YEAH celebrates 25 years of helping local youths make it to college
YEAH mentors and alumni signed thank you cards at a spring reception celebrating the program’s 25th anniversary. YEAH has started building an alumni base that wants to give back to the program.
For many Bay Area youths, college remains a distant dream. But the Young Entrepreneurs at Haas (YEAH) program has been opening doors for them with stunning results.
Take Robert Reffkin. Raised by a single mom in Berkeley, in 1995 he found his way into lessons on contracts, marketing, and revenue modeling through YEAH. He ended up earning a bachelor’s and an MBA from Columbia and has since co-founded Compass, an $800 million real estate startup. Last year he made Fortune’s “40 Under 40” list of the most influential young people in business.
Reffkin is one of many success stories from YEAH, now celebrating 25 years of helping Bay Area students be the first in their families to go to college. Founded by then Haas Dean Ray Miles, YEAH has taught nearly 1,000 students leadership development and college readiness—with absolute success. YEAH grads have a 100 percent high school completion and college placement rate. Most are inner-city youth from working-class families in under-resourced communities who would otherwise lack the guidance to apply to college.
Connecting Bay Area middle and high school students with Haas MBA students for entrepreneurial training, case competitions, and more has made YEAH the kind of successful mentoring program that forward-thinking corporations eagerly support.
One of these is investment manage- ment company Dodge & Cox. Tony Brekke, MBA 03, a fixed-income analyst and portfolio manager at the firm who served as a YEAH mentor during his b-school days, convinced the firm’s charitable giving committee that YEAH was worthy of support.
“As a firm we’re focused on outreach to at-risk or otherwise underserved Bay Area youth,” Brekke says. “Dodge & Cox is very supportive of charitable organizations that our employees are involved with whose goals align with those of our philanthropic support.”
Kristiana Raube, executive director of the Haas Institute for Business & Social Impact, which houses the YEAH program, says support from corporations is crucial. “YEAH would not exist if not for the corporate donations we have,” she says. “Corporations and we as a society have a real incentive to be a part of this program. Having a better educated group of citizens and workforce makes a difference in all of our lives.”
Wells Fargo and AT&T have also funded YEAH. “Investing in innovative educational organizations such as YEAH allows us to help students succeed, strengthen schools and communities, and ultimately widen the talent pipeline,” says Loretta Walker, vice president of external affairs, employee engagement, and communications for AT&T California.
These days, Brekke chairs YEAH’s executive board and credits YEAH with shaping his worldview. “Mentoring helped me understand myself and my role in society,” he says.
He remembers one team in particular. Three boys from different high schools, two of whom had difficult home situations, came together to win the 2002 stock market competition. “They probably had never been told by anyone that someone was proud of them,” Brekke says. “The look on their faces when told not just by me but by the judges is something I’ll never forget.” —John Deever