BOSTON—Aaron Hancock, Peter James Kiernan, Bethany Rolan, and April Weathers, all members of the Harvard Business School (HBS) MBA Class of 2022, have been named recipients of the School’s Dean’s Award.
These awards celebrate the extraordinary achievements of graduating students who, during their time in their program, have made a positive impact on Harvard, Harvard Business School, and/or broader communities through exceptional acts of leadership. Nominations come from across the HBS community.
“This year’s Dean’s Award recipients are truly extraordinary,” said Dean Datar. “They have embraced the challenges and opportunities of a unique and challenging moment in our history. Throughout their time at Harvard Business School, they have worked to improve our community and contributed their ideas and expertise to making our MBA Program ever more strong, resilient, and flexible. They have supported each other, been terrific partners, and exemplified empathy, thoughtfulness, passion, and determination. I am deeply grateful for their efforts and the many ways they exemplify the School’s values and mission.”
This year’s recipients will be formally recognized during graduation week. Information on their achievements follows:
Originally in the MBA Class of 2021, Hancock chose to defer between his Required Curriculum (RC) and Elective Curriculum (EC) year, after being elected as a third co-president of the African American Student Union (AASU) along with MBA Class of 2021 Dean’s Award recipients Bukie Adebo and Alexis Jackson. Hancock, Adebo, and Jackson were critical in uniting the AASU community during a difficult year, and led the School in its response to the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. The initial structure of what became the Dean’s Anti-Racism Taskforce (DART) was an outgrowth of the set of actions these student leaders identified over the summer of 2020.
Upon returning to HBS after a year working in finance and real estate, Hancock had the unique opportunity to see the direct results of his summer of 2020 efforts—more Black faculty members and students, the first cohort of RISE Fellows (including Hancock himself), more cases with protagonists of color, and the hiring of the School’s first chief diversity and inclusion officer.
“One of the things we focused on in the summer of 2020 was advancing anti-racism efforts in a way that could be actively sustained once we were gone,” said Hancock. “Coming back and taking stock of where things were, I was happy to see that we had a level of success in doing that. I could see that things were progressing in a way that was more institutionalized and less reliant on student leaders.”
That is not to say, he is quick to note, that students are not still seeking a better environment for people of color. Rather, he says, changing an institution designed to endure requires tension.
“It is challenging, but I think you have to acknowledge and celebrate the progress that has been made and hold that in balance with not being satisfied and continuing to push the administration. I’ve been pleased with seeing the continued tension while being back on campus this past year.”
After three years of being in and out of HBS, Hancock now defines success as weaving equity work into his professional career and creating impact for future students of color in the finance field. Reflecting on one of his current classes, Changing the World, he theorizes that those who have done great things did not set out with that purpose, but achieved it through adhering to a clear set of guiding principles.
“If you stick to your own moral compass as guardrails throughout life, that will eventually lead you on a path to whatever it is you want to achieve,” says Hancock. “The work for equity, for increasing diversity, is something I’m passionate about and will always be a part of my work. I’m going to let the opportunities present themselves and take advantage of them if they fit. I hope that’s going to be a recipe for success and a way of infusing purpose into my work in finance and real estate.”
HBS recognizes Hancock as a Dean’s Award winner for 2022 because he embodies the spirit in which the award was created through his leadership and guidance in the Dean’s Anti-Racism Taskforce, and in crafting opportunities for connection and support in service of creating a better community for all.
Peter James Kiernan
Having served as the state of New York’s COVID-response point person, Kiernan was uniquely poised to partner with HBS on tackling the many challenges presented by the pandemic. He engaged with departments across campus, bringing his professional expertise and personal perspective as a student to advise and guide the School’s response. Kiernan served as a bridge between students, health professionals, and HBS administration during a trying time for all.
“HBS leadership often found themselves facing lose-lose decisions regarding COVID policies, and usually had to choose between several undesirable options,” said a staff member who worked closely with Kiernan. “Having Pete involved in these conversations meant that we ended up with better solutions than we would have had without him. Pete made HBS a better, safer place to be during an extremely difficult time.”
Working with HBS administrators on COVID policies afforded him a different perspective and appreciation for the School’s response. “The School rolled out all the stops when it came to testing and contact tracing, creating hybrid classrooms, and offering the option to attend remotely if you’re sick—these were incredible achievements other schools didn’t have and I don’t think the average student got to appreciate it that much because they were living with the frustrations of the restrictions,” said Kiernan. “Having been on the other side trying to keep people safe in New York, and having had to make restrictions and close down the economy to combat the spread, I had a lot of sympathy.”
As a former Marine and appointee in the New York governor’s office, Kiernan is well-versed in listening, communicating clearly, and making quick, crucial decisions—skills he aims to apply to the world of business. “I enjoy high intensity situations and solving problems, and I’m really good at making fast decisions and learning quickly and rapidly,” he said. “I’d like to help companies that are struggling and jump in and turn things around. I want to play to my strengths and pursue paths that add the most value. There’s no shortage of fires in this world.”
Reflecting on these past two years, Kiernan sees his contributions as being one of the many that made up a remarkable community. His graduating class, he notes, was the first class to have the option to defer yet chose not to.
“We’re a self-selecting group and a little more tolerant of uncertainty—we knew we were going to make the best of a bad scenario,” said Kiernan. “These last few weeks of classes I’ve been reminding myself to relish the moment. I doubt that I’ll soon be in another room with 70-90 peers with these diverse experiences, leadership attributes, intelligence, and sheer promise in their character. I’ve been trying to absorb that and appreciate it because I know it’s waning and will come to an end.”
