBS as an assistant professor in Organizational Behavior.

“A lot of what I learn from my research will help frame my approach in the classroom and my thinking about what it means to be occupying this position,” said Seegars. “How I make sure that everybody’s voices are heard, especially those who might feel more vulnerable or marginalized, and that we're also able to learn from them and that they are able to contribute. I think when you study DEI, it's not just out there—there will be issues in my own classroom, and how I interact with other people. I’m really learning from my research, to make sure I can be a better professor, a better collaborator, and someone who is helping to guide my students in a safe environment that is also helping them to grow.”

For his instrumental role in creating and sustaining a welcoming and supportive community within the Doctoral Program, and for his commitment to creating safe, diverse spaces in which students in academia and practice can thrive, Seegars is a 2021 Dean’s Award winner.


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.