5 Questions with Alia Poonawala, Executive Director, Hire Hopkins

“5 Questions With…” is a weekly BioBuzz series where we reach out to interesting people in the BioHealth Capital Region to share a little about themselves, their work, and maybe something completely unrelated. This week we welcome Alia Poonawala, Executive Director, Hire Hopkins.

Alia Poonawala is the Executive Director of Hire Hopkins, a design-thinking office out of JHU focused on helping companies get access to the best talent possible from across JHU’s 9 divisions. She forms hiring partnerships with companies who are focused on building diversity and equity in their hiring pipelines.

1. Please introduce yourself to our audience with a look back at your education, training, and career.

My career began by accident when I got hired at an edtech startup. I had graduated during the financial recession, had minimal business experience. Yet, the CEO trusted in my potential enough to pay me to “figure things out” on the job as I did them. That was one of the most powerful lessons of my career – that I could learn by doing. With this confidence, I led their marketing and sales strategy before they were acquired, and I’ve been working in that education, tech, startup continuum ever since.

With my newfound passion for alternative education, I became incredibly inspired by the coding bootcamp model and joined the founder of Ironhack to launch their first location in the U.S. I eventually was promoted to General Manager, functioning as market CEO. In the 5 years I was there, we grew by 10X and were able to form partnerships with companies like Facebook and Uber for diversity-focused tech educational scholarships.

2. Introduce Hire Hopkins to our readers.

Having started over a year ago, Hire Hopkins is a relatively new office. Our mission is to put together outcomes-focused and data-driven hiring initiatives to solve pain points that companies and organizations face when it comes to university recruiting.

In the past year, we’ve led initiatives that have brought hires to over 150+ companies and continue to help organizations source the very best talent from Hopkins across all levels, majors, and skillsets. We’ve also been working on programs to help companies diversify their hiring pipelines and it will continue to be a major focus for us moving forward.

3. Talk about the partnerships and projects at Hire Hopkins.

One of our most successful hiring programs is called the DEI Collective, which is in partnership with selected companies to promote equitable access to internship experiences. We work with organizations who are committed to improving access to students from underrepresented communities. Our first iteration of this program resulted in 48 companies making 100+ internship offers for this coming summer.

We focus hiring initiatives around skillsets from Hopkins, and our other programs to date have engaged with 100+ companies to help them staff full-time hires in their organizations with undergraduate and graduate talent across industries ranging from biotech, healthcare, and life sciences, to business, consulting, and software engineering.

4. You’re not physically located here in the BioHealth Capital Region. Please share how your experience as Startup Leader made your current role a good fit.

My role is to engage with companies and support hiring outcomes at Hopkins, and therefore, my work isn’t limited to the BioHealth Capital Region but supports our hiring partners globally and so being a remote-first office was an important foundation for the creation of this office. 

In regards to working at a startup, I would say the lessons I learned from that world which apply most for leading Hire Hopkins are the following:

  • being able to juggle many areas of a business
  • focusing on metrics to measure success
  • user research and design thinking as a basis to solve problems

I have to add that working for our Vice Provost, Farouk Dey, is a gamechanger because he really welcomes and demands innovation, not for innovation’s sake, but to solve problems, and that’s what I enjoy doing.   

5. If you weren’t in this line of work, what career would you want to pursue and why?

Oh, so many things! How practical do you want me to be?

In one world, I’d love to open a restaurant. In another, I’d be some kind of performer. But if you want the practical answer, I’m passionate about experience design and would probably be some sort of UX designer. The next area I’d like to learn more about and explore further is VC, especially with a focus on underrepresented founders. As I said so many things 😉

Thank you Alia Poonawala, Executive Director, Hire Hopkins participating in the ‘5 Questions with BioBuzz’ series, and stay tuned for more interviews with others from across the BioHealth Capital Region and beyond.

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