Asha Bhattacharya

Asha Bhattacharya

When Asha Bhattacharya ’21 (marketing) looks back on her four years as an undergraduate at Cal State Fullerton’s College of Business and Economics, her impact is significant.

She was the only student to represent CSUF at the American Council on Education Mental Health Summit in New Orleans. A forthcoming mental fitness center at Pollak Library is her brainchild. And, as a resident advisor at the Juniper 5 on-campus housing community, she saved a life performing CPR to revive a student suffering cardiac arrest.

Bhattacharya adds to the list the 2021 Outstanding Student Scholarly and Creative Activities Award, which she received this spring for her study, “Leadership Emergence: Promotion Mindset, Prevention Mindset, or Both?,” examining the synthesis of mindsets that create the most effective leadership in student settings.

The Mindsets of Leadership

Bhattacharya’s study, which was advised by Cal State Fullerton Assistant Management Professor Ryan Gottfredson, looks at leadership emergence – the process whereby an individual is recognized as the leader in a formerly leaderless group.

“This project stemmed out of Asha’s desire and interest in learning how to help women become more effective and courageous in stepping up as leaders,” says Gottfredson. “Unfortunately, past research on leadership emergence hasn’t given us very practical direction on how to help people emerge as leaders. Asha’s research provides practical direction in this regard. Her key finding is that focusing on mindsets as a part of personal development can help people better emerge as leaders. I believe her findings are applicable to leaders, managers, professors and coaches. If they want to elevate their followers’ ability to emerge as leaders, they need to focus on developing their mindsets.”

Looking at two common mindsets – the risk-averse prevention mindset and the daring and goal-oriented promotion mindset – Bhattacharya discovered that the interaction of these two perspectives predicts leadership emergence.

“Contrary to the popular belief that the two mindsets are opposite ends of the pole, they can be used together,” says Bhattacharya. “It’s not an either-or situation.”

At the university-level, she hopes this research can be used to make leadership more inclusive, since studies have found that when white individuals are working in a group with students of color, the white students are more likely to emerge as leaders.

“If we know what mindset combination is needed to emerge as a leader, since the CSU system, particularly Cal State Fullerton, is so great at providing quality education to these minority groups, the universities can have mindset trainings for their students,” says Bhattacharya. “They can teach how to effectively combine the prevention and promotion mindsets so that their students can better emerge as leaders.”

A Look Back at an Impactful Four Years at CSUF

Ask Bhattacharya about the most memorable aspect of her Titan experience, and she will point to her representation at the 2019 American Council on Education Mental Health Summit. The opportunity came about when Bhattacharya was a resident advisor and recognized the need for more mental health support for students.

“When it comes to our physical health, we have a beautiful gym on campus that everyone visits to work out,” says Bhattacharya. “Why don’t we have a space for people to become mentally strong?” She notes that her vision was a sea change from the traditional view of therapy, which is focused on assistance once a student already has a major mental health concern.

“Why don’t we create a place where people can come and proactively work on their mental health, so they don’t reach a place where they break down? Let’s create a place where students build up their mental stamina.”

Impressed by Bhattacharya’s email pitch for such a space, CSUF President Fram Virjee sent Bhattacharya to the New Orleans conference, which gave the undergrad the opportunity to explore the eclectic culture of the iconic Louisiana city while advocating for the mental health needs of college students nationwide.

“The courage that it took me to talk to President Virjee two years ago has now turned the dream into a reality at Cal State Fullerton,” Bhattacharya says.

Bhattacharya’s practical impact on students was maximized by her time as a resident advisor living with freshmen at Juniper 5, a role that was a mixture of crisis management and relationship building.

“The craziest thing that happened was when one of my residents went into cardiac arrest. I had to perform CPR on him with a few of the other students. And we saved his life that night, which was wild,” she recalls. “And another of the nights I was on duty, one of the residence halls flooded. So I was up until 3 a.m. fixing a flooded residential space.”

From résumé-building and mock interview workshops to Mindful Mondays focused on mental health care, Bhattacharya has left a major impact on many Titans.

“It was such a rewarding time for me. I got to shape these freshmen during their first year at college. Many of them were first-generation students,” she says.

Bhattacharya benefited from the President’s Scholar program, giving her a tuition-free experience as a CSUF student and connecting her with fellow academically focused Titans. As a member of the Business Honors program since her freshman days, Bhattacharya forged lasting friendships and enrolled in top-notch classes with the university’s premier business professors.

As with all Cal State Fullerton students, the onset of the coronavirus pandemic brought major changes to Bhattacharya’s campus experience. She spent much of the second half of her junior year and her entire senior year studying remotely.

Like many Titans, Bhattacharya returned to her parents’ home, trading in dorm life for family life, which for her meant family movie nights each Friday. Hiking and going to the park with friends replaced many campus social events.

While the experience was a major adjustment, Bhattacharya sees a silver lining.

“I’ve loved working out at home. I used to go to the gym a lot. But now I run around my neighborhood and have made friends who I see when I run. I feel very connected to my neighborhood now,” she says. “I’ve also found a lot of fitness YouTubers. You don’t need to pay for your personal trainer. Just go online, look up some fitness YouTubers, and you get a free fitness trainer on your computer screen telling you what to do.”

Looking Ahead

Bhattacharya has accepted a management job offer with Amazon in Mission Viejo, which begins upon her June graduation. In the long-term, Bhattacharya has grad school in mind.

“I plan to either pursue an MBA in organizational behavior or psychology. If I go down the psychology route, I want to do Ph.D. psychology and be a professor. Either path would be exciting,” she says.

Bhattacharya’s Advice for Her Freshman Self

What can today’s freshmen do to maximize their CSUF experience? Bhattacharya’s advice: It’s all about getting involved.

“You will learn so much about yourself when you get involved. You will figure out who your friends are. You will figure out who you mesh with. You will figure out what you’re interested in,” she says.

“Getting involved doesn’t just mean joining clubs, joining sororities, joining fraternities. Getting involved also can be as simple as going to a professor’s office hours. You can develop close relationships with your professors and learn about their professional journeys and apply that to your own life. Getting involved could be choosing to take the plunge and live on campus. It’s scary not being at home for the first time in your life. Living away from home was a huge thing for me. I learned about the core of who I am just by living away from my parents.”

Recognizing just how fast four years goes by, Bhattacharya urges first-year students to take advantage of every opportunity that CSUF offers – from yoga and spin classes at the Student Recreation Center to connecting with students of your ethnic background through the Diversity Initiatives and Resource Centers. Students may pursue academic excellence as an honor’s student or help classmates succeed through Supplemental Instruction.

“There’s so many things you can do,” she says, “and you need to keep your eyes open to all of the opportunities that Cal State Fullerton has to offer.”