The Student Association (SA) Co-Presidents share more about their priorities for the year, perspectives on hot topics, and reflections on their time at HBS so far.
Who we are
Tell us more about your backgrounds and what inspired you to run for SA Co-President.
Adhavan: I came to HBS from Chennai, a coastal city in Southern India. Its streets are adorned by movie posters and lively discussions of the latest Kollywood blockbusters. So it comes as no surprise that my background is in news & entertainment media. I worked with my family business, the Daily Thanthi Group. And a large part of what I did was to strive for equity through the power of media, so that the most underrepresented amongst us found a spotlight both on and off the big screen. This commitment to inclusion is a large part of why I chose to come to HBS and an even larger part of why I decided to run for President. Early into my undergrad at UPenn, I knew that I wanted to return to India to pave opportunities for others that I fortunately had that allowed me to find myself at a place like this. Giving back to such a powerful community is the primary reason I ran for sA Co-President.
Michelle: I’ve never lived in one place for more than 5 years. I was born in Chicago but spent most of my early years moving between California and Korea, and the last 10 years on the East Coast. Throughout the years, I had to learn how to adapt quickly to my environment, a lesson I learned particularly painfully in my early teens. Those experiences heavily shaped my desire to make sure no one had to go through what I did. Since then, I’ve made various efforts from high school throughout my college and career journeys, and am still making an effort today, here, to expand and support diversity and inclusion initiatives in my communities. The SA is one channel I have the privilege of leveraging to continue working toward that goal.
How did you choose your running mate?
Adhavan: I wanted a running mate who would complement my weaknesses and amplify my strengths. Someone who genuinely cares about the HBS community and proved themself through section leadership. Someone who checks my worst instincts and ideas, rather than feeds them. Someone who champions minority voices and is meticulous enough to action plan and execute on an intentional vision. And as such, I could think of no better person than Michelle.
Michelle: I was lucky to have had Adhavan call me. We had worked as section presidents for months by the time February rolled around, and I had a lot of respect for him as a leader. He brought his section together, strengthened their culture, cared intensely about inclusion, and creatively solved problems that the section faced. Though I felt I was not smart enough, charismatic enough, or anything enough to be able to lead so many brilliant and driven people, he convinced me that we as a team could rise to the challenge. The role was daunting at first and still isn’t easy, but the faith and conviction he had on day one gave me confidence to run.
What three words would you use to describe each other?
Adhavan: Visionary, empowering, and adaptable. Michelle is one of those rare talents you come across who is so capable yet humble. She knows how to strategize based on feedback, support her team to meet their collective goals, and problem solve on the go when issues arise.
Michelle: Generous, charismatic, and extraordinary. And I mean that last word literally – I’ve never met anyone like Adhavan, someone who can be a thoughtful section and SA president and still get first year honors while also knowing half the school and having the energy to have fun through it all.
What’s your go-to fun fact?
Adhavan: Before HBS, I lived on a farm with horses, cows, ducks, an aviary full of birds, and six loving (a bit too loving) huskies.
Michelle: I’m obsessed with colors and hues! Not only do I just love seeing and matching them, but I also once scored a perfect score on a color IQ test. The only type of test I can confidently say I ace.
The role of the Student Association
What does the Student Association at HBS do?
The Student Association, or SA, is the primary interface between the student body and the faculty and administration. Its mission is to represent voices of the HBS student body and create an inclusive and memorable business school experience. We engage in a wide range of activities, from orchestrating events like RC START or EC Bridges to spearheading community, wellness, and DEI initiatives.
What touchpoints do students have with the SA throughout the year?
Student touchpoints start during START week, as early as registration. Throughout the year, any SA-sponsored event whether it be a school-wide party, community MyTake, or Happy Crew event, can be a student touchpoint! Students are of course also welcome to reach out to leadership members at any point in time.
How do you work with the administration?
As a baseline, the two of us meet with a small team of representatives from SAS on a weekly basis. Beyond that, there are numerous ad hoc meetings and touchpoints between SA leadership and SAS staff depending on what is brewing on campus. It is really a flexible working model where we work together to co-create the student experience without sacrificing academic integrity.
What are the most important issues you’re focusing on for the 2023-2024 academic year and why?
We have three primary issues of focus this year: inclusion, transparency, and standardization. Inclusion in all aspects, but particularly as it relates to underrepresented voices in higher education and our larger society so that everyone at HBS feels like they belong here, because they do. Transparency because the SA has spent far too long being an enigma to a significant portion of the student body – our community needs to know exactly what we do, why, and how. Standardization because oftentimes leaders at HBS spend considerable time reinventing the wheel. Knowledge should be passed on and enhanced from one year to the other, not lost.
