2020 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Sarah Morrill, University of California-Berkeley (Haas)

Sarah Morrill

University of California Berkeley, Haas School of Business

“Mom, Partner, Principal, California to the core.”

Age: 36

Hometown: Davis, CA

Family Members: Joseph Marik (Partner), Oliver Marik (2.5-year-old son), Biggers (13-year-old cat)

Fun fact about yourself: I was an All-American volleyball player. I still hold the university record for most “kills” in a single game.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Colorado College, International Political Economy

Where are you currently working? Education for Change Public Schools

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work, and Leadership Roles: Avid gardener and general outdoor enthusiast. Community work in Oakland with GO Public Schools and Families in Action on community organizing and quality public school advocacy.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?
I am one of three Culture Champions, and I believe we help create a deliberate and thoughtful culture in our cohort. We cultivated a community where there is so much joy, connection, AND an ability to have hard conversations.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Over the last five years, I have been the principal of an elementary/middle school in Oakland serving a low-income population in the Fruitvale neighborhood. During that time, we have more than doubled the rates of proficiency in reading and math and have been identified as an exemplary school for Latino/a students in Oakland based on this growth. To have supported the community to make significant gains towards proving what is possible for all students, regardless of income, has been the highlight of my career.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? The clear value-aligned culture. I wanted to be part of a community that truly lived and breathed their stated values, and that was clear at Berkeley. I wanted to both be a part of such a culture, and also learn how to make a culture like that come alive through my own leadership practices.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general?
My classmates. Full stop. The members of my cohort are amazing and I am humbled to learn from them.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work?
I wrote down a quote from Professor Davis in our Data and Decisions class early in the term: “Data gets you a seat at the table.” I have successfully lobbied for multiple changes to happen in my organization and believe I was successful because I crafted a strong argument with the quantitative skills I have developed.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? During Term 1- Block 1, I checked into the hotel Wednesday night. At 10 p.m., Joe called me; Oliver had a 102-degree fever and had vomited all over his bed. I immediately jumped up and said I was coming home. He told me not to, that Oliver would be asleep by the time I got home. The next day, the doctor told Joe to bring him in to see her and I walked out of class to go meet them there. He said “Sarah, I got this. Turn around and go back to class. You have to trust me.” He is an incredible father, and I made the decision to be gone for school knowing he could handle it. It was a crash course in me letting go and being open to help.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Besides COVID-19 blues, I just wish I had more time to spend with each person in my cohort. Our time together always feels so short!

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? This is incredibly hard, as my cohort is amazing! I am going to wiggle out of this one and say I most admire all my fellow women EMBAs. The women I have connected are all uniquely powerful, brilliant leaders. I learn something different from each and every one of them. And I am so proud of the supportive community we have built for each other.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when… I sat in a three-hour class on macroeconomics and was totally engaged the whole time. If something so outside my current scope of work could grab me like that, I knew it was a fit.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal?
It depends.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you?
That I brought joy and a new perspective to how they see themselves and their work.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?
Visit every national park and get my MBA.

What made Sarah such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?

“Although I am the signatory on this letter of support for Sarah Morrill’s inclusion on the Poets and Quants Best & Brightest Executive MBA list, it was jointly created with my colleagues Rachel Dzombak (Blum Center for Developing Economies) and Barbara Waugh (Executive-in-Residence at the Haas School of Business and former Hewlett-Packard executive). We all believe that Sarah has made an invaluable addition to the Berkeley-Haas MBA for Executives Class of 2020 both by her representation as a change agent in the education industry in desperate need of such leadership, in a city and county nationally recognized as facing challenges the most dire in the industry, and by her understated, considerate, thoughtful and collaborative engagement in teamwork with her classmates.

Sarah is the principal of a TK-8 school in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland, CA. The school is the first STEAM-focused school in the district and is over 90% Hispanic, over 90% low income, over 55% English learners, and over 10% with disabilities. The school has been under constant renovation, in portables after fires razed the original building, the district has been under receivership for mismanagement off and on for years and the county has been similarly challenged. Sarah’s school is under the aegis of both the district and the county. Sarah never presents her challenge in these stark terms, however. Instead, she speaks of the opportunity to support the growth and development of the children involved.

In this daunting context, Sarah leads an Instructional Leadership Team composed of teachers and instructional coaches who design the direction of the school’s instructional program. Over the past two years, she has guided the group through the development of a new vision and theory of action for the future of the school, followed by the development of a detailed roadmap of the actions that will be required to achieve that future vision. While that may all sound like boilerplate business-speak, it belies the phenomenal systems challenges associated with making change in our educational system in the best of contexts, not to mention one as challenged as that in which Sarah has undertaken her vision and actions. Sarah chose an EMBA program precisely because she wanted to learn about the approaches she might take to making a significant difference in this setting.

Sarah has had to work with faculty, students, parents, and school administrators to create a shift in mindset about how education might be most effectively achieved. As you are aware, changing an education system with firmly entrenched norms is non-trivial. Sarah has thoughtfully engaged in a process with her constituents to ensure not only that they feel heard, but that in fact they are heard, engaging them in a collaborative effort to co-create a new future. She has walked the fine line in the process of having people feel assured that they will have roles in that future even as they must begin to let go of the more comfortable approaches of the present. Sarah is actively leveraging her EMBA coursework in real-time to bring systems change to fruition in the belly of the beast of the education sector.

Having grown up with a mom who was a first-grade teacher, and having worked with local high schools to implement teaming curriculum, I am acutely aware of the significant challenges to innovation and the general void in leadership in the K-12 education space, as well as the exponentially increased difficulty and opportunities of generative engagement as demographic, economic, and organizational diversity and complexity increase. Sarah stands out as a leader who not only can imagine alternative future states of the education system but understands and acts on what it takes to create needed change and fully engage the disparate parties who must be part of creating and sustaining that future. Sarah brought to the EMBA program deep compassion for others and the ability to engage and motivate them. She is complementing those capabilities with a set of tools and ways of thinking that will make her a powerhouse in educational reform in future years.

Sarah brings that balance of a future-thinking orientation with empathic engagement with teammates to her EMBA peers as well. Sarah represents herself as a leader who is willing to be vulnerable, as displayed in her voluntary delivery of a powerful and personal story of pivotal change in her life during a storytelling session. She acted as a wonderful guide to her group, leading an effort in an area she knows well, but without being a “know it all” or telling others what or how to do the work. As a collaborative, exquisitely sensitive, and informal team leader, she facilitated her own diverse EMBA team to a creative, actionable project that could immediately make a real difference in a very challenging environment. In short, she has brought to her EMBA program work the same leadership presence that she shows in her day-to-day work at her school.

In a phone conversation with Sarah late last year to brainstorm approaches she might take in an upcoming instructional planning meeting, she briefly excused herself. One of her students was at her door, not feeling well, and wishing for a place to rest. Sarah left to help the child get settled before resuming our conversation. That is the world in which Sarah fluidly lives and works. We unanimously and wholeheartedly support Sarah Morrill to represent the Berkeley-Haas EMBA program as one of the Poets & Quants Best and Brightest.”

Sara L. Beckman, Ph.D.
Earl F. Cheit Faculty Fellow Senior Lecturer with Security of Employment Project Scientist Teaming, Innovation and Design
Haas School of Business University of California, Berkeley

DON’T MISS: THE FULL LIST OF THE TOP 100 BEST & BRIGHTEST EXECUTIVE MBAS OF 2020

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