Through his work in guiding the School’s COVID response and uniting the many voices of the HBS community in a difficult time, Kiernan is a 2021 Dean’s Award winner.
Rolan has changed how the HBS community talks about sexual misconduct. In the fall of 2020, Rolan and another student, Kanisha Parthasarathy (MBA 2021), took the lead in writing a case note in response to the first case concerning sexual harassment, taught in the spring of 2020 as part of the RC curriculum. The note, which formally accompanied the case starting in spring 2021, discusses considerations managers should take when facing sexual misconduct in the workplace. At the end of her RC year, she spearheaded the creation of the Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention and Education (SHAPE) student taskforce, a new and more intersectional version of previous student groups related to the topic. SHAPE has worked since then to provide students with ongoing training and education about sexual harassment and assault.
By establishing formal SHAPE roles in both the Women’s Student Association and the Student Association, Rolan elevated sexual harassment and assault awareness. “I believe that these are community issues, not just women’s issues,” she said. The SHAPE team helped sections to create individual section programming and Rolan led a discussion about sexual assault and harassment prevention at the section leader orientation in the fall of 2021. “The discussion set the tone for how to lead the section and create a safer culture and support peers if they do experience sexual assault or harassment at HBS,” said Rolan.
Gender topics and equity, and broader equity concerns, have been long-held passions for Rolan. She led a women’s network as an undergraduate and participated in recruitment efforts at her former workplace. This year, she has worked with Student Academic Services and an e-learning startup to build and pilot an online training module for supporting survivors of sexual assault and harassment at HBS. The multi-modal program, she says, can provide important information and resources to over-scheduled and busy students.
“I really believe in the HBS pedagogy: If you give students common information and plant the seed, they will teach each other through problem-solving discussions,” said Rolan. “I see my role as introducing this topic and issue more consistently on campus, sharing good information, and hoping that with that information, students will share their stories and experiences in small groups and teach each other.”
The primary objective of previous student efforts and of SHAPE, Rolan noted, was to reduce the number of students who experience sexual assault and harassment at HBS to zero. When she created SHAPE, Rolan added a secondary goal: To prepare future leaders to build safer cultures and support survivors at their future workplaces. “This is such a pervasive issue—all of us are going to face it. It’s important to me to prepare and empower future leaders to make things better outside of HBS,” said Rolan.
Looking forward, Rolan hopes to return to consulting, focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion. As she reflects on leaving HBS, she hopes that conversations and awareness about the topics she has worked to elevate continue. “My hope is that more and more touchpoints about sexual assault and harassment continue to grow through all parts of the HBS experience—in the classroom, section, and community wide events.”
HBS recognizes Rolan as a 2022 Dean’s Award recipient for her unflagging commitment to making sexual assault and harassment a community-wide conversation, and in doing so, bringing the School together towards a common goal of education and support around these pervasive, important issues.
As the Student Association’s chief community officer, Weathers brought—and held—the MBA student community together during a challenging time. Through COVID restrictions and frustrations to painful cultural moments, fellow students cited Weathers as being a calming presence; one that guided and led the community.
For Weathers, the role was one that inspired her from her very first visit to HBS as a prospective student. Attending a class and witnessing the applause at its conclusion, she was stunned to learn that it was a norm set by the community officer. “I was so blown away that there were positions on this campus devoted to making people feel included,” said Weathers. “Getting an award for the things that I’ve done for the HBS community is a huge reflection of what I thought I wanted to do when I came here and a really nice way to recognize that some of those efforts helped other people, too.”
Weathers recalls the difficulty of ensuring that the first cohort of COVID-positive students in the fall of 2020 still felt connected and included, despite being quarantined. When an in-person event was cancelled, section leadership organized a virtual movie and Jeopardy night, for which she assembled dozens of individual packets of candy and snacks to distribute to those who could not attend in person—one of many small signals of inclusion and community that amounted to a strong sense of unity.
This year, the consistent support and attendance at section and community MyTakes were inspiring and validating for Weathers. “Having people come out in force for these events, when it’s hard to get students to show up for anything, felt like a marker of the work that had been put in and had grown from my and others’ initial efforts,” said Weathers.
Weathers considers her recent role as the AASU conference co-chair, and her time with the group overall, as being highlights for her sense of belonging and perspective as a Black woman.
“Thinking about being a woman in business, and a Black woman in business, was a big question for me—what does that mean, how do I think about it and who are going to be my supporters?” said Weathers. “AASU ended up being the biggest opportunity and the largest source of validation, inspiration, and comfort for all of the different lenses through which I view the world. The conference was the culmination of all of that. It was me, my co-chair Cyril, and all the people who planned it trying to find a way to demonstrate the perspective we’ve built through panels and guest speakers. There’s something about validation that can be extremely comforting.”
As she reflects on the last two years, Weathers is once again steeped in this central notion of community—both the HBS community she helped unite and her extended community of her husband, family, and closest friends. “There are many, many people who helped me this—I attribute a lot of my drive and capacity to have executed on some of this to the help and influence I got from other people as well.”
For her instrumental role in creating and sustaining a welcoming and supportive community within the MBA Program during a stressful and difficult time, Weathers is a 2022 Dean’s Award winner.