2018 Best MBAs: Natalie Neilson Edwards, Wharton School

Natalie Neilson Edwards

Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

Delightfully awkward yet loving Texas-girl, excited & determined to see a more equitable world.”

Age: 27

Hometown: Sugar Land, TX

Fun fact about yourself: I was a premature baby born on April Fool’s Day. My parents had been told all along that I’d be a boy. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed crushing pre-conceived expectations of me ever since.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Howard University, BBA in Finance

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? Deloitte Consulting, Senior Consultant in its Federal Government Practice

Where did you intern during the summer of 2017? I did strategy work in The Office of the CIO at Southwest Airlines, Dallas, TX

Where will you be working after graduation? I’m building my company, Broomstick Weddings, which provides wedding planning resources to brides from racial and cultural backgrounds often left out of traditional wedding media, magazines, and blogs. This past month, I found out the Wedding Editor of the New York Times is a fan.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: Recipient of both the I.W. Burnham Merit Fellowship & the Edward B. Shils/Leonard L. Zeidman Fellowship in Entrepreneurship. Serves as VP of Diversity for the Wharton Graduate Association, a sitting member of the Vice Dean’s Task Force on Diversity & Inclusion, the President of the Travel & Hospitality Club, a Diversity Admissions Fellow (an official liaison for applicants of color,) an Alumni Fellow (responsible for the class gift & 1st year reunion planning,) and the Admissions Chair (both years) for the African American MBA Association.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? During my leadership as Admissions Chair of the African-American MBA Association, in partnership with a lot of amazing others at Wharton, the black student population doubled. One of the most challenging paradoxes of diversity and inclusion work is that it’s hard for people to be (or aspire to) what they cannot see. So mobilizing the diversity within my own Wharton class to show the complete beauty of this place, then to see the end result of an even more diverse class come to fruition, which enhances the education of everyone — it was magical for me and brings so much joy just to think about.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Simply being mature enough to realize that just because I was good at something (consulting,) it was ok to admit to myself that it wasn’t my purpose. Sounds simple, but when you realize what you are not meant to do, you open yourself up to what you are meant to do.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Patti Williams. I’ve taken two of her classes: core curriculum marketing and the elective Strategic Brand Management. She completely opened my mind to how the intrinsicality of marketing, and she has been my biggest role model at Wharton for how to command an audience and speak your convictions. And she has killer style.

What was your favorite MBA Course? “Total Leadership” by Professor Stew Friedman. It was an intensive class focused on how to lead by (1) knowing your true self (2) having the courage to bring your full self to work, and (3) developing the leadership to create an environment where everyone around you is comfortable to do the same. One of the most liberating assignments we did was to identify 10 major stakeholders in our lives, write down what we thought their expectations of us were, and then interview them. We then had to compare what they said with what we predicted: as you can expect, 100% of those around you have much simpler expectations of you than you think. I remember at the time I was spending alot of time trying really hard to be what I thought a great daughter-in-law was, and my mother-in-law’s expectations in the interview were simply “Love God, and love my son.” I don’t think I would have initiated that conversation as explicitly (or ever) if it weren’t for that assignment.

Why did you choose this business school? I’m a creative person who didn’t want to be boxed in, and I recognize the world is changing and innovating every day. I wanted to go to a school that would provide me exposure to multiple paths I hadn’t yet considered and new paths just created, yet also give me the credibility and skillset to confidently pursue any of them. I feel that very strongly at Wharton.

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? What you’re most ashamed of is often what has contributed most to who you are. When I was a teenager, I worked over 50 hours a week in restaurants, often 12 hours at a time. I vividly remember my feet stinging in my shoes while having to serve my peers, and teaching myself SAT math on my waitress pad whenever I had a break. I hid the fact that I worked in restaurants when I went to college because it wasn’t the typical high school experience, even though I’d often daydream about having my own restaurant one day. I started working again in restaurants at night while at Deloitte, and I embraced how it made me a better consultant on my MBA applications. My clients would often bond with me before anyone else on my team (even my managers) because I didn’t seek to impress with my intellect first, I approached them with an attitude of service. In restaurants, you leave your resume and your GPA at the door. That repeated lesson over years-and-years continues to impact me every day, and owning that part of myself before I applied to b-school allowed me to be my full self, confidently growing into a leader at Wharton and beyond.

