Wharton Stories

Paving the Way for More Women in Real Estate

Image: Wharton Real Estate Club trek to New York City and tour of Hines residential project at 53 W 53rd Street
Nicolle Lee, Vicky Plestis, and Kayla Weismuller (WG’22) share the Wharton resources that furthered their passion for real estate, social impact, and diversity & inclusion.

The three of us came to Wharton’s MBA Program looking to pivot into real estate. We met through the student-led initiative Penn Student Women in Real Estate (PSWiRE) and quickly became friends after discovering mutual ambitions to increase visibility of female real estate leaders and integrate social impact into our careers.

According to the Urban Land Institute (ULI), women make up 25% of its membership but only account for 14% of its CEOs. We believe there’s a lot of work to do, and the work won’t be done until women comprise a majority of these leaders. With our post-graduation plans set in real estate investment banking, development, and private equity, we wanted to share how we have leveraged resources at Wharton to help each other and other women join the industry.

Get to know the Wharton/Penn real estate community.

Nicolle: The Zell Lurie Center provides ample opportunities for students to network with women leaders who give candid advice about career switching into real estate. I have already found many mentors and champions — women and men — through Wharton’s network, and am very grateful to be at an MBA program that has such a strong presence both in real estate and finance.

Wharton Real Estate Club trek to New York City and tour of Related’s Hudson Yards project

Vicky: What is special about Penn is how our community of women in real estate connects across schools. Through PSWiRE, all three of us have been really lucky to learn from women not just at Wharton, but Penn Law and the Weitzman School of Design. PSWiRE also hosts conversations with alumni on their experiences navigating the industry and speaker panels that showcase the diversity of leaders, perspectives, and passions in real estate. It’s helped us think about real estate from different vantage points: as a matter of design and architecture, planning and social equity, legal transaction, and financial investment.

As a dual-degree MBA/City Planning student, I cannot say enough about all the classes available at the Weitzman School. Build that into your electives, if you’re interested in understanding the opportunities and challenges of public-private partnerships and the role of real estate in community and economic development.

Get hands-on experience and make a real impact through case competitions.

Kayla: Case competitions have played a large part in our experience at Wharton. Last year, we competed in ULI’s 19th annual urban design case competition and reimagined Kansas City’s East Village neighborhood. It was a cross-disciplinary collaboration in which the Wharton MBA students were able to bring their business and financial prowess while the Weitzman students brought this to life with their renderings of our vision.

Nicolle: What’s also great about these case competitions is they are an opportunity to network with our professors, professionals, and other business school students. Kayla and I had the opportunity to work closely on our ULI project with Alan Feldman, who is now my development professor. The competitions are also usually sponsored by major development firms such as Hines or investment firms like Invesco and are really great opportunities to get to know firms outside of traditional on-campus recruiting.

Kayla, Nicolle, and Vicky

Vicky: Nicolle and I also worked together on the 2021 Miami Herbert Impact Investing in Commercial Real Estate case competition. Over the course of the year, we developed a project concept that was both socially conscious and commercially viable. It also gave us a chance to connect with faculty at Penn and experts in the Philadelphia community to explore how we could incorporate creative financing, anchor institutions, and community-centric uses. Our final proposal, “17th Street Crossing,” was for a transit-oriented, business and workforce development hub in North Philadelphia. We ended up placing first!

Put yourself out there — and find support in your peers.

Nicolle: Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and start meeting people right away. In Ari Shalam’s Real Estate Entrepreneurship class, our first assignment was to call up brokers and ask questions about commercial real estate properties. This was a very early lesson in the importance of cold-calling and sales in real estate. I have also had great luck in asking my peers for recruitment help. My classmate Britt Drengler was a real estate banker prior to Wharton and when I reached out to her for help, she not only picked up the phone but helped me analyze an entire REIT merger deal that I was then able to speak to during my early interviews. It is friendships like these that make Wharton such a special place to study real estate!

Penn real estate cross-club mixer at 2116 Chestnut

Kayla: I am grateful for the extraordinary women I have met through the Wharton network and am more motivated now to pave the way for other women looking to pursue a career in the industry. At my new firm, I’d like to continue helping build out their commitment to diversity and foster a strong women’s network. My advice would be to do what you are passionate about and start reaching out to people for coffee chats… you never know where a conversation might lead!

Vicky: Be relentless about reaching out to, talking with, and learning from leaders in the industry. For me, this started with finding a supportive group of 5–6 women through PSWiRE (both students and young alumni) who were incredibly willing to share their real estate experiences and make introductions.

— Nicolle Lee, Vicky Plestis, and Kayla Weismuller (WG’22) 

Posted: November 23, 2021

Wharton Stories

From Peace Corps to Wharton

“If we want to create a world that’s a better place, we need people who can bring that sense of social justice and combine it with some practical Wharton toolkits so that they can be more impactful.”

F. Chapman Taylor, WG’88, was fresh out of college when he signed up to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. He was promptly sent to Samoa, an island country in the South Pacific, to teach math to children who would otherwise be working on the family farm.

Joining the Peace Corps felt like a “natural extension” to Chapman, who grew up in a social-justice-oriented environment.

“When I originally went to Samoa, I thought I wanted to be a teacher or a pastor,” said Chapman, who is now a partner at Capital International Investors and a dedicated philanthropist. “My father was a pastor and worked with inner-city kids in Washington, D.C. during much of my life.”

While in the Peace Corps, Chapman realized teaching wasn’t for him. He decided to apply to Wharton.

“The people I grew up with are very nervous about people with money. The people with money are very nervous about the people who are doing social change. That’s a problem,” he said. “If we want to create a world that’s a better place, we need people who can bring that sense of social justice and combine it with some practical Wharton toolkits so that they can be more impactful.”

Chapman is funding that vision through the Taylor Family MBA Fellowship, which will provide financial support to a Wharton MBA student who has either volunteered in the Peace Corps or worked in public service.

“There are several impacts of the Peace Corps,” Chapman said. “The obvious one is what you do in that country. The more important one, in my mind, is when people bring that back with them.”

Lila volunteering in Panama.

Funding a Better Future

Lila Holzman, WG’16, traveled all the way from California to rural Panama because she wanted on-the-ground experience with solving complex, systemic problems. The Peace Corps gave her the perfect opportunity while working on sustainable agriculture.

