Campus & Community

Seven HBS students honored for their service to School, society

long read

Seven members of the Harvard Business School M.B.A. Class of 2007 will take home more than the coveted diploma they are receiving today from HBS Dean Jay O. Light. Anthony D’Avella, Sachin Jain, José Antonio Morán, Jean-Philippe “JP” Odunlami, John Serafini, Heather Thompson, and Arturo Weiss Pick are winners of the School’s prestigious Dean’s Award.

Established in 1997, the annual award celebrates the extraordinary nonacademic achievements of graduating students who, as individuals or in teams, have made a positive impact on the Harvard Business School (HBS). True to the M.B.A. program’s mission, they have also contributed to the well-being of society through exceptional acts of leadership. Nominations come from the HBS community, and the recipients are chosen by a selection committee made of faculty, administrators, and students.

“This award reflects the remarkable activities and achievements of our students outside the classroom,” said Light. “Recipients have set their sights on making our campus and our world a better place. We are happy to honor their accomplishments and confident that this kind of leadership and stewardship will continue throughout their lives.”

Lending New Orleans a hand

A passion to help the people of New Orleans recover from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina still burns strong in Anthony D’Avella, JP Odunlami, and Heather Thompson. Members of the Business School’s original Hurricane Katrina Relief Organizing Committee, which led a weeklong “trek” to Louisiana during the 2006 winter break, these students were deeply moved by the experience and eager to do more to bring help and hope to New Orleans residents. (For Thompson and Odunlami, the commitment was quite personal: She grew up in New Orleans, and he went to college there.)

As a result, they participated in the project again this year, working throughout the fall to plan another trip to help with relief and rebuilding efforts in the devastated region. All three “were instrumental in getting first-year students involved, thereby transferring leadership to the next generation of HBS students,” wrote an HBS administrator who nominated them for the Dean’s Award. “I am in awe of their commitment to service, their character, and their dedication to the people of New Orleans.”

Their nominator also observed that the 2007 trip, which took place in January — this time as part of the Business School’s New Orleans Immersion Program — was even more successful than last year’s. Thanks to the original Hurricane Katrina Relief Organizing Committee and, in particular, the efforts of D’Avella, Odunlami, and Thompson, a team of more than 50 HBS students, administrators, and faculty was able to hit the ground running. And the three award winners continued to play key roles as participants and advisers for the project, which once again focused on implementing relief efforts, assisting the mayor’s Bring New Orleans Back Commission, and continuing with the economic redevelopment and public education improvements already in progress. In addition, D’Avella told the HBS Bulletin in a recent interview, “This year we did a pre- and postimmersion seminar with faculty to tie in the experience with what we’ve been learning in the classroom. You couldn’t ask for a better in-the-field education.”

Classmates also gave the students high marks, not only for their success in organizing the details and logistics of the trip, but for their leadership and ability to motivate others. “All of them are the embodiment of what an HBS student should be,” wrote one supporter.

Their nominator also pointed out that they were “extremely professional, worked well together, and took all the initiative to get the project under way. This was an example of true collaboration between students and staff.”

“Student projects often don’t continue beyond the first year,” the nominator continued. But one reason D’Avella, Odunlami, and Thompson wanted to stay involved was to ensure that the New Orleans Service Immersion “could be institutionalized.” That has worked out just the way they wanted. Another HBS team will head for New Orleans next January.

Helping to improve health care

With three years of Harvard Medical School under his belt, Sachin Jain decided he also wanted to earn an M.B.A. degree. He set foot on the Harvard Business School campus in 2005 with a passion for health care policy issues and what many of his classmates recognize as a personal quest to make the world a better place. Described by a fellow student as a “renaissance man,” he has taken on leadership roles with student organizations at both HBS and HMS and has consistently shown a tireless devotion to the causes he undertakes.

During his first year at HBS, Jain received an e-mail detailing the plight of a person in desperate need of a donor for a bone marrow transplant. As a minority, the patient was underrepresented in the national bone marrow registries. Jain saw the situation as a call to action and founded the Harvard Bone Marrow Initiative to help improve the number of minority donors.

Jain co-chaired the initiative throughout his two years at the Business School, expanding it into a University-wide coalition that unites ethnic and minority student groups not only at HBS and HMS, but also at Harvard College, Harvard Law School, the Kennedy School of Government, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the Harvard School of Public Health.

“Through his determination and leadership, Sachin set the future direction of the Harvard Bone Marrow Initiative, mobilized student and partner-organization resources, and inspired commitment and action from his colleagues,” wrote a student who nominated Jain for the Dean’s Award. For the initiative’s inaugural Harvard Bone Marrow Registration Month, Jain solicited support from the South Asian Marrow Association of Recruiters (SAMAR) and Matchpia, two National Marrow Donor Program-designated recruitment agencies. The result was 20 bone marrow drives and more than 200 new marrow registrants.

While at HBS, Jain also took part in other projects near and dear to his heart such as the Harvard Health Policy Education Initiative (, which he had co-founded at HMS to improve medical student literacy about topics like quality of care and access to treatment.

In addition, he continued to support the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter, where he had launched a health clinic as a Harvard undergraduate. The clinic later closed for lack of funding, but during his second year at HBS, Jain saw an opportunity to revive the shelter as well as improve the clinic by connecting the facility’s supporters with a number of HBS students who organized a benefit concert.

Jain’s concern for the patient as a person is evident in a collection of essays he co-edited and published in 2006. Titled “The Soul of a Doctor,” the book aims to restore humanism to the medical profession through a series of accounts by medical students as they interact with their patients on an emotional and professional level.