The academic department recently announced changes in the RC curriculum. What is the SA position regarding the elimination of the Inclusion class?
The SA is disappointed that Inclusion, the course, is no longer a part of the RC curriculum. That being said, after several conversations with the administration, we have faith that inclusion, the principle, remains a priority for them and will be woven into the pedagogy at HBS through faculty, cases, and community values. As mentioned before, the SA is unwavering in its dedication to inclusion in student life.
The recent Supreme Court decision in SFFA v. Harvard has put the school’s commitment to diversity under pressure. What would you say to any students who might feel anxious and concerned about the ruling?
We trust in Harvard’s commitment to “deep and transformative teaching, learning, and research depend upon a community comprising people of many backgrounds, perspectives, and lived experiences.” We believe that the HBS community will continue to be diverse, and our role as the Student Association is to doubly commit to making it an inclusive and safe environment for all those who join our community. Our resolve to prioritize inclusion in all aspects, because nothing should prevent a student from feeling like they belong here, is as steadfast as ever. That focus on diversity and inclusion on campus will be embedded in all of the SA’s programming, to the best of our ability.
Reflections on the HBS experience
What is your favorite aspect of the HBS experience so far?
Adhavan: When I look back on my experience, what stands out to me the most is the diversity inherent in the HBS community and how it shines through the case method. There is someone in the room who was an Olympian or has a personal connection to the product, or a veteran who can relate a stressful situation they were in to the challenges faced by the industry. The perspectives we hear are numerous. The academic experience that we all share here is what makes the HBS network so robust. Maybe it's the trauma bonding, or the collective programming, but the rigor of the HBS classroom is integral to the experience, and connects us with the alumni that came before us, and the students that will come after us.
Michelle: Section. I came here not exactly knowing what “section” was. I know, it's ironic. I came expecting people to treat me as another LinkedIn connection but before I knew it, I had chatted, laughed and danced myself into the largest friend group I have ever had. I know realistically I will not graduate with 92 best friends and my closest friends may not all be from my section either. But Section B was my starting home here; an affiliation, a source of comfort, and a place I tried my hardest to make safe for everyone. It holds a special place in my heart.
What was your favorite RC class?
Adhavan: BGIE. The nature of each case being a country offers a unique ability to explore the numerous concepts covered over the course of RC year through a wider lens. Of course, at times, given the personal association of each case to one or more students within each section, BGIE classes can get very heated. But through this intensity comes vulnerability and a diversity of perspectives which is what drew me to HBS in the first place.
Michelle: TOM. I had no experience in anything operations-related and that made everything I learned fascinating. Also, the kinetic learning opportunities provided through simulations such as the Shad exercise and Beer Supply Chain exercise provided opportunities for visual and kinetic learners like me to work through a real problem with a team and self-discover core learnings.
What is your biggest piece of advice to the incoming RCs?
Adhavan: Really lean into this next year. It's of course okay, and a good skill to know when to say no, but also say yes to that small group dinner with people you don't know. HBS is like a build-your-own-pizza menu and you get from it what you put into it, and some of you may know exactly what that is. But if you are like me and came here to get to know yourself better, and already know the post-MBA goals you mentioned in your application aren't actually what you want to do – lean in. Bad experiences can be as formative as good ones. Reflect on every experience you have here. Take the time to figure out what you don't want, as much as what you do want. And your time at HBS will be everything you hoped for and more. Just like it was for me.
Michelle: This experience will be action-packed, energizing, eye-opening, and more. It will also, at times, be overwhelming or suffocating or tiring or a million other things. I will be the first to tell you that 1) that is completely normal, and therefore 2) striking a balance will make all the difference. During my first year I learned very quickly to be intentional with my time. At any given moment, you will have a lot of things you could be doing. This means your choice becomes even more valuable, so whether it is going on that trip, running that conference, building your startup, meeting friends, or staying under the covers and reading a book, know that you should do what makes sense for you. It sounds obvious but I found it to be harder than imagined so hear me out – be intentional.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Adhavan: I see myself still struggling to answer questions like this!
Michelle: Loving and loved. No matter where I am, who I am with, what my job is, and what my day-to-day looks like, I hope in ten years I am able to give love to my family and friends, and receive love in return. I’m a firm believer that my life should not be my career but that my career should be a part of my life and have no geographical ties anywhere, so instead of naming a job position or location I’ll leave it at that.
Michelle Jeong (MBA ’24) graduated from Cornell University with degrees in Economics and Government in 2017. Prior to HBS, she worked as a fintech product manager in New York.
Adhavan Adityan (MBA ’24) is from Chennai, India. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2018. Prior to HBS, he worked in the Daily Thanthi Group, his family business in news & entertainment media.