“It was a lot of going out in the field, getting dirty, using a machete,” she said. For two years, Lila helped foster home gardens, train farmers to use new techniques, and teach locals about the value of nutrition.

Then she found herself at Wharton, studying environmental and risk management.

“People think of MBAs as strictly for-profit, but nonprofits are businesses, too. Any organization needs good management skills to be able to accomplish whatever it’s setting out to accomplish,” she said. “I think that the MBA skill set is very relevant and useful in the nonprofit world, in the social entrepreneurship world. It gives a lot of credibility to the idea that you can solve multiple issues at once.”

There was one moment in class when she saw her experiences come together.

“We were talking about a case study with a company that was doing mobile money through phones, and about how successful that was in regions like Africa or places where not a lot of people were in the banked financial system. I pointed out, ‘Oh, but this relies on there being cell phone signal.’ And everyone kind of looked at me like, ‘Wait, everywhere has cell phone signal.’ I was like, ‘No, actually, where I lived in Panama I had to climb up a hill.’”

“This is why I think (Peace Corps experience) is important in Wharton,” Chapman said. “You bring people from many different cultures, and everyone comes with their own cultural lens. It helps to have translators in that midst who understand how to communicate across cultures to create better cohesion.”

For both Lila and Chapman, the leap from the Peace Corps to Wharton wasn’t just academic, cultural, or professional — it was also financial.

“When I got to Wharton, the amount of financial support that I had was far less than a number of my fellow classmates who’d been engineers and worked on Wall Street,” Chapman said. “All too often people who come through the Peace Corps don’t have a whole lot of resources.”

“If you intend to continue in social impact, odds are the salary is going to be a lot lower. It really does help to have a fellowship that can ease that burden,” added Lila. “From a cultural perspective, I think it sends a meaningful signal that Wharton wants the type of people who have done the Peace Corps. Social impact is actually a part of who Wharton is and who Wharton is evolving to become more focused on.”

Chapman in Samoa with two fellow Peace Corps Volunteers.

Returning to the Community

Social impact at Wharton has grown rapidly over the years.

Chapman remembers being one of the only MBA students interested in the industry, while Lila found a community of peers through groups like the Wharton Social Impact Club, Wharton Global Impact Consultants (WGIC), and Nonprofit Board Fellows. After Lila’s graduation, a student collaborated with Wharton faculty to optimize the MBA curriculum for a sustainability focus. Lila’s major is now known as Business, Energy, Environment and Sustainability — or BEES — which prepares students for careers in clean energy, corporate sustainability, and even food and agriculture.

The selection of the first Taylor Family MBA Fellow in 2022 will mark four decades since Chapman joined the Peace Corps — although he never truly left. Chapman sits on the Board of Advisors of the National Peace Corps Association and has funded several student RPCV’s, or Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.

“We say ‘returned’ instead of ‘ex’ because we are always Peace Corps Volunteers,” Lila said. Post-MBA, she also returned to serve two terms as president of the Board of Directors of the Northern California Peace Corps Association.

And now, Chapman is ‘returning’ to Wharton in a different way.

“There’s no grand vision here,” he said of the Fellowship. “I want to provide an opportunity for people who come from what I view as a very rich experience, and enable them to have a broader toolkit and a broader perspective of the world and the way it operates. For me, this is very much a bottom-up, one-by-one approach. Let’s get more people out there.”

Gloria Yuen

Posted: October 27, 2021

Wharton Stories

Lauder Students Put Language Skills Into Practice

Image: The Lauder Institute in Philadelphia
In lieu of its in-country immersion program, which was canceled because of the pandemic, the Lauder Institute incorporated community engagement projects that connected students with communities in Philadelphia and beyond.

When the Covid-19 pandemic swept crowds out of subway tunnels and airports, it also issued a significant challenge for the Lauder Institute: how to immerse students in a rich language-learning environment.

The Lauder Institute of Management & International Studies, a joint-degree program between the School of Arts & Sciences and the Wharton School, offers a unique advanced language studies component that normally includes a summer immersion. Students, upon starting their two-year program toward an MBA and an international studies MA, almost immediately embark on travel for immersions a significant segment of which focuses on language and culture in Regional Programs. A student in the Latin America Spanish Program, for example, might spend the summer in Argentina.

As the pandemic has continued to produce restrictions and safety concerns, immersion travel has not been possible. But modern technology has allowed the program to rethink what qualifies as immersion.

Lauder community project
Supplies being delivered to the Guanghua Chinese School. Lauder Institute student Angela Huang worked with the school, based in Montgomery County, to translate newsletter materials about wellness. (Image: Courtesy of Angela Huang)

“Because we couldn’t travel, our goal was to develop an immersive environment to our program in spite of the pandemic limitations. The idea and spirit of [the language projects] was to connect with communities and to have a virtual immersion experience,” explained Mili Lozada, director of the Language and Culture Faculty at the Lauder Institute.

Students were asked to engage with organizations related to their language area and to develop a community-oriented, team-based project. This summer outreach project intended to connect students to observed needs in the Philadelphia area and abroad. One group of the Spanish-speaking Lauder students worked with the Consulate of Mexico in Philadelphia to survey immigrants’ knowledge of finance and economics; Hindi-speaking students, meanwhile, worked with a music academy in Delhi to explore the business as well as sociocultural trends of western music in India.

“We developed this project so that students could actually connect with community organizations, NGOs, universities, and others to develop projects that met that organization’s needs and engaging, of course, the students’ backgrounds in language, culture, technology, and business,” Mili Lozada said. “This started in 2020 because of the pandemic, and it’s interesting how the pandemic allowed us to create a meaningful learning experience to our students without travel.”

Angela Huang began her experience with the Lauder Institute in June and is continuing her advanced Chinese language education. She saw the project as an opportunity to make connections with the broader Philadelphia community through language and step out of her comfort zone at Penn.

“I admire our administration and faculty for wanting us to have a chance to get to know this new city and community we all moved to, because I think few of us had lived in Philly before and it was a way to start understanding the broader challenges being faced by these communities in Philadelphia,” Huang said of the project experience.

