2019 Best & Brightest MBAs: Medora Brown, Wharton School

Medora Brown

The Wharton School & The Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania

International development wonk and grammar nerd, excited about tackling intractable challenges with audacious solutions.”

Hometown: Washington, D.C.

Fun fact about yourself: The name “Medora” was invented by the British poet Lord Byron as his idea of an exotic name for use in The Corsair, which became the best-selling epic poem of 1814. The work spawned an opera and a ballet, and it was in vogue to name girls Medora for a brief period in the first half of the 19th century.   

Undergraduate School and Degree: Vanderbilt University, B.A. in Political Science and French

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Communications Manager, Sanergy, Limited

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? Dalberg Advisory, Nairobi, Kenya

Where will you be working after graduation? Consultant, Dalberg Advisory

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Executive Vice President of Student Affairs, Wharton Graduate Association: As EVP of Student Affairs, I manage a team of fourteen Vice Presidents and four Cluster Presidents. I support a range of student needs, which include academics and career programming, leadership training, and health-related issues. I also work to facilitate continued engagement off-campus with the alumni network, Wharton students at our San Francisco campus and other graduate programs. As a member of the executive team, I have the privilege of joining three colleagues in running a 5-million-dollar non-profit organization: the largest student-run school governing entity among our peer institutions.

VP of Marketing, Wharton Africa Growth Partners: Wharton Africa Growth Partners, in partnership with the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, works to spur investment in Africa and to help investors better understand the opportunities available across the continent.

MBA Mentor: I served as an MBA Mentor for Professor Adam Grant’s undergraduate Organizational Behavior class. In addition to providing an MBA perspective in the class, I mentored a group of five highly engaged and talented undergraduate students.

Lauder Institute Admissions Application Reader: I reviewed Round 1 and Round 2 admission applications to the Lauder Institute. I gained greater insight into what Wharton and Lauder look for in the application process, and I was absolutely blown away by the caliber of the applicants.

Cluster Communications Representative: I ran communications and marketing for the first-year Cluster Council (Go Lions!) and served as our Cluster President’s chief of staff.

Mentor, GUIDE: I’ve mentored a fantastic Wharton undergraduate student for the past two years. I can’t wait to see what she does after graduation.

Operations Teaching Assistant: I TA’d “Quality and Productivity,” an Operations class focused on optimizing production processes.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? During my time as an MBA Mentor in Adam Grant’s class, I mentored a “pod” of five undergraduate students, all of whom were juniors and seniors. I advised one student on his career plans, another in structuring a gap year before medical school, and worked to help each of them make the most of these formative years. They are a brilliant and thoughtful group, and I learned from each one of our conversations.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? My first job out of college was as a contractor at the U.S. Department of State in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. While there were many highlights of my two years there, the most rewarding achievement was the work my team and I did to open relations with Burma/Myanmar in 2011 and 2012. Working hand in hand with Myanmar government officials and civil leaders to grapple with what democracy, economic development, and human rights looked like in the Myanmar context — and what that meant for U.S. diplomatic ties to the country — was some of the most challenging and rewarding work of my career. Through this experience, I began to think critically about the role that state and non-state actors can play in the development of emerging countries, ultimately getting excited about the transformative power of the private sector in these contexts.

What was your favorite MBA Course? I thoroughly enjoyed Leading Effective Teams, a course taught by Professor Stew Friedman, which draws on the work of Richard Hackman (the godfather of organizational behavior) and Roger Schwarz. In the course, we explored four different teams: a team formed for the class, a real-life work team somewhere in Philadelphia, a past work team of which we had been a part, and our imagined ideal future team. The class provided us with real-world tools to create and sustain highly effective teams, regardless of the context.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Wharton for two main reasons. The first is the unique offering of The Lauder Institute, a joint MBA/MA in International Studies. When I was looking at programs, I knew I wanted a dual-degree program, and I hoped I could build on my experiences and focus on Africa while improving my French language skills. When I learned about Lauder, it felt like it was designed for me. In addition, the Lauder community made Wharton’s large class size seem much less daunting. It truly feels as though I’ve expanded my family by 200 members.

The second reason is the international scope of the Wharton curriculum and brand; our alumni network and institutes span the globe. Knowing that I wanted to continue working internationally after my graduate studies, the fact that the Wharton brand immediately conveys a quality and rigorous education from London to Lusaka and Shanghai to Sao Paulo was especially appealing for me.  

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Do whatever you can to figure out what makes Wharton unique. If you can, visit campus and sit in on classes. If it’s not possible to come to Philadelphia, set up calls with current students and alumni. So much of Wharton is student-run, and students are best positioned to tell you about what your time would be like here. And when you apply, it helps to show that you’ve done your homework: demonstrate through your essays what it is about Wharton that makes it the best fit for you, as well as emphasizing what role you would play in the Wharton community. The Admissions Office is deliberate in building a class, so make it easy for them to see how you would contribute to other students’ MBA experience.

What is the biggest myth about your school? One of the biggest myths about Wharton is that the student body is entirely composed of Wall Street “finance bros.” In fact, Wharton is one of the most diverse MBA student bodies, in every aspect: gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, countries of origin, and yes, even career history and aspirations. I’m in school with teachers, doctors, military veterans, former Peace Corps volunteers, government employees, and so much more.

I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by how generous students and alumni are with their time, networks, and experiences. There is a robust culture of “paying it forward” — from application and recruiting advice to help with problem sets and financial models — from which I have benefitted incredibly.

