Design thinking provides a plan and a career path

By Eric Askins

“I’m always asking, ‘what’s the plan?’ So, I needed a specific reason before applying to grad school,” said Diarra White, MBA 24. “When I was at BlackRock, I had the opportunity to be the bridge between the design team and the relationship managers on a tech project. It was my first real experience of design thinking. It brings together two of my passions, the research methodologies that I love from my sociology studies, and relationship building with clients. My reaction was, ‘Design thinking, where have you been all my life!?’ I knew I had my plan and my reason for grad school.”

Leaving the East Coast was another part of Diarra’s plan. “Being a New Yorker is almost a personality trait for me,” she said. “The only way I could immerse myself in a full-time MBA program would be to leave New York.” And, although she encountered a few challenges—“What passes for public transit here still aggravates me!”—Diarra quickly felt a “wave of peace” living in Berkeley.

So, she felt a bit of whiplash when she landed a summer internship at McKinsey in New York City. She admits to missing Berkeley, both the place and the people. “I’m creating authentic relationships there and look forward to returning. I like that so many Haasies stay in the Bay Area, and I guess I’m one of them now.” (Pictured below on a boat cruise with classmates).

Boat cruise-1

While Diarra aspires to be a full-time design thinking practitioner, she said, “you can use the process to improve any specific business discipline. It can make anyone more effective. That is the beauty of design thinking.”

Both the curriculum and co-curriculars have moved Diarra forward in her new career direction. Classes like the core Strategy class and electives like Problem Finding, Problem Solving, provided a theoretical, academic foundation. Applied Learning classes add a practical, real-world spin. For example, Design Sprint for Corporate Innovation took Diarra to the THNK School of Creative Leadership in Amsterdam, where her hands-on project with Adyen, a payment company, added depth to her design thinking/consulting portfolio. “One of my biggest takeaways was that it is all right not to be too precious about the design thinking process. You need to meet the clients where they are.”

Regarding the move into consulting—which has one of the more structured interviewing procedures for internships—Diarra described the support from Berkeley Haas as “absurd! During Winter Break, I must have worked on at least one case a week, with the support of second-year students, my own classmates, and the experts in Career Management Services. Now, as a Peer Advisor myself with CMG, I’m helping others in the same way. It is a virtuous circle.”

The Haas Innovation Design club, where Diarra serves on the board, is another place to meet design thinkers among the student body, faculty, and business professionals. In 2023, Diarra was on the winning team of the club’s Innovation Challenge (pictured below). “We came up with a workable solution for a regional bank to address employee burnout. Trying things, seeing how they work, and trying again is central to design thinking as a discipline. I love the range of experiential opportunities Berkeley Haas offers to do that in a safe, supportive learning environment,” she said.


These experiences also underscore the real impact of the Berkeley Haas Defining Leadership Principles, according to Diarra. Question the Status Quo happens in and out of the classroom, “related not just to ourselves, but in discussions about what’s happening everywhere in the world.” Beyond Yourself, she said, “is more than asking for and giving help as individuals. It includes the student-led ethos here and our commitment to engaging with the larger community to do good in the world.”

Diarra’s involvement with the Consortium for Graduate Studies in Management (CGSM) is another example of Beyond Yourself. She grew up in a “community-oriented house, surrounded by people who have known me since infancy.” Her friends at Berkeley Haas are of more recent vintage, but the connections came quickly and the Consortium in particular provided an avenue “to engage deeply with the community.”

Diarra is bringing to life her commitment to helping under-represented people succeed “in places where we are not always seen, like b-school” as a Consortium Liaison. “Black women in particular encounter a lot of friction in their lives—economic, professional, personal, academic. I want to remove as much of that friction as possible, specifically as a Consortium Liaison, and more broadly as a Haasie. There is a real commitment here to making the program better for everyone,” she said.

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Posted on November 21, 2023
Eric Askins
Eric is the Executive Director of Full-time MBA Admissions. He partners with students, faculty and staff to recruit a diverse student body that enhances our community through innovative leadership and academic excellence.