She and her partner, Matt Griffith, decided to work with a local Chinese language school, Guanghua Chinese School, in Blue Bell, Montgomery County. During the early days of the pandemic, Huang says, the organization raised funds to purchase PPE for their community and developed translation centers for Covid-19 testing sites. They also wrote community service newsletters in Chinese and published them on Weixin, a popular Chinese social media platform. However, they wanted these articles to also reach English-speaking communities and build connections between the Chinese-American community and the rest of Philadelphia.

To help, Huang and Griffith translated articles into English and synthesized them into a single article that they’re now trying to find a publication for. She says she gained not only newfound respect for the work of translators but learned from the efforts of the school she worked with.

“It’s easy to think that everyone is very divided — especially with social media — now more than ever, but when it comes to times of crises like this, it was really amazing to see how much the community banded together,” Huang said.

Alexander Robinson, a Lauder student from Atlanta, worked remotely with the University São Paulo, in southern Brazil, to bridge the communication gap between its recently established eastern campus and the underserved communities that it neighbors. That new campus was designed to foster a relationship with the neighboring community, he says, and one specific outreach effort the university is making is to teach community members about nutrition.

Robinson, who spent time in Brazil for a gap-year program at Princeton, speaks Portuguese, and is a yoga instructor, was excited by the idea.

“I was thrilled because it not only resonated with my personal experience and journey of well-being, but it reminded me of that bridge year I did in Brazil with underserved communities through Princeton but in a very different context of Southern Brazil instead of Northeast Brazil,” Robinson explained. “I’d say that connects, in some ways, to what I want to do post-grad, because I’m interested in going into food and beverage marketing.”

“It was challenging being divorced from the local context,” he added of the experience. “And having to dredge up memories from eight years ago in Brazil, in a different location. And it was a funny exercise in translating our contexts in Philly and assumptions we make about what people know and have access to — through Zoom — to an environment that is so very different.”

Ultimately, he was able to create pamphlets and a promotional video that explain the basics of exercise.

“It’s funny to speak about immersion when you’re in another country, but I do think it helped me learn more about a part of Brazil I had never been to, even though I didn’t leave Philly,” Robinson said. “This was a very different community and context than I had ever experienced.”

Huang and Robinson both expressed appreciation for the self-driven nature of the projects, and the emphasis on finding cross-cultural communication even from home in Philadelphia. Robinson said it also reframed his idea of immersion.

“I didn’t expect to go to business school and be thrown into a community-service project, but I’m really glad the Lauder Institute did that,” he said. “And that it’s clearly a value of the Institute to serve other people, and there’s a higher purpose to our language classes and cultural immersion that isn’t just self-serving — ‘What am I getting out of the immersion experience?’”

In the future, regardless of when the immersion travel resumes, Mili Lozada imagines including the community engagement component with the language education.

“As an educator, one of the big things you want is to create an environment where students can learn independently, and at the same time in a meaningful way,” said Mili Lozada. “Students were able to navigate different environments dealing with different issues and reflect on the learning from that perspective. And so, I think that’s a unique opportunity of engagement outside the classroom: allow students to face real issues, act on them, and to develop language and cultural awareness, and I think it’s been an interesting way to do so.”

Brandon Baker, republished from Penn Today

Posted: October 25, 2021

Wharton Stories

Investing to Impact the Future of Work

Lizbeth Nunez, WG’22, reflects on her internship with Firework Ventures — an impact venture capital firm co-founded by alum Ashley Bittner, WG’13, that invests in future-of-work companies.

It’s no surprise that COVID-19 significantly accelerated attention to and investment in the future of work, given trends like shifting workforce dynamics and increased demand for technology.

Lizbeth Nunez, WG’22, thought a lot about these shifts during her recent internship with Firework Ventures, an impact venture capital firm co-founded by Ashley Bittner, WG’13, a Wharton Social Impact Bendheim Fellow.

Nunez, now a second-year MBA student, spent several months in this social impact internship. She reflects on her experience and how the pandemic has increased the importance of investing in the future of work.

What is Firework Ventures and what did you do there?

Nunez: Firework Ventures is a venture capital firm that leads Series A investments in future-of-work companies along four focus areas: models of work, worker mobility, support and well-being, and skills. As a summer associate, I met with incredible founders, performed policy and market research, conducted due diligence, and developed an investment thesis focused on the small business e-commerce sub-sector.

What drew you to this opportunity?

Nunez: The firm’s founders have a mission that strongly aligns with my desire to invest in human-centered business models. They have an impressive investment track record and 30+ years of collective experience funding startups in this space. The team also has a reputation for being collaborative and providing great support to portfolio companies.

How does the firm seek to create a positive societal impact?

Nunez: Work opportunities and education are two critical pillars of socio-economic mobility. They often overlap and strongly influence one another. Investing in these two areas can drastically improve quality of life for individuals and equip great organizations to fulfill their missions more efficiently. For example, some of the companies I worked with over the summer expanded access and affordability of education to help individuals prepare for in-demand and higher-paying careers. This translates to improved wealth opportunities for workers and a job-ready talent pipeline for companies.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected impact investing in this space?

Nunez: COVID-19 significantly impacted the job market and accelerated future-of-work trends. The U.S. saw extraordinarily high job vacancies, record-breaking quit levels, accelerated technology adoption, and new workforce demands. Our team was constantly researching shifting market dynamics and expanding our thesis where appropriate. The pandemic’s impact has increased the importance of rapidly investing in the future of work.

What was the most surprising thing you learned?

Nunez: I was surprised by how many aspects of venture capital I was able to participate in during the summer, the opportunity to fully own projects, and how much I learned from simply shadowing the leadership team. They have a wealth of knowledge that allows them to identify great opportunities, and meaningfully support founders.

How did you draw on your prior work experience in this role?

Nunez: In my prior role, I was working with government officials and industry executives on initiatives that would strengthen South Florida’s economic environment. This kind of work requires being forward-thinking about community needs and facilitating relationships among leaders that can make complex projects come to life for the benefit of many. As a venture capital investor, you are largely making investment decisions based on an assessment of broader market needs and the ability of founders to solve those needs with the support of their network.

How has this experience been transformative for you?

Nunez: Working directly with the founders of a young venture capital firm was a tremendous learning opportunity. I loved being able to learn from their years of experience in the industry and greatly enjoyed working with a Wharton alum. This experience increased my knowledge of the venture capital industry and gave me significant practical training. I am looking forward to continuing to build my knowledge on campus this year, both through related coursework and internship projects.

