The newest member of UCLA Anderson’s Riordan Programs’ board of advisors is no stranger to the benefits the program offers. She is Satiya Witzer (’13), and joining Riordan’s board brings her full circle.
When Witzer was a 15-year-old sophomore at Alexander Hamilton High School in Los Angeles, she saw a flyer for the UCLA Anderson Riordan Scholars Program hanging outside her college counselor’s office. That moment changed the course of Witzer’s life and, ultimately, changed the fortunes of her family.
Co-founded in 1987 by Richard Riordan, the mayor of Los Angeles from 1993 to 2001, and Anderson Distinguished Professor Emeritus William Ouchi, the Riordan Programs teach high school students from diverse and disadvantaged backgrounds — often the first in their families to go to college — the necessary skills to be admitted to a top university through education, mentorship and leadership training.
Mentored by first- and second-year Anderson students, Witzer learned about prepping for the SAT exam and applying for financial aid. She also won the program’s annual Stock Market Analyst Competition on Anderson’s Korn Convocation Hall stage. For the eldest daughter of first-generation immigrants from Thailand, the Riordan Scholars Program was “an eye-opening experience,” she says.
“I had no role models when it came to college. The admission process is really tough, especially when no one in your family has been through it before. So for someone to give you a roadmap and guidelines, it just changes your options.”
Witzer is among the more than 3,500 high school students who have gone through the Riordan Scholars Program, which boasts a 100% university attendance rate. Witzer graduated from USC in 2001 with an accounting degree. She worked as a Big Four auditor for the next five years, serving as lead audit senior for a pre-IPO e-commerce client.
That gave her the financial freedom to explore other career options; when one of her Riordan mentors encouraged her to return to school full time, she decided to pursue her MBA at UCLA Anderson.
“The Riordan Scholars Program puts the MBA on the radar of teenagers by teaching them what investing means and how you grow your potential to maximize your impact. These students don’t have access to that type of mentorship at home,” she says. “Realizing that people selflessly wanted to see me succeed really inspired me to focus long-term on getting my MBA.”
Witzer (center) with Class of 2019 graduates
This time around, she felt better equipped to choose her career path in human resources given her interest in how companies develop talent. After graduating with her MBA in 2013, she joined Hewlett Packard as a deal principal in the HR mergers, acquisitions, divestitures and outsourcing teams. She is currently a Human Capital Director in the Private Equity Services group of Alvarez & Marsal, a global consulting firm.
“UCLA Anderson was everything I wish I had done [as an undergraduate] in terms of pursuing leadership roles and investing in myself,” she says. “Knowing what I wanted to get out of the experience, that was the difference the second time around compared to being a first-generation college student who just wanted her first job. HR was not a career path I had ever considered until I went to business school.”
Her experiences led her to make a “life-long commitment” to give back to UCLA Anderson and the Riordan Programs. She served for two years on Anderson’s admission committee, helping the school recruit more women MBAs, while representing the school in diversity recruiting efforts.
For the Riordan College to Career Program, which targets college students who are considering internships, Witzer teaches business etiquette, ranging from handshake and email protocol to interacting with recruiters. She mentors Riordan Fellow cohorts (young professionals about to apply for an MBA) on essays and the admission process and coaches them individually through their MBA action plan. She also helps current Anderson students with career development, connecting them to a vast network of established professionals.
“There’s a real need for underrepresented students to see a role model who looks like them,” she says. “I’ve been in their shoes with regard to their family’s socioeconomic status, and [they] want the same things for their lives (that I did). I talk about my own personal experience: the fact that I’ve been able to provide for my family and, in essence, accomplish what people call the American dream by taking advantage of the opportunities in front of me and working really hard.”
In 2013, Witzer’s dedication to service was recognized with an Alumni Appreciation Award from the Riordan Programs. “Satiya has been a shining example of a Riordan Scholar alumna, she consistently gives her time to inspire and guide the next generation of Riordan Programs participants,” says Roxanne Mendez. “This recognition was richly deserved.”
Most recently, Witzer joined the advisory board of the Riordan Programs. Her goals are to help the board shape strategy and build a national best-class program; to assist students in achieving their best possible result; and to get more alumni involved in serving the Anderson community.
“Giving back to the Riordan Programs is a life-long commitment for me, whether it’s my donations or my time or whatever resource I can offer,” she says. “It completely changed my life. I can’t imagine my life without it. I wouldn’t be who I am today without these experiences.”
The Riordan Programs celebrate 33 years on April 3 at the 2020 gala