Jain will return to HMS next fall to complete his medical degree, but he has left a lasting mark on his HBS classmates. As one Dean’s Award nominator wrote, “It has been a privilege for me to interact with Sachin as a fellow classmate these past two years. His actions and values will motivate me for many years to come.”

Building bridges with Latin America

This year’s Latin America conference at HBS, a student event in January co-chaired and organized by José Antonio Morán and Arturo Weiss Pick, “brought Latin America back to Harvard Business School,” in the words of one fellow student.

Morán and Weiss Pick were the driving force behind the conference, sponsored by the Club Latinoamericano. The event was a “great source of pride for the entire HBS Latino community,” noted a first-year student involved with the planning. The conference not only raised student awareness of the opportunities and challenges Latin America faces, but “enhanced the image and reputation of HBS in Latin America.”

Six hundred participants from more than 30 universities and 50 companies in the United States and Latin America gathered at HBS to brainstorm on Latin America’s position in the global economy. The conference hosted two former presidents of Peru and Colombia and counted former finance ministers and top executives of influential Latin American companies among its speakers.

The event’s success was especially significant because the conference had not taken place in 2006. “With no previous student memory to call upon,” a nominator wrote, “Morán was able to energize, form, and guide a team of more than 20 students to make the conference a reality.” Another student applauded Weiss Pick’s “passion, vision, and leadership in mobilizing resources and focusing on the possibilities rather than the limitations.”

According to an article in the Harbus, the HBS student newspaper, the conference gained momentum when Morán, a former associate in the private equity fund Discovery Americas, secured Mexico’s former finance minister Pedro Aspe as keynote speaker, and Lehman Brothers agreed to provide initial financial support. From there, “we started cascading,” Morán told the Harbus, attracting funding from additional companies and institutions and continuing to add high-caliber speakers.

The duo’s commitment to the conference, their passion for Latin America, and their interest in HBS have impressed many on campus. Hailing from Mexico City, both students have actively reached out to other Mexican students and led HBS admissions information sessions in Mexico City. Throughout the year, they were active in many other Latin American student activities and international student events.

An “effective ambassador for Mexico, Latin America, and all developing countries,” is how one student described Morán. Said another, “Arturo’s frequent initiatives and effective planning have united diverse communities at HBS and encouraged a cohesive network and dialogue among Latin American students.”

In organizing this year’s Latin American Conference, Morán and Weiss Pick “have also worked hard to pass on their knowledge,” a nominator pointed out. “They have paved the way for the conference’s continuing success next year.”

Trying to find a way to cure cancer

In the summer of 2005, John Serafini, a candidate for master’s degrees from both the Kennedy School of Government and the Harvard Business School, was looking forward to beginning his first year at HBS. But then came the news that his younger sister had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer — a disease she battled and beat thanks in part to the care she received at the renowned Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

Serafini was not only thankful but eager to do something that would have a long-term impact on helping other young cancer patients become cancer survivors. Consequently, after arriving at Soldiers Field, he began to formulate a business plan for a nonprofit organization he created with the help of several other HBS and KSG students. The new venture, which was a winner in the social enterprise track of the 2006 HBS Business Plan Contest, is now an up-and-running concern called Mountains for Miracles: Climbing for Life (MFM). Its mission is to eventually raise $5 million to support innovative research in pediatric oncology at Dana-Farber “through the pursuit of epic mountaineering and trekking endeavors.”

That means that about two times a year, teams of 15 to 20 climbers will seek sponsors to donate money to back their ascent of the world’s highest peaks, including Mount Everest. The first expedition, which will include Serafini, Andy Murphy (also M.B.A./M.P.A. ’07), and Boyd Bishop (M.B.A. ’06), heads for Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro this summer, with another climb planned for Pico de Orizaba, the highest mountain in Mexico and the third highest in North America, later in the year. Besides relying on individual sponsors, Mountains for Miracles also hopes to find corporate sponsors to donate to the cause.

Serafini has a longstanding interest and expertise in mountaineering. A 1998 graduate of West Point, after serving in the 82nd Airborne Division, he spent two years in the demilitarized zone in South Korea, where he specialized in carrying out operations in mountainous terrain.

Described by several of the students who supported him for the Dean’s Award as a leader who is “charismatic and inspirational,” “disciplined and persistent,” and “a wonderful human being,” Serafini has devoted 30 to 40 hours a week beyond his HBS workload to getting Mountains for Miracles off the ground.

“It was John’s idea,” said a supporter, “and he has led the process from the start. He has also reached out to other students —approximately 20 to 30 have been involved over the past two years — and inspired them to work for MFM,” which is now an official Massachusetts-based 501(c)3 organization. Last summer, helped by funds from the HBS Social Enterprise Initiative Summer Fellowship Program, Serafini hired a full-time employee for MFM while drawing no salary himself.

Serafini and his colleagues also have plans for sharing their adventures with others. A filmmaker will accompany them to capture the climb for a documentary, while Webcasts, blogs, and podcasts will bring their activities and reflections to people around the world as they happen each day.

“Grounded in John’s spirit of collaboration, Mountains for Miracles not only benefits the worthy cause of cancer research, but it has linked a network of Harvard students, faculty, and alumni with private partners, nonprofit organizations, and the broader community,” wrote an HBS classmate who nominated Serafini for the Dean’s Award. The Jimmy Fund, which supports cancer research and care at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, has found very good friends in John Serafini and his colleagues.