Posted: October 22, 2021

Wharton Stories

Wharton Welcomes the MBA Class of 2023

Image: MBA Pre-Term 2021
Five MBA students talk about their Pre-Term experience, exploring Philly, and what they’re looking forward to this fall.

Over 800 new MBA students touched down at Wharton this August for Pre-Term, a two-week immersive experience in all things Wharton and Philadelphia. Get to know these members of the Class of 2023 as they discuss community, clubs, and ambitions for the future.

Christopher Ghadban headshot

Christopher Ghadban

Hometown: Dracut, MA
Major: Health Care Management
Previous Education: BS in Chemical Engineering & Biotech Engineering, MS in Bioengineering, Tufts University
Previous Work: I founded a consulting firm advising a dozen emerging and established tech and biotech companies from Boston, MA to Washington D.C. I then joined AstraZeneca as part of a rotational program before being hired into the Emerging Innovations Unit, where I worked on innovation strategy and search and evaluation.

What was your favorite part of Pre-Term and why?

Getting to know my classmates. Be it through tackling team challenges or singing late-night karaoke, we quickly came together to form a strong Wharton community.

What is your favorite part about Philadelphia (so far)?

Morning runs along the Schuylkill River and trying the various ice cream shops around the city!

What clubs and activities do you plan to be a part of this fall?

This fall I’ve started getting involved with the Health Care Club and PE/VC on the professional front, and with Storytellers and Food Club. I’m also excited to restart salsa dancing.

Ghadban with his learning team at a football field.

josh fan headshotJosh Fan

Hometown: Henan, China & Santa Clara, CA
Major: Entrepreneurship and Strategic Management
Previous Education: BS in Finance and Accounting, Liberty University
Previous Work: U.S. Army Veteran & Management Consultant at Accenture in Fashion Retail and CPG

What was your favorite part of Pre-Term and why?

My favorite part of Pre-Term would have to be the team-building day. Working together with my learning team teammates and coming up with creative ways to solve puzzles not only allowed me to establish trusting bonds with my teammates but also provided me the opportunity to learn from my teammates and their strengths. In addition, the talent show component forced us to get out of our comfort zone and truly be ourselves in front of our entire cohort.

What is your favorite part about Philadelphia (so far)?

My favorite part about Philly so far is the people. Having moved to Philadelphia from Northern California, I was unsure about Philadelphia at first since I didn’t know anyone in the city but living among such a vibrant community of Whartonites has given me a sense of belonging and made Philly feel more like a new home rather than a brief stop.

What clubs and activities do you plan to be a part of this fall?

Since this is the first semester of my time at Wharton, I purposely “over-committed” myself to a long list of clubs so that I can try out as many different activities and meet people with diverse interests and passions. For professional clubs, I will be part of the Entrepreneurship Club and Consulting Club. For affinity clubs, I plan to serve on the boards of the Wharton Veteran Club and the Wharton Asian American Association of MBAs (WAAAM). For social clubs, I plan to take my wine-tasting skills to a whole new level through the Wine Club and hopefully learn some new dance moves through the Dance Studio (club).

Fan and his team at dinner

Sheila Garcia headshot

Sheila Garcia

Hometown: Long Island, NY
Major: Business, Energy, Environment, and Sustainability (BEES)
Previous Education: BS in Applied Economics & Management, Cornell University
Previous Work: I was previously a marketing associate at EnterSolar (now called PowerFlex), and most recently an energy analyst at Indigo Advisory Group.

What was your favorite part of Pre-Term and why?

My favorite part of Pre-Term was meeting the diverse members of my Cohort, 3I (my bee hive)! They’ve been a supportive bunch, always sending reminders about events, setting up small dinners, and encouraging each other to explore Philly!

What is your favorite part about Philadelphia (so far)?

I enjoy how walkable Philadelphia is, and how many murals I find along the way!

What clubs and activities do you plan to be a part of this fall?

I plan to be part of the Sustainable Business Coalition, the Energy Club, WHAMBAA, WHALASA, the Chocolate Club, and a few other social and sports clubs.

Sheila in a team meeting

Sotelo HeadshotSebastian Sotelo

Hometown: Bethesda, MD with previous stints in Mexico City, Buenos Aires, and Santiago, Chile
Major: Undecided
Previous Education: BA in Finance and International Business, Georgetown University
Previous Work: Infrastructure Private Equity in NYC

What was your favorite part of Pre-Term and why?

There were so many highlights, but the day that stood out the most was the outdoors field day with our Leadership Fellows. It was a really fun way to get to know the rest of my cohort while challenging our teamwork skills.

What is your favorite part about Philadelphia (so far)?

The many parks and trails around the city! There are many green spaces to explore with your new friends and it’s a great way to tire my dog Tokyo, who is usually full of energy.

What clubs and activities do you plan to be a part of this fall?

On the social side, I’ve joined Wharton Pub for a bit of tradition and Wharton FC to sweat it all out. I’ve also joined WHAMBAA and WHALASA to connect with the Latinx community and explore ways to elevate those around us. Professionally, I look forward to getting involved with the PE/VC club and the Energy Club.

Group of MBA students posing for a photo in a forest

afreen ghauri headshotAfreen Ghauri

Hometown: Beautiful little lake town called Bhopal in India
Major: Business, Energy, Environment, and Sustainability (BEES) and Finance
Previous Education: BE in Chemical Engineering, BITS Pilani
Previous Work: I spent 3 years as an Oil & Gas engineer for Schlumberger, mainly working in Southeast Asia, before pivoting into management consulting at BCG where I spent two years before coming to Wharton.

What was your favorite part of Pre-Term and why?

MGMT 610 stole the show for me! In the spirit of preserving the course experience for incoming students, all I will say is that it exceeded expectations and I learnt a lot about myself and my learning team. The effort Wharton puts in easing our transition onto campus is well-thought and commendable!

What is your favorite part about Philadelphia (so far)?

I love how walkable Philly is. I really look forward to the walks to or from campus with some friends, especially on a good weather day. Everyone apartments, restaurants, bars, and the beautiful Rittenhouse park are all walking distance from each other so you are never far from the action!

What clubs and activities do you plan to be a part of this fall?

