I arrived in China for the first time to attend Schwarzman Scholars. With an open mind and an eagerness to soak in everything that the year could offer, each conversation with a Scholar seemed to reveal a new layer or insight into topics, cultures, and interests. I learned that one classmate was well versed in Irish folktale, another had hiked the Camino de Santiago, and a third had helped to develop the Maltese space program, and I knew I had to draw out the stories and experiences of my classmates to soak up every word.
My eagerness to continue learning from other Scholars inspired a series that we affectionately called “Steve’s Briefs” – a weekly event where Scholars delivered a short presentation, a high-level, 20-minute exploration into a topic that would spark conversation among our curious non-experts in the room, even Steve Schwarzman. Our weekly Steve’s Briefs ran nearly every Tuesday night in the Pub in Schwarzman College. A hallmark of the second cohort, after graduation many of us reminisced about howling at Chinese Humor 101 and taking furious notes during discussions on cryptocurrency. It was through these Steve’s Briefs that I learned about my classmates’ home countries as they presented about the culture of Ghana or Pakistan and about their personal or professional talents and interests in their hobbies and work life.
I was open to letting my Scholar experience unfold and direct me to whatever path best suited me. Having no Chinese language skills when I entered, but a deepening curiosity to explore professional opportunities in China, I began applying myself intently to language study, finding a private tutor to accelerate my learning over the second half of the school year.
Throughout the year, I had many opportunities to meet leaders of countries, major multinational organizations and nonprofits. Through one such opportunity I met with senior leaders and the CEO of Johnson & Johnson at a dinner for Scholars and staff. During this I was introduced to my future boss at J&J where I would go on to work as an Associate Manager of Government Affairs and Policy, working on US-China policy and Chinese healthcare reform.
After a year with J&J, I received a double promotion and transferred to Shanghai for a dream opportunity: to lead the Innovation Activation team for Johnson & Johnson’s early stage start-up incubator, JLABS @ Shanghai. On a business trip in the U.S. at the beginning of the pandemic, I was forced to stay. Covid-19 circumstances sent me back to the U.S. Until the reality of the pandemic hit the U.S. and normal life transformed for everyone around the world, my life and career with Johnson & Johnson in China had been in full swing. I was soaking in every moment of my efforts to improve the advancements of health technologies in the Asia Pacific region.
In early March of 2020, I longed for the connection to Scholars, many of whom could relate to my own geographic displacement and challenges due to the pandemic. It was also an opportunity to support friends in China and Asia as they navigated the “new normal.” With fewer personal obligations pulling us in all different directions and as the world moved online, Steve’s Briefs resumed as regular programing on U.S. Saturday mornings/Chinese evenings. The topics from our cohort’s Alumni Steve’s Briefs have spanned the COVID-19 response in the City of San Jose, European Union-China relations, the future of air travel, the Mekong river water management, and police brutality and anti-blackness.
Steve’s Briefs have kept me connected with classmates and we’ve enjoyed reliving memories during our shared experience in China. Keeping in close touch with one fellow Scholar throughout the spring proved to be particularly interesting.
In April I received a call from him telling me he was headed to work on a COVID-19 testing company in Los Angeles. Given my experience in public health, it was interesting to keep in regular touch as his new start-up came to life. As the head of business operation, his task was challenging: pivoting from a small company focused on sepsis diagnostics in late January, to helping manage nearly 850 people by June, working on 10% of the U.S. COVID-19 testing capacity.
With the pandemic uprooting me from my life in China, I took this incredible opportunity to join Curative Inc. alongside my friend and classmate, Matt Prusak. I now lead marketing and communications, building the function in the organization as part of the executive team of this nearly 1,300 person firm. I am thrilled to work on the U.S. COVID-19 response given the seriousness of this health crisis in many parts of the country, and even more delighted to work alongside a fellow Schwarzman Scholar.