Meet the Fall 2021 Aha! Fellows
"I hope the program will add clarity to my next steps and build the confidence I need to take greater ownership of my career." This quote from Aha! fellow Grace Chung perfectly captures the purpose behind the Aha! Fellowship. From learning about innovation to planning for interviews, every facet of the program is designed to help fellows prepare for a successful career in software. This September we welcomed our third — and largest — cohort.
Today we are thrilled to introduce you to the fall 2021 class of Aha! fellows.
Before you meet them, let me share a bit more about the Aha! Fellowship. We originally launched the program in June 2020 to help address a critical need for more opportunity and representation in tech. Twice a year, we welcome people from historically underrepresented racial, ethnic, and disadvantaged groups for eight weeks of full-time, immersive learning — with a focus on entrepreneurship, product management, and customer success. We provide fellows with a monthly stipend of $4,200 to allow them to dedicate their time to the program.
So far, 20 fellows have graduated from our first and second cohorts. Many of them have gone on to accept full-time product roles in technology companies in product, support, and marketing roles. It is gratifying to hear about their success and how tight-knit their cohorts remain.
It is our hope that programs like ours can be a blueprint for other successful companies — a real way for caring organizations to meaningfully contribute to increasing opportunity. Making progress in our industry requires action from everyone. If your company is interested in creating a similar type of program we encourage you to read about what we have done and contact us with questions.
Helping to build a bigger community of software company leaders is a privilege — and a responsibility we must sustain.
Now, let me introduce our newest fellows. Read about their career aspirations, why they applied to the program, and what inspires them:
Alejandro Saenz — Hollywood, FL
Favorite hobby: Traveling and making new friends
"I decided to join the Aha! fellowship program because I saw it as an opportunity to grow in my career path as a product manager and build a stronger network of product professionals. I am hoping to learn how to execute internal and external product management activities more effectively and more deeply understand the role a product manager plays in the Complete Product Experience (CPE)."
Ebony Hargro — Mountain View, CA
Currently reading: Find Your Calm: Mindful Lessons for Balance, Peace, and Harmony by Johanna Bassols
"I am hoping to become a more well-rounded technologist. As a software engineer, I think about products at a very granular level. I would like to understand more about pitching, scoping, and designing products and the customer acquisition process. Learning these things [will] help me achieve my long-term career goals, which are to become a stronger software engineer, transition to product management, and eventually build a product that helps people achieve wellness."
Grace Chung — Clifton, VA
Biggest influence: My parents. They helped me to become someone who perseveres through difficult problems.
"One of my personal achievements was agreeing to go on an international trip with a group of strangers — where I would be the only female and racial or ethnic minority. This trip happened at the end of a summer program but I did not have the opportunity to get to know the people I traveled with beforehand. I am a risk-averse introvert so I was really nervous. But I am proud to say that I returned home in one piece. And because we had to rely on each other so much during the trip, we ended up becoming friends in the process."
Hera Rehman — Austin, TX
Currently reading: Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
"I have been inspired by my sisters who set an example for what an empowered, resilient, growth-oriented woman of color can achieve. With their encouragement, I took the first step in realizing my dream of working in tech and secured an opportunity to intern at an early stage startup. In my time there, I worked cross-functionally with engineering, design, and our head of product to design product features for our first enterprise customers."
Jackrin Vipatapat — San Diego, CA
Favorite hobby: Spending as much time outside as possible hiking, camping, and backpacking
"I wanted to join the Aha! fellowship program to learn directly from industry leaders about product management. It seemed like an exciting opportunity to gain mentorship in the field that I am trying to transition into. I have been self-teaching myself a lot of product management concepts, so I hope that the program's structure can help cement some of the skills I have learned on my own. In the long run, I hope to become a product leader where I can make impactful decisions at a product-based company."
Jenita Richards — New York, NY
Favorite hobbies: Photography and DJ-ing
"Modern philosophers like Sam Harris, William MacAskill, Simon Blackburn, and Carlo Rovelli have influenced how I approach my work the most. It seems broad — but their methods of thinking and being open to different viewpoints have really shaped how I work with others. Sometimes it can be hard to accept when you are wrong and someone else is right. Or that you are both wrong. Or that you are both right! Reading books from people who present these things very clearly has helped me to communicate in a similar way."
