Published: July 7, 2020
Mark Yabut

Why did you decide to come to Leeds?
I decided to come to Leeds because I was selected for and awarded the Morgan Family Scholarship, which was a full-ride scholarship to attend the University of Colorado Boulder to study business. As a first-generation student from an under-resourced and underfunded community, this was an opportunity that I was not going to miss. Luckily, I was able to find a community within Leeds through the Diverse Scholars Program that cultivated and fostered my growth as a business student.

What is one thing you learned at Leeds that you will never forget?
Leeds taught me how to authentically show up as my full self. In situations where the obvious choice was to assimilate, Leeds taught me to use my power and uniqueness to show up and lead. As business leaders, there is nothing more inspiring than being led by people who lead authentically. Leeds equipped me with the tools and skills to be that type of business leader.

Tell us about a particular professor or mentor that influenced you while you were at Leeds.
Kristi Ryujin and Ruby Batalla were two mentors who constantly challenged me to not only become a better business student but also a better person—all while affirming my passion, skills and knowledge. As business students of color, our experiences and perspectives were often under-appreciated or under-valued, but Kristi and Ruby constantly advocated and amplified our voices and experiences to create a more inclusive and powerful Leeds experience. I deeply owe them for helping me develop my identity during my time at Leeds.

Where has life taken you since you graduated Leeds?
I took a different path after graduating from Leeds. I joined Teach for America as a corps member in Los Angeles, where I taught high school mathematics for three years. During my time as a teacher, I also created and piloted the business program at the school where I invited fellow Leeds alumni into my classroom to serve as mentors and judges in my business class. After three years in the classroom, I spent a year as an instructional coach, and I coached high school teachers in teaching strategies around standardized testing.
While working full time as a teacher and an instructional coach, I was also a full-time graduate student. I received two master’s degrees: one from Loyola Marymount University (Urban Education - Administration and Policy) and more recently, one from the University of Pennsylvania (Education Entrepreneurship).
I am currently working full time as an entrepreneur and founder of Free Malaya. Free Malaya partners with schools, organizations and communities to foster free and liberating spaces for LGBTQIA+ youth, so they can walk into schools without fear and hesitation.

What is one piece of advice/best practice that has stuck with you throughout your career?
Lead with your values and passion. Your values and passion will lead you to making decisions that you don't regret, but rather grow from! Growth is a characteristic that must constantly be practiced.

What advice would you give to anyone interested in pursuing a career in your professional field?
Authenticity IS everything! Show up unapologetically yourself. Don't be afraid of critiquing, challenging and changing systems that are oppressive! Don't lose sight of your North Star.
AND—especially for students and entrepreneurs of color—YOU ARE ENOUGH. You belong in this space; take up your space! Do not let anything or anyone tell you otherwise (including yourself).

What do you miss most about Boulder?
The Flatirons! And Cosmo's Pizza.

Is there anything else you would like to share?
Check us out at this link to find out more and stay plugged in with our work! You can also find us on Instagram @freemalaya and Twitter @free_malaya


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July 2020