2021 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Torrie N. Harris, UCLA (Anderson)

Torrie N. Harris

UCLA, Anderson School of Management

Age:  44

“An advocate for everyone securing a seat at the table and voice in the room.”

Hometown: Washington, DC born, raised in Maryland. Now residing in Oakland, CA

Family Members: Johnny Boy – my new doggy

Fun fact about yourself: This is more of a scary factoid, but the story is fun to tell – while on a 2-week venture in Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa, my tour group was almost trampled by an elephant on a safari, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything in the world.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

  • Syracuse University, B.A., Political Science
  • Albany Law School, J.D.
  • University of San Francisco, M.A., Sport Management

Where are you currently working? U.S. General Services Administration, Assistant Regional Counsel

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • EMBA 2021 Student Council – Bi-weekly Career and Leadership Representative
  • Inaugural Chair, “What’s Going On”, An Embracing Diversity Speaker Series
  • Teaching Assistant – Real Estate Law and Taxation
  • Campus Group Club Memberships
    • Black Business Student Association, Member
    • Women’s Business Connection, Member
    • Entrepreneur Association
    • Sports Business Association
    • Christian Student Fellowship

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of serving as Co-creator and Chair of a new Speaker Series, “What’s Going on” (WGO), an Embracing Diversity Speaker Series. I also serve in an elected position on the Class Council as the Career and Leadership Representative. In the summer of 2020, I leveraged this role and was fortunate to partner with one of Anderson’s Assistant Deans, Heather Caruso, to Chair and co-create the WGO Speaker Series.

Prior to that, I was dealing with the grief of my grandfather’s passing from COVID-19. The day he passed, I received a call from his youngest brother, my great uncle. However, the eeriest thing happened – I didn’t hear the voice of my uncle, but that of my grandfather, who uttered the words – “Don’t grieve too long. You gotta get up and keep on.” But I didn’t know what “keep on” would look like, especially in my grief. So, I flew home to Maryland and quarantined in my mother’s basement, and planned an epic virtual memorial. But with a full course load, I was reaching a tipping point and just wanted to stop. And then the latest news hit: the death of another black man, George Floyd. In my grief, I wasn’t mentally strong enough to process the news surfacing about the deaths of Ahmaud and Breonna. But when I heard about George Floyd, something in my spirit awakened and it was an urgent call to action that I could not ignore. I recalled the words, “Don’t grieve too long – get up and keep going”.  To keep moving meant rediscovering my purpose of giving voice to the voiceless. Leading back to my purpose prompted me to lean into the Anderson faculty to discuss ways to continue the conversation on these deaths and the resulting protests. After some initial discussions and brainstorming sessions, the final vision of Dean Caruso was to create something sustainable that could be carried on by the Anderson student body year after year and she invited me to serve as Chair and help to create the talking space.

WGO was developed in concert with the newly created Anderson Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Council, and birthed out of the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. Throughout each year, WGO offers a safe space for the Anderson Community and distinguished guests to engage in open and honest dialogue on the social issues that greatly impact the educational experience. This inaugural year, the series explored the nature and impact of the Black experience in our global society.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? It was being sworn into the Bar of the Supreme Court of the U.S. with a class of my Albany Law School alumni. My mother was my invited guest and to have her share in this moment with me was as rewarding as it was heartfelt. My emotions ran the gamut that day. I recall sitting in the courtroom fighting to hold back my tears, efforts that proved very futile. As the justices filed in, I finally gave in to the wave of emotions. In walked Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor…and then she finally appeared – the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “The Notorious RBG” in the flesh. Such a tiny figure but one filled with so much presence. I relished in the honor to be present among these leaders and in the place where my forever hero, Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall, made history.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? UCLA Anderson’s Executive Program had a long-standing practice of promoting leadership, as well as placing a focus on women in leadership. Through its Leadership Foundations course and residential week, its rigorous program lays the foundation for the importance of developing one’s signature leadership style. While all the students were leaders in their respective fields, I believed the program would help to strengthen my own leadership style and allow me to uncover and correct some blind spots for continued growth.