Jessica Chavez — Long Beach, CA
Hidden talent: I have a very good memory. I can recall conversations, locations, and events to a very high level of fidelity.
"I recently completed my data science certification with honors from Correlation One. I decided to apply for the Aha! fellowship program because I wanted to continue developing new skills — specifically in product management. By joining the program, I am hoping to continue to grow my skills in product management, and with time spearhead my own project in a disruptive market where AI can be leveraged."
Jessica Yoo — West Springfield, VA
Hidden talent: Making homemade tofu
"I want to be a customer success manager who is constantly working with the product team to develop effective solutions that will enhance the lives of our customers. When I learned about the Aha! fellowship, I felt that it would equip me with the tools to become that product-oriented CSM. And I appreciated the fellowship's mission to increase opportunity for underrepresented communities in software development. Once the fellowship is over, I hope to be launching my career as a CSM at a SaaS company."
Kelechukwu Emeruwa — Bowie, MD
Favorite hobby: Music production
"I am looking to peel back the curtains of the elusive product management role — what makes a great product, how to create and maintain optimal roadmaps, and how to lead teams around a shared vision. The added benefit of teachers who are experienced PMs, 1-on-1 mentorship, and a unique company culture made the fellowship a no-brainer for me. I am striving to be one of the great minds in product. I believe that the possibility to improve lives, create opportunities, and inspire future generations will keep me driven."
Kelsey Pettway — Atlanta, GA
Hidden talent: Violin
"People — especially customers and clients — influence my work the most. We are all individuals with our own story to tell. Most of the time, the work we do as product managers is about listening to and amplifying those stories. The work itself may be big or small, but delivering world class experiences is enjoyable and motivating to me."
Lyndon Jackson — Tulsa, OK
Currently reading: Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio
"I have done a lot of work with universities and government organizations to create products that improve access to financial resources and housing for vulnerable populations. This included two projects — one that helped 200,000 low-income people in Los Angeles County and another that benefited the lives of over 70,000 individuals experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles. Projects like these are important to me because I enjoy helping people in need and I love to give back any chance I get."
Mawit Loulseged — Randolph, MA
Biggest influence: Angela Rye
"I am hoping that the Aha! fellowship will strengthen my strategic thinking and execution of larger business goals when supporting teams as a product manager, project manager, or entrepreneur. I am confident that this program has the ability to enhance my understanding of product management fundamentals while simultaneously teaching me how to implement effective strategies that drive business growth."
Mohamed Gad — San Francisco, CA
Hidden talent: I have been doing magic for eight years.
"My goal for the Aha! fellowship program is to gain more insight on product management work and essential tools. Pursuing a career in product management is challenging, but I believe the Aha! fellowship will provide the useful guidance and mentorship needed to start my product management career in the right way. I am also looking forward to networking with amazing people and forming relationships that will continue after the program."
Patricia García — Los Angeles, CA
Currently reading: Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths
"I am extremely passionate about STEM outreach in underserved communities. I focus on helping the rising generation of Latinx STEM leaders with the goal of inspiring students to delve into the world of higher education and become leaders in their communities. I am especially devoted to providing guidance for students that might not otherwise obtain mentorship. I hope to one day give back by establishing a program for Latino students with an interest in STEM and entrepreneurship in my hometown of Miami."
Zoe Aerin — Santa Clarita, CA
Hidden talent: I know how to play the saxophone and have played at Disneyland.
"I was drawn to the Aha! fellowship program because it presents an opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship and product management in a collaborative and immersive setting. I want to become an effective product leader and learn how to create strategies that ensure product longevity."
The passion for good from this group of fellows is palpable — inspiring us to bring our best to the program each day. We look forward to working together over the next several weeks.
If you are interested in applying to the program (or know someone who should), sign up to get notified when the next application round opens in the spring of 2022. And if you are interested in creating your own fellowship program, let us know. We would love to talk about what we have learned. This is some of the most meaningful work that organizations can do to provide training and enhance diversity in tech.