What is the biggest myth about your school? It’s not purely a finance school! Of course our finance department is top notch, but what is often not known about Wharton is every other department does not come second: they are equally as rigorous, with the best professors I’ve ever had the pleasure to learn from.

What was your biggest regret in business school? N/A; #noregrets

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Kristy Wiehe. She is such a quiet storm, coming to Wharton with over 10 years of corporate law experience and an unashamed confidence about her uniqueness. For example, after the presidential election, Kristy took a leave of absence for a full quarter to travel the country and provide her legal mind to various national nonprofits who were trying to chart their way forward. She’s made up every class and still graduating on time! She reminds me that (1) it’s not enough to talk about it, you have to be about it; and (2) in a world that constantly tells us to be visible; true leadership is not always heard or seen, but it’s always, always, always felt. Kristy inspires me every day.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My ancestors who fought for me to be here. My dad always speaks of my great-grandfather, Caswell Stewart, a Jamaican man with incredibly limited education, who worked very hard so his kids and grandkids could one day come to this country. My dad was raised on what was once a sugarcane plantation, and my mom came from similar Jamaican circumstances. Every time I want to complain about multiple things being due, my calendar being packed, or me not feeling like going to class, I think about them, and the fact that the younger generation of my cousins is the first generation to think that going to Wharton is normal. In a lot of ways, I feel that me simply being here & taking my seat everyday at Wharton feels like an extension of many fights, past and present, in America, in Jamaica, and all over the world. I have no right to not seek excellence.

“If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…probably a chef.”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? Of course, I am biased: I think there will always be something to add to Wharton because the world is changing every day. But I will say that I am so proud to be at a school that places incredible value on the student opinion. There’s no place on Earth where leadership is as student-driven and supported.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? Open a hospitality school for low-income youth to learn the power of humility, leadership & teamwork, like I did. Fund enough Black Female Founders to get the “$1M+ Raised” number up to 100 in my lifetime (Currently, it’s under 20.)

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? She dared to try to make progress for others where it matters

What is your favorite movie about business? Good Burger! Ok, it’s clearly not a serious business movie, but it does teach you a lot about employee relations & competition.

What would your theme song be? (Include song name and artist) “His Eye is On The Sparrow.” It’s as close to a mantra as I have. I mouth the words to myself every time I’m about to do something that terrifies me. Also, “Be Ever Wonderful” by Earth, Wind & Fire. It talks about staying true to yourself when things get tough and the world wants you to change. And… its Earth, Wind & Fire!

Favorite vacation spot: San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I finally visited last year, but I had a Pinterest board about it for years before. It’s so dreamy & peaceful, and the art scene is unreal!

Hobbies? Running my company. Making people realize there is no such thing as “Wharton-like.” Giving cooking lessons via Instagram stories. Watching a lot of Real Housewives.

What made Natalie such an invaluable member of the Class of 2018?

“A graduate of Howard University, Natalie has been a right hand in ushering historical enrollment of students of color to Wharton’s MBA Program. Her organizational skills, expertise, generosity, and leadership has had a profound impact on how the African American MBA Association (AAMBAA) contributes the diversity and inclusion strategy of the Wharton MBA Program. Her insights have transformed AAMBAA’s commitment from a relatively passive and occasional involvement to seeing this as a top priority for AAMBAA. She has personally assisted, guided and supported as well as championed many applicants across the “admit” finish line, and is solely responsible for a large handful of WG ’19’s being current Wharton students. Natalie’s commitment and consistency are unmatched, and her efforts are genuine.”

Jessica Guerrero
MBA Admissions
Wharton School

DON’T MISS: THE ENTIRE LIST OF THE BEST & BRIGHTEST: CLASS OF 2018