Another key driver was the opportunity to explore entrepreneurship through the Business Creation Option, one of two capstone project pathways. While I didn’t know what type of business I would create, the opportunity to do so was a plus.

Moreover, it was the overall culture of the Executive Program that sealed the deal for me. Anderson offered a great networking experience both with my cohort and alum, and the culture on inclusivity the school promotes greatly fostered reciprocity and openness amongst students and alum. After taking part in a class visit, an EMBA Women’s Brunch and the signature Velocity event hosted by the Women’s Business Connection, it was evident that the culture was not simply for show but was engrained into the very fabric of the program and the hearts of staff and faculty. I walked away knowing without a shadow of doubt that this was the school where I belonged.  I prayed about my decision, and stepped out on faith, applied and the rest is history.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? Focus on your individual strengths and talents. When I applied to Anderson, I was scarred by a few professional and life episodes I considered failures that I experienced over the years. In my moment of vulnerability in speaking with the admissions rep during my interview, it was noted that my story had great resiliency. I will never forget that moment as it sparked in me the desire to start reframing my story and put me on a path to rediscovering my strengths and talents that contributed to the accomplishments I achieved. Reframing my story also helped to get back my confidence and I as started a new position with the U.S. General Services Administration, confidence would be key. Now I am able to see what makes me unique and how that uniqueness has helped me grow. That way, I can effectively advise my clients and contribute to the federal workplace in a mindset that I never would have developed without the experience and learnings I gained in Anderson’s EMBA Program.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? The hardest part of juggling has been over the past year when I picked up my new doggy, Johnny Boy.  I got him to serve as my emotional support, but given his big heart and kind spirit, I found myself being more emotional support for him, and I love it. I don’t have kids but owning Johnny has been a great primer on the responsibility of taking care of another life. The difficult part has been adjusting to adding this new being into my schedule. However, I took note of all the parents in my cohort and how they handled time and life management.  Since this was my first dog ever, the transition process was very daunting in the beginning, especially once I started my new role at GSA. I was nervous with how adapting to the new role, while still in school and adjusting to taking care of a dog would intersect and pan out. Thankfully, I had a manager who understood that life happens and has been supportive, even when I’ve had to take time off to visit the emergency vet. I also learned the value of reaching out for help and found a wonderful dog walker and boarder through WAG. Having someone take the pressure off (even if just for a moment), coupled with a supportive management and colleague team, have helped me to juggle everything.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? First, understand your own purpose for commencing an executive program. It is a great financial and time commitment, and the rigors of the program will test you to the limits of time management. It is important to truly assess whether the program fits in with your overall goals before you take the plunge. For me, I knew that I wanted to round out my experience with an MBA after I graduated law school, but it was a matter of timing.  That time didn’t come until 18 years later and reached a point when it made sense to explore.

Second, if accepted, go in with blinders on. Many students, particularly female students, may initially give in to the dreaded imposter syndrome. You will be surrounded by a wonderfully accomplished group of individuals. Notwithstanding your own accomplishments, you can easily fall into the trap of constant comparison. This will only serve to sully the experience. As an EMBA program boasts students on a higher level within their respective fields, the competition is not as prevalent as with a traditional MBA program and people are genuine about helping one another. But when you give in to the imposter syndrome, this may result in hesitancy to network, and you will miss out on one of the biggest benefits, and you may also miss out on demonstrating what you can offer a fellow student or alum.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? The biggest myth about going back to school is that there is no time.  To a certain extent, this experience has been the true, but it is a manageable experience.

What was your biggest regret in business school? If I had to identify one regret, it would be not always taking the time out for self-care.

