Photo of Laura standing on a balcony holding a white T-shirt that is signed in different colors.
Laura Hassner M.B.A. ’18. Photo by Keegan Houser.

Object Lesson: Be what you can see

As a teaching fellow in a Boston middle school 20 years ago, Laura Hassner M.B.A. ’18 remembers a boy with debilitating headaches who tucked his head into his arms during class. After learning that he needed glasses, she solicited friends to help provide books and glasses to children in need. After all, you can’t read what you can’t see.

A modified motto drives Hassner, a fourth-generation Bear, today: You can’t be what you can’t see. She directs Berkeley Changemaker, which offers some 30 courses that give undergraduates critical thinking, communication, and collaboration skills to guide them in turning their passions into action.

What distinguishes the program is its focus on entrepreneurial thinking over entrepreneurship. “Very few students see themselves in narrow words like ‘entrepreneur’ or ‘venture capitalist,’” says Hassner. “This program takes a wider, more inclusive lens. It offers classes taught by faculty across campus — so that engineers, educators, writers, scientists, and activists alike can see themselves as agents of change.” One student, for example, created pop-up events combining artmaking with giving away food to creatively address the stigma attached to lacking basic needs.

You can’t be what you can’t see.

Since Berkeley Changemaker began in 2020, over 20 percent of undergraduates have enrolled in a course. “Our goal is half or more,” Hassner says. “We are working on launching a minor in changemaking to bring it up to scale.”

Hassner’s career path took many turns between Boston and Berkeley, but she views the T-shirt the Boston teens gave her as the starting point. “Each signature represents a different story,” she says. “Those students, and their stories, are a huge part of why I choose to be at Berkeley.”

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