Oh so many! I joined the Energy Club to fan my interest in energy and sustainability. I joined the Coffee Club and Chocolate Club to get my hands on the best coffee roasts and chocolates around. In affinity groups, I am a member of Out4Biz and Wharton Women in Business. As a ‘stretch experience’, I have also joined a sports club for a sport I know absolutely nothing about — rugby! I am equally terrified and excited to be part of the Women’s Rugby team. Go Wildebeests!

afreen pre-term

– Gemma Hong

Posted: October 4, 2021

Wharton Stories

Leading Conversations on Diversity & Inclusion with Wharton Staff

Aman Goyal, associate director of undergraduate student life, writes about creating a more inclusive work environment through the Wharton Intergroup Dialogue & Inclusion Team (WIDIT).

Three years ago, my colleagues from the Wharton Undergraduate Division attended a conference, where they were introduced to the importance of intergroup dialogue. The concept of intergroup dialogue proposes that conversations between members of a social group should create stronger relationships and mutual understanding. They knew this would be something I was interested in as well, having expressed interest in community building around diversity and inclusion topics. Director of Research and Scholar Programs Utsav Schurmans and I were inspired by the concept and began to think — how could such a space be created at Wharton so that staff could dive deeper into topics on justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI)?

After consulting with Wharton Prof. Rachel Arnett and reading more from thought leaders like Prof. Stephanie Creary on diversity in the workplace, we found partners in the Wharton Human Resources department and Dean’s Office to help create the Wharton Intergroup Dialogue & Inclusion Team (WIDIT).

We faced a few immediate challenges. How could we create a safe space for people with different comfort levels and discuss topics like microaggressions, belonging in the workplace, and racial literacy without jeopardizing the collegial atmosphere? We started by identifying our goals.

Building a Network of Support

Wharton already had resources for students and faculty, so there was one audience that needed to be served: Wharton staff. 

After identifying the audience, the goals for the group were established. WIDIT is aimed at helping staff (1) learn and develop their knowledge around JEDI topics that are current and necessary to support their clients in a holistic way and (2) network with other staff and feel supported knowing that everyone is on a journey of learning together.

Once our goals and audience were identified, we brought our motivation to Wharton Human Resources, where we gained the support of senior leadership to create WIDIT as an employee resource group. Through the support of Wharton Human Resources, we also established a co-chair on WIDIT: Olivia Wilson, associate director of Wharton HR.

This is still our approach and our goals for WIDIT three years into programming — a part of every session is focused on information, and the other parts help build community through shared dialogue and reflection on the topics.

Zoom screenshot of WIDIT team
The Wharton Intergroup Dialogue and Inclusion Team (WIDIT) team in a Zoom meeting.

Creating Relevant Programs

In 2019, WIDIT held brainstorming sessions among the planning committee. We identified topics that we thought would be most valuable, or topics that someone within the network of the committee could speak on. This led to a few sessions including:

  • “Microaggressions in the Workplace” led by Assistant Dean for Student Services in the Graduate School of Education, Dr. Ann Tiao
  • “Terminology in the LGBTQ Community” led by the director of Penn’s LGBT Center, Dr. Erin Cross
  • “An Introduction to Racial Literacy” featuring the Constance Clayton Professor of Urban Education, Dr. Howard Stevenson

As racial inequity awareness arose and the Covid-19 pandemic surged in the summer of 2020, we felt that it was important to highlight departments around Wharton that made a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This manifested in a new series called “Departments Doing the Work” for which we’ve had five departments present since the summer of 2020. In these sessions, various department leaders talk about a task force, program, or strategy in support of equity and inclusion at Wharton, and share information with staff across the School who might be looking for resources to get started. This series has been particularly successful in helping to showcase the work each department is doing, create connections for collaboration, and cause tangible change between departments.

In the past years, we disseminated surveys to understand staff needs and assess the efficacy of the various programs that have been offered so far. On average, 87–95% of participants agree or strongly agree that the programs held by WIDIT have helped them learn a new concept and feel more connected to Wharton as a whole. 

These surveys continue to provide new ideas for programs, and assist the WIDIT committee in recruiting speakers. For example, our sessions on anti-Asian racism and disability and neurodiversity at work were drawn from these surveys.

Applying WIDIT to Your Workplace

It just takes a few passionate people and organizational support to create a space where important topics find room to be discussed, and these spaces have power for those who choose to be involved.

It is often the case that equity and inclusion must start at the top for systemic changes to take place. However, there is something undeniably powerful about colleagues coming together to discuss how JEDI plays an important role in their work and personal lives. WIDIT creates an environment that allows for our colleagues to learn how to build inclusive environments, not just for ourselves, but for those we serve. To anyone looking to start a group at their workplace for professional development and comradery, here is our advice:

  1. Listen for those who share your passion for these topics at various meetings. Reach out to them to chat about how they feel about the importance of these topics and how they manage diversity and inclusion efforts. This is a good starting place to understand if there is a need for this kind of group and JEDI topics within your department.
  2. Get support from senior leadership. Get started, set up meetings, and ideate on what this could look like at your organization, but you will need to gain support. It is important to share here that in order for a group like this to be successful, you will need to gain support whether that be from a senior leader within your department or a senior leader within your organization.  
  3. Involve your HR team. They may tell you about resources that exist that you may not be aware of, or they may know of a group that has tried to do this before and other ways that group could have been successful, or others in your organization that might want to help.
  4. Identify your key values. Is it merely to bring in experts to talk about topics? Or do you want the added layer of trying to build a dialogue and community aspect to the group?
  5. If your organization values data, see if you can do an informal survey to see if there is interest for such a group. Luckily for us, we were able to create something and then edit it to meet the needs of our population better, as opposed to being expected to have a perfect educational workshop. It helped to have the space to fail and try again.

— Aman Goyal, Associate Director of Student Life, Undergraduate Division, The Wharton School

Posted: September 30, 2021

Wharton Stories

The Future Can Be Female

Image: Wharton Convocation for the MBA Class of 2023
With a historic balance of women in the MBA Class of 2023, Wharton examines its path to this milestone and efforts to build on progress made in the classroom and the workforce.

When the MBA Class of 2023 arrived in Philadelphia in August, members cycled through the traditional rites of passage: their first stroll through Rittenhouse Square, a trip to the Penn Bookstore for fresh Wharton gear, meeting their clusters and cohorts during Pre-Term. They also made history.