Think back two years ago. What is the one thing you wish you’d known before starting your MBA program? I wish I’d taken Cade Massey’s Influence course on Coursera before starting at Wharton. I’ve spent the past two years trying to figure out how best to motivate people with different priorities from mine, and now that I’m finally taking the Influence course in my last semester, I’m only now building a toolkit that would have come in handy much earlier on. (However, the classroom version of the course is wonderful, and I highly recommend that all students take it during their time here!)

MBA alumni often describe business school as transformative. Looking back over the past two years, how has business school been transformative for you? Over the past two years, I’ve grown as a leader. In the first couple of months of school, most of my “leadership” involved herding large groups of classmates (i.e., I could shout louder than most people). However, over time, as I have taken on more leadership positions, I have begun to figure out what it means to organize, motivate, and lead by example (and not just by decibel level).

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Mosa Rahimi is a member of the Wharton Class of 2020, and he has one of the most remarkable stories of resilience and perseverance I’ve ever heard. A member of the Hazara minority of Afghanistan, Mosa grew up primarily as a refugee in Iran. When he returned to Afghanistan, he worked for the Afghan Border Patrol for several years to support his family before attending university in Kabul while also working full time. In 2014, he immigrated to the United States with the sole goal of pursuing graduate studies. His first job was working the night shift at a warehouse in Queens for minimum wage; he eventually became a Farsi and Dari interpreter before coming to Wharton.

In addition, he is one of the hardest workers I’ve met at Wharton; he spends entire weekends reviewing course materials, making sure he has a firm understanding of all new concepts he encounters. He’s also incredibly self-effacing. As he likes to say, “I’m just a nobody from nowhere.” I’ve cherished the opportunity to get to know him, and I know he’ll go on to do amazing things.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business? My mother has modeled for me how to use the power of the private sector to do good in the world. Her influence laid the foundation for my interest in social enterprise as an engine of growth and development in emerging economies.  

What is your favorite movie about business? Newsies offers a very clear lesson about how decisions made in the boardroom can affect the lives of frontline employees in very real ways. It also taught me about the power of anyone (even a ragtag army of singing and dancing newsboys) to make a difference, no matter the circumstances. (And what’s not to love about Robert Duvall as Joseph Pulitzer, Bill Pullman as a hard-nosed journalist, and a pirouetting Christian Bale?)

What was the goofiest MBA term or acronym you encountered – and what did it mean? WFOL means “Wharton Friend of Lauder.” Lauder students have a reputation of being an insular community within Wharton, but I love that my class has worked to counter that reputation and connect in meaningful ways with the larger Wharton class.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…harnessing the power of social enterprise to spur economic development and improve the lives of urban residents in East Africa.”

What dollar value would you place on your MBA education? Was it worth what you paid for it – worth more or worth less? Combined, Wharton/Lauder tuition comes out to about $218,000. I fully believe that these two years, with what I have learned in and out of the classroom, as well as the incredible experiences I’ve had in Philadelphia and around the globe and the amazing people I’ve met, are worth every penny.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? I’m checking the first one off my list right around graduation: I’ll be biking from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC, along the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal. I’m excited to further explore Pennsylvania before I leave, and I’m thrilled that the whole way is essentially flat!

The second one is to visit India. Despite having been invited to several weddings across the country, I still have never been able to go. I look forward to changing that soon!

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? She gets stuff done.

Hobbies? I love reading novels, hiking, and exploring new places.

What made Medora such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2019?

“Medora serves in various standings across the MBA program; however, take those direct responsibilities away, Medora would still stand out as a dynamic and thoughtful student here at Wharton. Most recently, Medora serves in the capacity of Executive Vice President of Student Affairs, for the Wharton Graduate Association (WGA). In this capacity, I have been privy to Medora’s talents, passions, and skills. She is truly a remarkable young woman.

Under her leadership in WGA – she has mentored our first-year leaders to rethink how they engage their peers regarding first-year leadership. Additionally, she has worked with Student Life to begin promotion of first-year leadership for admits, to encourage student government as an option for involvement as they begin to think about their upcoming year. At the same time, Medora has been instrumental in empowering change in our WGA. Whether we are discussing the needs of the student body or challenging her peers to understand their responsibility to the world, post-MBA, she is 1000% giving of herself without an expectation of recognition.

If I am to focus on her work in Nairobi (pre-Wharton), it denotes a level of commitment to humanity. You see, Medora believes in people. She believes that we can be better as a global community if we are better to one another as individuals. If you are to reference the menu of experiences Medora brings to the table, you will see a model example of selflessness, with passion and commitment to the world.

As support to my role as director, Medora is always willing to assist in any way possible. She is not afraid to express her opinion to her peers, administrators on campus, or her closest friends. While doing so, she still respects all individuals and their roles here at Wharton. She is a pleasure to work with, and I must admit her dedication is quite refreshing.

Holistically, I have been most impressed with Medora’s ability to analyze her actions and level of responsibility. She does not take obligations lightly and makes an obvious attempt to put her 100% into all she does. If a situation arises in which she cannot fully commit, she redirects her priorities and attention. Medora’s involvement in student life is an important aspect of her MBA experience. She understands the need for co-curricular involvement and does her best to make those experiences the best for everyone. Additionally, I have to say that Medora Brown has made a huge impact on our MBA community during her time here. I can only hope that I have impacted her life just as much as she has impacted mine. I am confident that this young woman will influence the world, and I will someday be fortunate to read a headline, article, or press release and feel honored to have known her in her capacity as a student leader.”

Eddie D. Banks-Crosson
Director of Student Life

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