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How I Got My MBA—and Uncovered a 300-Year-Old Link to Yale

Richard Bird and family in front of Abraham Pierson statue

Richard Bird ’22 discusses how a genealogy search led to a discovery that deepened his connection to Yale even further.

Nearly three years ago, I was working in my office in Idaho Falls, Idaho, when I came across some information regarding the Yale School of Management MBA for Executives program. I paid very brief attention to what I had seen and went on with my day. I had just moved from Denver to launch my own firm with my older brother after a successful career with a publicly-traded commercial real estate brokerage. More school was definitely not what I had planned for my future. However, a very strong prompting came to my mind, after reading a little about the Yale program, that I should pursue this degree. I pushed this thought to the back of my mind knowing it was not something I had time for at this stage in my career.

A few days later, while I was at work again, I noticed ads for the Yale program were popping up in my internet searches, and the thought returned that this was something I should pursue. I went home that evening and shared my feelings with my wife, somewhat hoping she would disagree, so I could move on from this small distraction and focus on the monumental task my brother and I had before us in launching our new company. When I discussed this with my wife, she quickly agreed that this was something we should pursue. I brought the idea to my partners at work, and they were also supportive of the idea, so I pushed forward with my application and was eventually invited to interview in-person as part of the application process.

I had never been to New Haven. I knew very little about Yale. When I first laid eyes on the city and campus, that same prompting from before encouraged me to research my personal family history in the area. At that point in my life, I had no idea of my connection to the city or Yale. My family has lived out West since the mid 1800s, and any connection to the East Coast was many generations ago. That night, after my interviews, I spent some time on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.com and discovered I had many direct ancestors who were part of the founding families of New Haven. I was so intrigued to read their stories and learn about the early history of New Haven.

Eventually, in November 2019, I was accepted into the MBA for Executives program and I looked forward to starting the program in the summer of 2020 and then spending multiple days a month on campus for the next 22 months learning new things and discovering more about my connection to the area. Unfortunately, only a few months later, the world came to a standstill due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I quickly learned that my plans to attend the program in person would not be possible. Zoom classes and Zoom study groups would become the norm for my 22-month experience, and my quest to learn more about the city and my family there was placed on the back burner.

Eventually, we were invited back to classes on campus, and in April 2022, during my last in-person class weekend, that same prompting from before returned, encouraging me to research the founding fathers of Yale and my connection to them. I looked up a few names and found no connections, but came across a name I had never heard of: Abraham Pierson. A feature of these genealogy programs allows a person to see how they are related to any person in their database. When I clicked on this feature in the program, it connected me back to every generation in a direct line between me and Abraham Pierson and revealed he is my ninth great-grandfather. A wave of emotion struck me that these feelings and thoughts I had been having for more than two years were real and came from a source beyond myself. They were confirmed that night when I learned for the first time that my ninth great-grandfather is credited as a founding father of the university and served as the school’s first president.

I’ve learned many amazing things at Yale. I have new lifelong friends. I learned things about myself that I never knew (credit to all of the EMBA admissions team, program administrators, professors, classmates, and especially Professor Sarah Biggerstaff, who taught the  Leadership Development Practicum, where we learned deeply about our personal drivers). I am truly a different person than I was only two years ago. In addition to all of the great things Yale gave me, I am most thankful to learn a little more about those great-grandparents who sacrificed and gave all they had so someday they could make the lives of their posterity and the society they would live in a little better. Now, as I leave Yale, I look forward to carrying on the legacy of Abraham Pierson and Yale with my own family as we seek to make the world a better place for those around us and those who will come after us.