Their arrival marks the first time in its 100-year lifespan that the full-time MBA Program is majority female, at 52 percent — a metric that shatters the previous high mark of 48 percent and leaps over a long-standing hurdle of inequality at the School. Women and men at all levels and positions within the Wharton community have chipped away at gender parity in the MBA Program for decades. This moment is both a cause for celebration and a time to ask: What took so long? And where do we go from here?

Few people understand these nuances better than Maryellen Reilly, deputy vice dean of the MBA Program, who joined Wharton in 2006, when the incoming MBA Class of 2008 sat at 36 percent women. For the past 15 years, Reilly — along with a vast and decentralized network of colleagues, alumni, faculty, and students — has built and strengthened on-ramps for women forging careers in business.

“Every board chair or CEO you talk to wants more women in the C-suite and on the board,” Reilly says. “And the best way to do that is to have a pipeline that’s robust all the way through. Now, having a 52 percent female class, we’re able to fill that pipeline from the early stages.”

Wharton Convocation for the MBA Class of 2023

This pipeline is vital because in corporate America, women and people of color are still woefully underrepresented at the highest levels of senior management. According to the “Women in the Workplace 2020” report produced by Lean In, white women make up only 21 percent of the C-suite. For women of color, the number is only three percent. And while entry-level positions show a more equal divide between women and men, the percentage of women falls at each successive level.

Companies simply can’t afford to fall behind on diversity and representation. It’s not only a matter of what’s right — equality also affects the bottom line. A study by McKinsey found that executive teams and boards with greater diversity in both gender and ethnicity significantly outperform their competition on profitability.

The conversation on diversity and inclusion has shifted dramatically in recent years. Natalie Neilson Edwards, WG’18, experienced this while at Wharton when she and her peers imagined a day when large companies and brands might show public support for social movements to combat racial injustices. In 2020, that all came to fruition as major corporations spoke out and pledged to do better. Now, as chief diversity officer at one of the world’s largest utility companies, National Grid, Neilson Edwards is confronting these issues head-on.

“I think one of the biggest weaknesses we have as corporations at large is saying, ‘We want diversity, but when you get here, leave it at the door — be like the rest of us,’” she says. “And I think that’s the fundamental shift in business and business education: By being who you are and daring to take up space, we give permission to others to do the same.”

MBA Pre-Term 2021

There is no silver bullet that can dismantle gender norms overnight. Rather, it took a number of initiatives that eroded barriers year after year, including dozens of “visit days” on campus during which women could step inside a Wharton classroom and meet current students, along with countless alumni mentoring and guiding women to consider business school. In essence, every woman who has passed through Wharton’s doors caused a ripple effect that has swelled into a wave of potential talent.

Blair Mannix, director of MBA admissions, has watched MBA applications from women increase 21 percent in the past five years alone. Last October, as Mannix and her team culled through thousands of first-round applications, they noticed the numbers were again trending upward among women applicants.

“If women are increasingly wanting to enter the business arena, and therefore MBA programs at higher levels, we’re going to respond to that interest,” Mannix says. “We’re excited to push those women out into the market, where they can be mentors and leaders for other women and men. We were lucky that so many of them took us up on our offer this year.”

And to the naysayers who doubt these women are qualified? Says Mannix: “We have the highest average GMAT score — 733 — for a class on record. Period.”

MBA Pre-Term 2021

The culture was different when Anne McNulty, WG’79, attended Wharton in the late 1970s. She was one of about 200 women in her class, or roughly 26 percent. “My classmates and I knew that as women, there might be some barriers to our advancement, but honestly, we thought it was just a pipeline problem. Once we got our MBAs, we would just rise through the ranks. We were smart, we were ambitious, and we were confident. And we were wrong. The world certainly did not transform as quickly as we expected,” says McNulty, who went on to a successful career at Goldman Sachs before founding JBK Partners.

Along with her late husband John, she established the McNulty Foundation, and in 1992, the McNulty Leadership Program at Wharton was born. Today, in partnership with Lean In, the Forte Foundation, Wharton Women in Business, and Wharton Male Allies, MLP offers seminars on global inequality, emotional intelligence, and paternal leave negotiation, to name a few.

MLP director of strategic initiatives Jess Segal, who leads programs aimed at navigating gender and diversity in the workplace, says the goal is to transform students into agents of change. “If one woman or man goes to one of our programs, and then they’re watching someone constantly get talked over in a meeting and they say, ‘I’m sorry, but I’ve seen you do this a couple of times, please let her finish’ — it’s a win,” Segal says.

MBA Pre-Term 2021

Individual advocacy work is critical, but to move the needle on the C-suite, more can be done. Bonnie Bandeen, WG’85, a retired managing director from Morgan Stanley and member of the Wharton Board of Advisors, says women can’t rely solely on change mandated from the top down. Rather, the pipeline itself needs to be fixed at the mid-stage career level. That starts with trusting women to take on more responsibilities: “If you make the woman’s job worthwhile — meaning you pay them enough, you’re promoting them — they’ll make their own family decisions about what’s needed at home. Traditionally, the men had the better-paying job, so women took a back seat. That’s not always the case anymore.”

Anshika Priyadarshee, WG’23, is among the 52 percent in the MBA Class of 2023. During the next two years, she hopes to leverage her experience in management and software engineering — she spent seven years at Audible, an Amazon company — to explore how technology can improve education outcomes. As a woman in tech, Priyadarshee is used to being one of the few females in the room, but now, at Wharton, there’s already a noticeable shift in the environment. “There is strength in numbers, and we’re all going to be part of each other’s networks and support systems,” she says.

That’s something she hopes to carry throughout her career: “The Wharton community and broader network can be there to pull everyone up to where they want to be and create the impact they want in the world.”

— Mike Kaiser

Posted: August 30, 2021

Wharton Stories

How My Support Network Helped Me Maximize My Virtual Internship

“I could have felt isolated but my classmates kept me grounded and made me realize that I wasn’t alone in my experience.”

Sugirtha Stathis: Why don’t we start with you introducing yourself? Tell me about your background, your interest in coming to Wharton, where you interned and where you’ll be working full time after graduation.

Stephanie Garcia: I went to the United States Military Academy and I spent five years in the Army as an Army Engineer stationed at Fort Carson. I held several roles there and then in 2016 I made the decision to leave the military. I ended up working in the private sector for a company called McMaster-Carr Supply Company in Chicago. I did some project management work and eventually was a call center supervisor.