During the pandemic, I set out to be intentional about how I carried out the rest of the time through graduation. In the late summer, one of my sorority sisters hosted a vision board dinner that allowed me to truly reflect on my remaining time and how I would carry it out. The one word I focused on for the rest of the year was “Purpose”. I’ve always been in the mindset that everything I do has to be for a reason. Over time, I lost my sense of purpose and in a virtual setting, I almost lost the purpose of being in business school. So I needed to infuse some intentionality into my walk. As a result, I started to network more with individuals in my bi-weekly section and those in the monthly section. I continued the path with the What’s Going On Series, and I coordinated and hosted a panel on “Women in Entertainment” for one of Anderson’s signature events, The PULSE Conference, hosted by the Center for Management of Enterprise in Media, Entertainment & Sports (MEMES). Through all of this, I maintained my commitment to work with my monthly Career and Leadership counterpart and the Career and Leadership Development (CLD) Staff to push for and discover ways to add more diversity to the CLD offerings.

I cherish all these experiences, but with all of this intentional walking, and taking care of my dog, I found myself putting myself last. So, as we near the end, I’m learning how to do that more, even with small moves such as using the dogs walks as a mental break and exploring my new neighborhood.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I would have to say Bernetta Hardy. Bernetta is a black female attorney, like I am, and she and I relate with respect to some of the struggles we’ve faced in our careers and education. Bernetta and I met during an Introduction to Statistics class and over the time in the EMBA program, we’ve had the chance to connect. I had an interest in pivoting into the entertainment industry and learning about how she navigated her career to now ViacomCBS provided inspiration.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? For me, being in a program that allowed me to actively participate in all of the school’s offerings was a key consideration.  I was also focused on joining and participating in campus groups, as much as I could. I opted to be part of the bi-weekly section which I believed afforded me an even greater opportunity to network and take part in some of the additional activities across the Anderson collective. Since I wasn’t a full-time student, I had to pare down my involvement with all the activities, but just having the option to participate was a driver in not considering an online alternative. Interestingly enough, I did not think I would be able to focus in an online platform and believed it would take a level of discipline that I didn’t believe I had. But once the COVID-19 pandemic forced everything to shut down, this thesis was put to the test.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Since I first determined at the age of 12 that I wanted to be a lawyer, my ultimate professional goal has been to become first black female Supreme Court Justice. Whether this is still in God’s plan for me remains to be seen as I continue on my journey. For now, I am considering a path I never saw myself on, and that is to enter the venture capital space. Through the Business Creation Option (BCO) capstone project, my team and I have been exploring the feasibility of starting a venture capital firm with a focus on women and historically marginalized entrepreneurs. We strive to become leaders in addressing the gap in funding for underestimated and underrepresented founders. Moreover, entering this space allows me to continue to break open doors and increase the number of Black Female investors.

What made Torrie such an invaluable addition to the class of 2021?

“Torrie is Assistant Regional Counsel at the General Services Administration (GSA) agency, and also a Law Professor at Abraham Lincoln University. Torrie already had an illustrious academic career prior to joining the UCLA Anderson Executive MBA program, with a JD plus a MA in Sports Management.

Torrie is considered a visionary amongst her classmates and administration. She was elected to serve as the Career and Leadership representative on the EMBA Class Council. In this role, Torrie is the spokesperson for her cohort on career and leadership matters in the program. She serves as the liaison between students and administration, voicing opinions and requests between students and staff/faculty. This is an integral role on the Class Council, as she is managing expectations from students and at the same time taking into consideration the views of administration. Torrie handles this role with professionalism and diplomacy; administration can always count on Torrie to discuss important topics and see the issues at hand from all viewpoints.

While Torrie adds greatly to the UCLA Anderson EMBA program, Torrie’s contributions are not limited to the EMBA program. Torrie’s contributions to the Anderson community at large also showcase her visionary leadership and skills. As a response to the social, political, and racial unrest in the Summer of 2020, Torrie spearheaded and is currently Series Chair of a new virtual speaker series at Anderson called “What’s Going On?” Torrie moderates each event in the series, offering a platform and a safe space for the Anderson community and guest speakers to have open conversations on the intersection between social issues, leadership, and the educational experience. Torrie skillfully interweaves conversations between speakers and the audience to create an educational experience which extends beyond the classroom.”

Sarika Thakur, MPH, EdD
Executive Director of Admissions
UCLA Anderson EMBA and UCLA-NUS EMBA programs

 

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