My husband was actually at business school at the time, I saw what he was gaining from business school and I wanted to get that experience. I saw this as a great transition both to get the experience that I wanted, and then to transition back into the workforce.

I knew I wanted to do general management and I was looking to stay in the area. Unfortunately, my original internship was canceled due to the pandemic. I was super fortunate because I ended up interning with DaVita. I had interviewed with them and turned down their offer. On a whim, I reached back out to the recruiter, explained my situation, and they were happy to give me another offer.

Last spring, obviously the world changed pretty dramatically and your internship became remote. What were some of the challenges that posed? And how did you adapt to make sure you would be successful?

The two biggest challenges I faced were building relationships with a new team and getting a feel of the company’s culture all in a virtual environment. In order to be successful, I was much more diligent about scheduling time with people. As a new member of the team, I didn’t have the opportunity to just run into people in the office, so I made a point to schedule regular coffee chats. I set a goal to schedule at least 16 coffee chats a week. This was an ambitious goal, but because I couldn’t be there in person, these chats were important for me to get to know my team and the company.

I also found that it was much harder to connect with people initially over Zoom, so I didn’t learn as much about the role and the company culture during my first few coffee chats. I found that it often took a few touchpoints and asking more specific questions in order to get the information I needed in order to make my own assessment of the company. Instead of asking generally about the company culture, I would ask about the company’s culture when it came to working parents and the need to juggle work and family. By knowing specifically what I was looking to get out of these conversations I was able to gain a deeper understanding of the company as a whole.

When you came back to Wharton in the fall and you decided to re-recruit it was a virtual experience. What was that like for you, and how did it compare to your first-year experience?

Being that I’m a mom, my schedule is unpredictable at times, and so commuting to info sessions and coffee chats during my first year was a lot to juggle. Whereas in the virtual world, I wasn’t shuffling back and forth from campus as much. Scheduling time to talk with people was much easier, both on my end and theirs.

The obvious disadvantage is not getting to see and meet people face-to-face. There was something nice about the structured recruiting process — going to the sessions and getting to meet the recruiters. You do lose that personal aspect but it didn’t impede me from getting a full-time offer. The responsibility fell on me and in a different way. I felt like it was a much more enterprise recruiting process for me in the second year.

I got the support that I needed and I was able to find some really great opportunities and, ultimately, was able to get a couple of offers and was able to make the choice that was the best fit for me.

One of the things that is especially hard is assessing company culture and personal fit from a distance. Did you use a similar approach with full-time recruiting to determine that?

I think first and foremost, is sitting down and figuring out what I want in a culture. Until this process, I never really sat down and asked myself, “what am I actually looking for?” Taking that moment for introspection, I think, is really important to do at the start.

Once you know what you’re looking for, you can ask the appropriate questions and dig into more specifics. I think just talking to as many people and getting as many perspectives, as you can is super important.

How did you stay connected with your peers, whether it was for support through the process or with insight on other companies?

I could have felt isolated but my classmates kept me grounded and made me realize that I wasn’t alone in my experience. I was super fortunate in my first year to be part of a cohort of four of us who were going to spend the summer in Philadelphia. We created a small support network right away when our internships were canceled due to the pandemic. We were helping each other find opportunities. I’m also tied into the Veterans group and when I mentioned my situation people reached out with opportunities.

If you were to choose three words to describe your recruiting experience this year, what would they be?

Enterprising. Open-ended. Longer than anticipated.

What aspects of Wharton overall do you feel are most valuable to you along the way?

Community 100 percent — and then the resources. The student and the alumni networks and the MBA Career Management office were probably the three biggest factors that helped me both get an internship and a job.

Posted: July 8, 2021

Wharton Stories

Getting to Know Prism Fellow & Reality TV Star Dillon Patel

“How do we make sure that every graduate who leaves Wharton takes on that inclusivity as a core value with them as they move into the boardrooms of companies all across the country?”

When Dillon Patel, WG’23 was growing up, he didn’t see many people like him on television. Now, at age 27, he finds himself on the other side of the screen on Bravo’s docu-series Family Karma. The show, which premiered its second season on June 2, chronicles the lives of Dillon and his multi-generational Indian-American family and friends as they balance modern life with their traditional upbringings.

Dillon joins a small but growing group of openly LGBTQ+ South Asians in the entertainment arena. From Queer Eye’s Tan France to talk show host Lilly Singh and actor Jameela Jamill, Dillon hopes this increased representation ignites positive change in South Asian communities across the country. In fact, he’s already seeing the difference it can make from the messages he’s received from some viewers.

“It has opened doors in ways that I didn’t know were possible. I had several people tell me that seeing my story gave them the confidence to come out to their family or it sparked conversations that were otherwise not happening. Now in so many South Asian families, they are talking about what it’s like to grow up queer or gay and South Asian,” said Dillon.

Prior to appearing on Family Karma, Dillon was living a fairly low-profile life working as Senior Manager of Global Operations at Zendesk, a customer support software company, in San Francisco. But he was no stranger to being an outspoken leader and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. Shortly after joining Zendesk he began to lead the company’s LGBTQ Employee Resource Group, Pride ERG, and went on to institute several groundbreaking initiatives.

“I’m most proud of launching a Pride mentorship program where we paired folks across offices internationally who are within our community. We also advocated for changes to our benefits that included more trans-inclusive healthcare coverage, mental health services and also support for those who want to start families in less traditional ways such as surrogacy, egg-freezing, or adoption,” he said.

Pride ERG also led Zendesk’s application for the Human Rights Campaign’s “Best Places for LGBT Equality” and earned the company a perfect score of 100. Even as Dillon departs Zendesk to attend Wharton, he knows the work will continue. “For me, it was especially impactful because every year or so the HRC will continue to add additional criteria for inclusivity that I’m hopeful Zendesk will continue to meet.”

This advocacy work earned Dillon the distinction as Wharton’s second Prism Fellow. Established in 2019 by Jeffrey Schoenfeld, WG’84, the Prism Fellowship awards a full-tuition scholarship to one MBA student who demonstrates leadership in support of the LGBTQ+ community. “First, it’s incredible that something like the Prism fellowship even exists. The fact that Jeffrey, Wharton, and so many folks are willing to invest in the community in a substantial way is huge to me. I also recognize the fact that Wharton is full of stellar applicants and I’m so incredibly grateful that I was chosen to be awarded this prestigious fellowship.”

Behind the scenes: Filming interviews for Bravo’s Family Karma. (Photo via @dillonpatelme)

As far as his interest in business, Dillon was exposed to entrepreneurship from a young age. He watched his family start small businesses wherever they lived. Dillon’s grandfather started a fish and chips business in London and later his parents opened an electronics store after they settled in Miami. Even as a high school student, Dillon made some extra cash collecting his classmates’ used textbooks and selling them online. “That entrepreneurial spirit is something that runs really deep. My family restarted themselves in four different countries, coming from India, spending time in Africa, starting businesses in Jamaica and England, and finally Miami, that it just felt part of our blood that business is what we do.”

It was only natural for him to major in economics at Duke University, where he nurtured his talents and discovered new industries where he could thrive. Thanks to the Out For Undergrad conference, Dillon was connected to employers like PwC looking to hire LGBTQ+ students like him. “It really opened my eyes to what consulting was like. I could get experience at many different companies, see the inside and out, and found that project-based teamwork was what I really excelled at.” In the summer of 2015, Dillon landed an internship at PwC that led to a full-time Associate role after graduation from Duke.

As he prepares to embark on the next two years at Wharton, Dillon hopes to learn new skills and build on his breadth of experiences. He notes the P3 Program by the McNulty Leadership Program, Prof. Stephanie Creary’s class “Leading Diversity in Organizations”, and the flexible curriculum as highlights on his agenda. “I think working at Zendesk made me realize that I want to stay in the technology space and I care about mission-driven companies, but I probably want to explore some different functions like corporate development or product development.”

When he arrives on campus for MBA Pre-Term this August, Dillon plans to become an active member of the Out4Biz and Southeast Asia Club and work to find ways Wharton can become even more inclusive beyond the confines of the classroom. “How do we make sure that every graduate who leaves Wharton takes on that inclusivity as a core value with them as they move into the boardrooms of companies all across the country? How do we make sure that inclusivity of the LGBTQ+ community is a core part of the Wharton experience?” he said.

— Mike Kaiser

Posted: June 15, 2021

Wharton Stories

Students Chat With the Dean About Diversity at Wharton

“If we could just have a candid conversation with our Dean about what she believes in, what would we want to hear from her?”

Months ago, MBA student leaders of Return on Equality (ROE) and undergraduate student leaders of Wharton Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Group (WEDIG) were immersed in planning their respective “diversity weeks” for the spring semester, when an idea began to percolate.

“If we could just have a candid conversation with our Dean about what she believes in, on these issues that we care about really deeply, what would we want to hear from her?” asked Kara Murray-Badal, WG’21, co-president of ROE.

Both the MBA and undergrad students reached out to Dean Erika James separately, asking if she would be interested in participating in their diversity week programming. WEDIG board member Ryan Pruitt, W’21, who was the lead on the programming this year, remembers emailing the Dean for the first time in January. To his surprise, “She got back to me within an hour.” 

The coincidence kicked off a unique collaboration.

On April 1, three MBA co-presidents of ROE and three undergraduate board members of WEDIG sat down with Dean James for a virtual “Fireside Chat” during ROE’s annual One Wharton Week. During the live discussion, the seven traded questions about the state of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at Wharton and how to implement change together.

The chat was a two-way street, said WEDIG’s Karen Herrera, W’21. “I think it also helped Dean James understand the culture, needs, and interests within the student body, both at an MBA and undergraduate level.”


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A post shared by WEDIG (@wedig_upenn)

Because WEDIG’s Wharton Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Week took place right after ROE’s One Wharton Week, the undergrad students were able to replay the Fireside Chat and hold a “Multicultural Student Town Hall” where affinity group leaders — from Wharton Asia Exchange, Black Wharton, Wharton Latino, Wharton Women, Wharton Alliance, and FGLI — could reflect and brainstorm actionable steps.

Strengthening Synergies

ROE’s One Wharton Week has been a staple for MBA students since 2015, but WEDIG is a newer student organization, launched in 2020 by members of Wharton Wellness and the Wharton Dean’s Undergraduate Advisory Board. This was their first time hosting a diversity week.

“The MBAs and Undergrads are doing a lot of similar work, just in completely different channels of communication,” said Daniel Mendelsohn, W’21, WEDIG co-founder and board member. “While organizing the Fireside Chat, we had a discussion with the MBA leaders and said, ‘Why aren’t we doing more together?’ There are so many synergies.”

Click to read about ROE’s 2021 One Wharton Week events.

“I think as you start to work, you realize the need for DEI more,” Ryan said. “Undergrads tend to stay in their own circles. But when you’re in the workplace and surrounded by your colleagues, you might notice that all your colleagues might not be that diverse. I think with the experience the MBAs have, they might be more aware of that.”

For the MBA students, the Fireside Chat was also an opportunity to connect students with the Dean more personally. ROE Co-President Sonali Salgado, WG’21, GEd’21, said, “We wanted to humanize her a bit, have everyone hear her story, and talk about what it was like to start as the first Black, female dean at Wharton in the year 2020.”

Reaching the Other Side

Kara said One Wharton Week remains an important time of the year for all the various student affinity groups to connect with one another. “I think especially in this moment, with the clear need for solidarity in the Asian community and in the Black community, this is really the time for that cross-cultural connection. That’s what we’re striving for.”

Likewise, Ryan hopes that meetings like WEDIG’s town halls — where Wharton and Penn affinity groups can coalesce — will happen regularly in the future. He described a “summit” that would allow those student representatives to pose questions to School leadership.

Click to read about WEDIG’s 2021 Wharton Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Week events.

One salient question that emerged during the Fireside Chat was how to engage students who may not always “self-select” to participate in DEI programming.

“It’s the people who come from underrepresented backgrounds that are joining these conversations,” Daniel said. “The hope is that as these Town Halls grow, we start to get more of the other side involved.”

Karen, who moderated WEDIG’s Town Hall, compared the diversity events to C-SPAN because they create a space for students to tune in and get a pulse on DEI at Wharton. She added, “In the long term, these events are all setting the foundation for what we want to see.”

Gloria Yuen

Posted: May 7, 2021

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